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Fear vs. data: A surprisingly close call

Last Wednesday the New Hampshire House defeated a bill to require the labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients. It should have been a crushing defeat. Instead, it was a rather narrow one — only 23 votes. On an issue that is not remotely a close call, 162 House members voted on the side unsupported by any evidence.

One of House Bill 660’s stated goals was to “(e)nable consumers to avoid the potential risks associated with genetically engineered foods...” What risks?

“GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health,” The World Health Organization has concluded. “In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration applies the same safety standards to all foods, whether genetically modified or not. The FDA is so unconcerned about GMO foods that its official position is that labeling is unnecessary. It supports voluntary, not mandatory, labeling.

But despite the complete lack of evidence that there is any health risk whatsoever from the genetic engineering of foods (which the FDA itself likens to old-fashioned cross-breeding of crops), 162 House members voted to impose this costly and burdensome labeling requirement on New Hampshire food producers and retailers.

It is disheartening that even in a deliberative body as large as the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and even in a society with virtually unlimited access to scientific data, science has to fight as hard as ever to prevail over irrational fear.

Eric Church
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