Jerry Greenfield makes a mean batch of ice cream, but his knowledge in the scientific realm leaves something to be desired.
Jerry, the eponymous second half of Ben & Jerry's ice cream company, is an opponent of genetically modified foods. Last week he was in Washington to quash a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration sole authority to mandate genetically modified organism labeling.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., says his bill will streamline a messy patchwork of standards at the state level. It would also override GMO labeling laws passed by states such as Vermont, Ben & Jerry's home turf.
In D.C., Greenfield has teamed up with Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to defeat Pompeo's bill. By all accounts they are likely to succeed. If they do, it will be a victory for scientific obfuscation. Inadvertently, it will also be a victory for limited government.
A Ben & Jerry's statement opposing GMOs includes the qualification "Now, we aren't scientists, we just make ice cream" -- that much is apparent.
The company points out that "there are questions about whether GMO technology is truly living up to its promise of making bigger and better food." While this is true, it speaks more to public confusion about the issue than about the safety of genetically modified food. This confusion will be deepened if government forces manufacturers to "warn" consumers about GM foods that are not, in fact, unhealthy.
I will resist stating that the science on this matter is settled, but a robust academic consensus has emerged about GMOs since their commercial introduction in 1994. The consensus: GM crops are just as healthy as non-GM crops, and in some cases healthier.
"Since its introduction in 1994, genetic modification has been widely used to make food crops more resistant to pests and more resilient against diseases and the impact of adverse environmental conditions e.g. drought ...
"... reputable regulatory agencies (such as the U.S. FDA, European Commission and FSANZ) and leading scientific bodies that study the safety of the food supply from both a human consumption and environmental perspective have shown that authorized GM crops and food ingredients produced from these crops are as safe as their conventional counterparts."
But you don't have to take the food conglomerate's word for it.
Here's a quote from a 2012 statement of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: "As a result and contrary to popular misconceptions, GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply ... Legally mandating [GMO labeling] can only serve to mislead and falsely alarm consumers."
And here's one from a comprehensive study by the National Academies of Science: "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."
In short, Ben, Jerry and all the other anti-GMO activists are wrong on the science.
However, they may also be right to oppose Rep. Pompeo's bill, which would limit the constitutionally-enshrined authority of the 50 states to do wrongheaded things.
This comment by DeFazio should hit close to home for defenders of federalism and limited government:
"On any other day my Republican colleagues, Mr. Pompeo among them, would say, ‘We’re for states’ rights and we’re for capitalism.' OK, well, states’ rights would say you’re not going to preempt Vermont or any other state that wants to require just simple disclosure on the label."