Ag Policy Blog

Aggie Moms Versus Celebrity Moms Over Biotech Food Labels

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The fight over labeling food containing ingredients from biotech crops has turned into a battle of celebrity moms versus aggie moms.

A group of women scientists, farmers and agricultural communicators wrote an open letter Wednesday pushing back against actresses and others who oppose the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.

The bill, H.R. 1599, passed the House July 23 on a 275-150 vote. The bill would block states from creating their own labeling standards for foods with ingredients from biotech crops, also known as "GMO foods." The bill also creates a non-GMO certification program that would be run by USDA, similar to the organic certification program. The bill would effectively eliminate the likelihood of FDA requiring a label for GMO foods unless a product was deemed to have a health risk.

The bill is now in the hands of the Senate and could draw some hearings in that chamber. The 60-vote threshold and procedural moves that senators can use to block legislation suggest it could be a much harder for H.R. 1599 to get a flood vote in the Senate chamber.

Several celebrities went to Capitol Hill earlier this month to push for diametrically opposite bill that would require mandatory GMO labeling. Most notably, actresses Blythe Danner and her daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, highlighted a press conference with lawmakers on the topic. Several other actresses spoke out in a video that was spotlighted on Hollywood and celebrity news websites regarding a "conceal or reveal" petition. The actresses declared that moms deserve the right to know what's in their kids' food. And you can't be against moms, especially celebrity moms. http://dld.bz/…

The science-aggie moms counter with their own letter, which was posted on groundedparents.com http://dld.bz/…

In the letter, the 11 farm-and-science moms declare the celebrity moms are wrong even if their hearts are in the right place. "We know your statements come from love and concern for your children, because ours do, too. We feel that it is our responsibility to clarify misconceptions about genetically engineered or genetically modified organisms, often called GMOs. We want to provide insight into why we feed our families food containing ingredients derived from GMOs and explain why we oppose mandatory GMO labeling."

The website/open letter explains some basic plant-breeding and genetic-engineering tools used to produce food and medicine. The science-aggie moms also highlight some of the benefits being brought to bear because of biotechnology. "The genetically engineered plants used today allow farmers to apply fewer insecticides and less toxic herbicides. Some are disease resistant and drought tolerant. Apples and potatoes that are just now entering the market will reduce food waste due to brown spots and bruises. Scientists have developed additional beneficial traits that haven’t reached the market due to unfounded fears and a burdensome regulatory system. Examples include citrus greening resistant oranges that could save the US citrus industry, and blight resistant chestnut trees that could repopulate the great chestnut forests of the US and provide habitat and food for wildlife."

But the scientists and farmers don't support the argument that "right to know what's in our food" should translate into labeling all products derived from biotechnology. "Labeling whether a product contains ingredients derived from a GMO crop tells you nothing about what is “in” the food. Genetic engineering is a breeding method, not a product. It isn’t an ingredient to scoop into a bowl. For example, sugar from GMO sugar beets is just sucrose, there is nothing “in” it. It is just like sugar from sugar cane."

The women with ag backgrounds added, "Please, don’t co-opt motherhood and wield your fame to oppose beneficial technologies like genetic engineering. Certain celebrities have misled thousands of parents into thinking that vaccines are harmful, and we see the same pattern of misinformation repeating itself here. When GMOs are stigmatized, farmers and consumers aren’t able to benefit from much-needed advancements like plants with increased nutrients, or plants that can adapt to changing environmental stresses."

The letter was signed by 11 science, farming and agricultural communicators, though one of the writers, the author of the blog, "It's MomSense," chose to remain anonymous.

Kavin Senapathy: Freelance writer, science popularizer, co-founder of March Against Myths, mother of two (ages 4 and 2)

Dr. Layla Katiraee: Scientist, writer at FrankenFoodFacts and Biology Fortified, and mother of a 3-year-old

Dr. Anastasia Bodnar: Scientist, co-founder of the non-profit Biology Fortified, Inc., and mother of a 15-month-old

Dr. Alison Bernstein: Scientist, writer, mother of two (ages 7 and 2), AKA “Mommy PhD”

Julie Borlaug: Associate Director for external relations at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, and Strategic Initiatives, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, and mother of a 6-year-old

Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam: University researcher and animal biotechnology specialist, and mother of two (ages 15 and 17)

Sarah Schultz: Nurse, wife of a farmer, writer at Nurse Loves Farmer, mother of two (ages 5 and 2)

Sara, science communicator and blogger at It’s Momsense, mother of two (ages 5 and 7)

Jenny Splitter: Writer at Grounded Parents, storyteller, mother of two (ages 11 and 4), Science Activist and food allergy parent

Joni Kamiya: Biotech papaya farmer’s daughter, blogger at Hawaii Farmer’s Daughter. Mother of three (ages 7 months, 5, and 10)

Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD – Farmer & Registered Dietitian, AKA “The Foodie Farmer”, mother of two (ages 15 and 17)

Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung: University biotechnology educator, program administrator and mother of an 11-year-old

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.

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