Scientists point to safety versus traditional uses

AFP Correspondent

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Dec. 2, 2014) — Dr. Kevin M. Folta, a molecular biologist, is currently professor and chairman, Horticultural Sciences department, University of Florida.
He researches small fruit genomics and light control of plant traits, and has edited two seminal texts in fruit genomics.
Folta told the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in the Pennsylvania House during a GMO Informational Meeting that genetic engineering has less risk than traditional plant breeding.
Unfortunately, though, fear stops innovation.
He pointed out that biofortification breeding which increases nutrient value, has resulted in products with higher Vitamin A, folate, and other nutrients.
Golden Rice, developed to alleviate malnutrition and blindness in children, was produced with this technique.
Stress tolerance, including heat and drought resistant crops, are being genetically engineered.
Folta stressed that these not only result in better consumer products, they help the environment as well.
But an improved product, Folta said, is a rigorous process, using an example of a strawberry gene to stop fungi.
Folta told the committee that he has been accused of working for Monsanto.
He said he never has worked or consulted for them, or received a dime from them.
In writings, he has noted that statements like that harms the anti-GMO movement.
It shows they are willing to make up information in the absence of evidence, Folta stressed.
Folta referred to the plethora of misinformation regarding genetic modification. “It’s not scientific,” he said, “It’s a social debate.”
Dr. L. Val Giddings, senior fellow, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, began his comments by stating he has a personal interest in labeling.
His son, allergic to peanuts, experienced several crises after eating peanuts unknowingly.
However, Giddings told the committee that the labeling bill, HB 1770, would do nothing to add to food safety.
Instead, because such a label suggests risk, it would not be accurate.
A GMO label, Giddings continued, tells nothing about the products content.
A label must relate information about the health, safety and nutritional value of the product to be useful and accurate.
Giddings suggested that the issue was not about labeling, but for some people it is an effort to expand the market share for organic products.
Also, some proponents are pushing for labeling Giddings observed, as the first step toward outright banning of GMO products.
At this point in Giddings comments, a group of anti-GMO activists disrupted the session.
Committee Chairman John Maher pointed out that the session was for information and that the group should show some respect and allow the scientist to speak.
Maher emphasized he would tolerate no more interruptions.
The organic label, Giddings continued, accurately informs the public that the product was produced according to organic standards.
Because genetically engineered products cannot be used in organic production or processing, if consumers wish to avoid GMO products, they can purchase products which carry the National Organic Program label.
In conclusion, Giddings said that mandating a GMO label would mislead consumers.
The Pennsylvania General Assembly House Bill 1770 was referred to the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and has not been scheduled for vote.
Ballots for mandatory labeling were defeated in the November 4, 2014 election in both Colorado and Oregon.
The Colorado ballot vote was 66 percent against labeling; the Oregon ballot was far narrower.
It resulted in 50.5 percent voting against labeling.