Thursday, November 22, 2012

Should we label genetically modified food?

Bhaskar Vira and David Nally in the "PovertyMatters" blog in the Guardian (UK): On the sidelines of the US presidential election, battle lines were drawn on a Californian ballot that has potential implications for broader debates about the challenges of global food security. Proposition 37, which was narrowly defeated (52.8% of voters opposed the measure), would have required mandatory labelling for all genetically engineered food sold to consumers in California.

...There seems little doubt that achieving food security will involve biotechnology. What is more contentious is the way in which these technologies are rolled out and, more to the point, who stands to benefit. The development, deployment and control of agricultural biotechnology is likely to result in winners and losers. There is no such thing as socially neutral or apolitical technology.

There are, for example, considerable differences between publicly funded genetic research, which is made freely available to farmers and other producers, and patented and protected technologies that are distributed under the proprietary control of private companies. In reality, biotechnological development is likely to involve compromise between the need to provide adequate incentives for research and development within the private sector, including allowing patents and intellectual property to protect profitability, and the need for these technologies to be used on a sufficient scale to offer sustainable solutions to the challenge of feeding 7 billion people.

Concerns about biosafety are equally important. For proponents of genetic technologies to dismiss these as the irrational fears of misinformed consumers is short-sighted, and potentially underestimates the power of consumer voice, especially in the digital age. It's also patronising, suggesting consumers should have choice on the shelves but not on the labels....

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