Oregon student group pushes GMO labeling while others push back
In February, Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group set off on its lead petition campaign for the 2014 winter term. With a parade of yellow flyers and clipboard-wielding volunteers across the EMU, the campus lobbying group collected signatures in favor of labeling laws for foods containing genetically modified organisms, more commonly referred to as GMOs.
OSPRIG’s position is widely shared among the public, with some polls by the New York Times and the Washington Post showing as much as 94 percent of people favoring GMO labeling. However, some have a different view of the issue.
“The current consensus among the scientific community is near-unanimous against the current GMO labeling laws being discussed. The proposals being considered serve only to create stigma against products with these ingredients,” said Steven Strauss said, a professor at Oregon State University.
Strauss has more than 20 years in experience working with genetically modified plants, and teaches his students the science and policy of GMOs for the past decade.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science has opposed blanket labeling initiatives, saying they could “mislead and falsely alarm consumers” on the real purpose of genetic modification.
The target of the campaign was local supermarket chain Market of Choice, whom OSPRIG wished would publicly favor such rules were they to ever come to ballot. According to an OSPIRG press release, more than 4,000 students from UO, Lane Community College, Southern Oregon and Portland State universities have joined a petition asking grocery store chains to label food containing GMOs.
“The campaign does not take a positive or negative stance on GMOs themselves, it is entirely about consumer choice,” Hannah Picknell, UO chapter chair for OSPRIG, said. “People have a right to know what is in their food.”
Strauss defines genetic modification as “the asexual modification or insertion of DNA. Taking a segment of DNA out of an organism, modifying it for some purpose, then reinserting it into the organism.” This is a key factor in the GMO debate.
“The biggest misconception is that the FDA does not have any labeling laws in place for modified crops. If you modify say, a soybean, in a way that impacts the nutrition or toxicity of the crop — that must be labeled on the package regardless if that change was made through traditional breeding, or through genetic modification,” Strauss said.
Strauss’ issue — and others — with labeling all products with GMO ingredients is it creates an unnecessary stigma against products that are completely harmless. He also believes labels also fail to add anything to the consumer’s ability to choose.
“The American people already have a choice in avoiding GMO foods through organic labeling. These labels only serve to fill an ideological purpose,” Strauss said.