The recent call for labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients — especially on a state-by-state basis as in Connecticut — is unnecessary, unrealistic and uninformed.
As someone who grew up and attended college in Connecticut, I particularly appreciate the state's farmland preservation program and the thriving local agriculture, which is being encouraged and protected. And as a pediatrician I know the weight new parents place on every decision affecting their children — from infancy to young adult. I have made it my life's work to help guide parents through these challenges. This work, however, has been made even more complicated by the barrage of messages, information and misinformation that we all encounter daily. What is most important is to help parents separate myth from fact, and recognize when emotion has trumped hard science.
That is exactly what is at the core of a debate currently playing out in Connecticut over foods produced through biotechnology, also known as genetic engineering or genetic modification. A bill before the General Assembly would require labeling of genetically engineered food.
For more than 15 years, the majority of packaged foods and beverages consumed in the U.S. and dozens of other countries has contained some ingredient that was developed through the use of biotechnology. Biotechnological advances have included improved resistance to plant diseases and reduced reliance on pesticides, resulting in safer, more nutritious food that is able to sustain the growing demands of our world and has helped to protect the environment at the same time. Biotech ingredients are grown by Connecticut farmers, and foods containing biotech ingredients are sold in local stores for local consumption.
Foods enhanced through biotechnology have been extensively studied by scientists in this country and around the globe. The federal Food and Drug Administration has deemed genetically engineered foods safe for infants, children and adults. The FDA recently that all ingredients derived from FDA-approved biotechnology are the same in composition, nutritional value and quality as non-biotechnology derived ingredients. The agency went further by stating that plants with biotech ingredients are no more likely to cause an allergic or harmful reaction than foods from traditionally bred plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture continually work to ensure that there are no ongoing environmental or human health concerns resulting from improving agriculture with the use of biotechnology. Independent expert organizations — including the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization — agree these foods are safe for human consumption – from infants to adults.
Unfortunately, there are some people in Connecticut who prefer to ignore the enormous body of scientific literature in favor of rhetoric and scare tactics in an attempt to force unnecessary and potentially confusing labeling of foods containing biotech ingredients. These individuals seek to play on fear and emotion to convince legislators and the public that biotech foods are harmful, despite overwhelming scientifically derived evidence to the contrary.
Federal agencies such as the FDA, which are experts on issues surrounding labeling, have stated that, because foods derived with biotechnology are no different than any other food, labeling of foods derived by biotech is unwarranted. The FDA does support labeling of some ingredients of foods, such as gluten, for consumers who wish to avoid such foods. This is completely unrelated to whether those foods are produced using modern biotechnology. Consumers can also buy products certified organic, which do not contain biotech ingredients, should they wish to do so.
Foods made with ingredients developed from agricultural biotechnology have been consumed by literally billions of people worldwide for more than 15 years, and there has not been a single documented health problem related to these foods.
Forced labeling would only serve to give false credibility to misinformation, discourage people from eating foods that are perfectly safe and cause havoc in our food supply. Lawmakers in Connecticut need to focus on the facts, stand up against the scare tactics and vote against forced labeling.
Ronald Kleinman, M.D., is chief of the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and physician-in-chief at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. He is a consultant for profit and not-for-profit organizations in the food industry.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times