More and more, scientific literacy is a critical virtue we should demand of our politicians. Yet questions about important scientific topics hardly rate during elections.
Just one such important topic is the regulation of genetically modified organisms – GMOs. In 2016 Vermont was the first state to pass a law requiring labeling of foods that contain GMOs. The prompted a federal law, signed by Obama, that supercedes the state law. The federal law also requires labeling, but is less strict, allowing for scannable codes or telephone numbers that consumers can call to get more information. The USDAs guidelines on this law are due this summer.
I am strongly against mandatory GMO labeling for several reasons, but the primary reason is that the very concept of “GMO” is vague and imprecise. You cannot regulate something that you cannot define. You can, of course, simply make up an operational definition (like the USDA did for “organic”) but if there is no real scientific meaning behind that definition, what exactly are you regulating?
Blaming GMOs is misplaced, and passing laws to arbitrarily label them will be counterproductive. It is pure pseudoscience, and we need elected officials capable of understanding the scientific issues sufficiently to make rational regulations.
Editor’s note: Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine
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