Debate explores GMO label effects

Aryn Plax
Metro Editor

Members of the University of La Verne debate team considered whether food with genetically modified organisms should be labeled accordingly on Tuesday in La Fetra Hall in the Mainiero building.

Freshman political science major Kaiden Rickseckor and senior philosophy major Meaghan McHenry argued in favor of labeling GMOs, and junior political science major Scott Patra and freshman political science major Fares Abdullah argued against it.

Rickseckor opened the debate by saying that people have the right to know what goes into their food. Patra said that labeling foods with GMOs is bad when the labeling does not explain whether or not the specific GMO is good, and that the labeling of GMOs is not beneficial to a society that is ignorant of GMOs’ benefits.

“If you want to talk about knowledge when it comes to what you’re eating, how does this apply to other foods that we don’t label for arbitrary reasons?” Rickseckor said. “We don’t label the carcinogenic properties of meat. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but they don’t explain the parameters of why we should label things.”

Rickseckor said that the debaters in favor of GMO labeling needed to prove that GMOs are bad and that labeling GMOs would benefit society. He said that genetic modification of food can lead to longer shelf lives – thus reducing food waste – and can help communities facing food insecurity. He said that labeling GMOs would lead to the creation of a “second class” of food.

“When you label something ‘a GMO,’ you give it this image, something that isn’t necessarily explained, but something that people will start beginning to oppose, and we think creating an opposition to something that has no definitive harms, but on the other hand, we see a lot of definitive benefits from it, it’s ultimately harmful,” Rickseckor said.

McHenry said she admits that GMOs are good and prevalent in our food. She said that labeling GMOs will put a check on the monopolies like Monsanto that corporate industries have over food production. McHenry said that 93 percent of the population is in favor of labeling GMOs.

“But at a point in time, when they can monopolize the industry because they aren’t labeling themselves as GMOs, while you have organic food companies labeling it, and people not buying it, that is the monopoly that we’re talking about,” McHenry said. “At a point in time where everyone is using them, we think that at that point in time, it become necessary to label them.”

Abdullah said that humans have been genetically modifying crops since the beginning of agriculture.

Whereas genetic modification used to take the form of cross pollinating different strains of a plant, genetic modification now involves modifying the genes of the organism.

“We think it is very logically fallacious to base the fact that political policy and the general things that we should pursue as a government ought to be based upon ideas of a general populace that has barely any idea of what GMOs are,” Abdullah said.

After the debate, the audience watched a clip from “Bill Nye Saves The World,” in which shoppers at a farmer’s market are interviewed about their knowledge of GMOs. The interviewees in the clip show that they do not know what GMOs are. The closest any interviewee gets to knowing what they are is correctly guessing what the first two letters stand for.

Senior biology majors Edward Espinoza and Oscar Mauricio presented an explanation on what GMOs are and what the arguments are for and against GMOs.

They defined GMO as a “result of the combination of two different genes in an organism to produce the optimal benefits.” While GMOs can bring higher crop yields, they can also bring about unintended consequences.

“The pros just outweigh the negatives, but at the same time I think there’s a lot of problems in terms of how GMOs are executed, especially by the large corporations, and how they present them to you,” Espinoza said. “I think there’s a need for higher regulation.”

Professor of Humanities Al Clark said he worries about the possibility of mono-cropping, in which only one crop is grown on a plot of land year after year.

“They’re everywhere, we can’t really avoid GMOs, they’re in the food supply, particularly in the major food supply, the foods that we all eat, canola, wheat corn, and so forth, we can’t avoid it,” Clark said. “I’m worried about it, not for me personally, getting sick or something, but rather I worry about the reduction of biodiversity, which has always meant that if a vector comes in and attacks a crop that we’re dependent upon, that there’s a real possibility that the effect would be we lose the whole crop.”

Professor of Biology and Biochemistry Jay Jones said that problems can arise when GMOs are marketed untruthfully.

“If you look at the marketing of GMOs in India, the advertising was that they would increase the yield, so they [subsistence farmers] paid money for the seed, rather than using their own traditional seed,” Jones said. “They planted the crops, and the crops did not produce as promised. Now, they had debt, and in India, a number of farmers, we’re talking about hundreds of farmers, maybe even thousands of farmers, were caught in this situation where they were in debt for the seed and for the chemicals and with no way to get out.”

Aryn Plax can be reached at aryn.plax@laverne.edu.

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