Lynas urges biotech companies: label GMOs Reply

Mark Lynas, the British author of books such as “The God Species,” delighted many in the biotechnology industry in January when he renounced years of anti-biotech activity and put himself firmly in the pro-GMO camp. Since then, he has given many speeches and interviews supporting GMOs in food and agriculture and blasting the opponents as quacks, charlatans, and nutjobs.

But now Lynas has taken a position at odds with the biotechnology industry – but it is a position the industry may come to embrace.

Lynas has come out for labeling.

Food label from Australia

Food label from Australia identifying genetically modified ingredient.

Labeling, that is, of any food item produced with the aid of modern biotechnology — which in theory could include the majority of packaged goods and many others such as cheese and beer.

Lynas has concluded that the public supports the “right to know,” so the battle against labeling is lost.

“It’s time to make a virtue out of a necessity,” Lynas said in a speech to the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) summit in Chicago on Oct. 15. (The text of his speech and a video can be found at http://www.marklynas.org/) “If enough people say that GMOs should be labeled, then labeled they must be.”

“You cannot, you should not, fight against democracy,” he said, addressing the industry. “What consumers want is transparency – and you must deliver this to them. Do not dig yourselves deeper into the wrong side of a winning argument. “

Lynas rejects the type of “skull and crossbones” labeling favored by anti-GMO activists, who hope to drive GMOs out of the marketplace entirely. He called instead for “an information label purely to support choice and the exercise of consumer preference.”

“I believe that this could radically change the game on GMOs,” Lynas said. “Suddenly they would be ubiquitous – as indeed they already have been for 15 years. Secrecy breeds fear. Familiarity brings acceptance and understanding.”

Meanwhile, the industry is fighting a labeling initiative in Washington State. The biotech providers – Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer — and major food companies working through the Grocery Manufacturers Association are pouring millions into the “No” campaign. They hope to pull off the kind of last-minute victory they engineered against a similar initiative in California a year ago.

Lynas thinks they will lose.

If they do, and Initiative 522 survives legal challenges, it would be the beginning of a balkanized, crazy-quilt, state-by-state approach to labeling.

Lynas suggests a mandatory, federal labeling scheme instead. If it supplanted state laws, it could set up a non-threatening, informational approach, like that used in Australia.

The guess here is that if the companies lose in Washington, they will take a hard look at what Lynas suggests and see the virtue of informational labeling. If GMO’s are labeled nationwide, the silly and pointless arguments over biotechnology could be ended sooner than anyone thought possible.

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