In favor of GMO labeling? You need to read this

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The Austin-based Whole Foods Market is pushing for more labels like this one to help consumers know which products contain genetically modified organisms. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez for the Austin American-Statesman.
The Austin-based Whole Foods Market is pushing for more labels like this one to help consumers know which products contain genetically modified organisms. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez for the Austin American-Statesman.

The Austin-based Whole Foods Market is pushing for more labels like this one to help consumers know which products contain genetically modified organisms. Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez for the Austin American-Statesman.

GMO labeling seems like such an no-brainer.

Genetically modified or engineered ingredients are in more than 80 percent of products in grocery stores, and more than 90 percent of Americans say they have a right to know if GMOs, as they are called, are in their foods.

The government requires all kinds of other information on labeling, so why not GMOs?

The question is quite complicated, but it’s one worth looking into. Several people invested in the answer came together on Saturday for a panel at South by Southwest Interactive that was controversial even before it started. (It was also timely because a GMO labeling bill was filed in the Texas legislature just days before the panel took place.)

In my column in today’s food section, I try to sort the (non-GMO) wheat from the (pro-GMO) chaff, including the legitimate benefits that GMOs can provide to the food system as well as the legitimate criticisms about the marketing that comes out of a (carefully curated and promoted) panel like this.

The TL;DR version: GMOs are worthy of scrutiny, but we shouldn’t automatically assume that they don’t belong in the food system. Transparency matters more than ever, but if the pro-GMO companies say they agree, they should work harder (and not simply by organizing panels stacked in their favor) to create an effective labeling system and an educated consumer base that knows how to use it.


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