Is AAAS Being Lazy, Scared, Or Resigned To Communications Failures?

There’s a proposition on the California ballot (37 for those keeping score) that would require the labeling of food from plants or animals that contain genetic material changed in specified ways (two kinds of method are listed in the measure – cell fusion and in vitro nucleic acid techniques).  Many countries require labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, so for once California will not be legislating new science-oriented public policy if the measure passes (not a likely outcome at the moment, but there’s still a week until the election).

The Board of Directors for AAAS has weighed in with a statement  (H/T The Scientist) that emphasizes the advocacy in its mission and I think downplays the scientific ethos it claims to support.  It starts with how the Board characterizes the initiative, and similar labeling efforts – as a means of demonstrating foods with genetically modified organisms to be unsafe or untested.  This notion is strenuously rebuffed in the statement, and I’m not interested in debating the point.  Personally, I don’t object to eating genetically modified food.

But I would love to know when I’m eating it and when I’m not.

Much in the same way that I’d like to avoid certain nuts, flavors, or other ingredients that have little or no connection to the potential health impacts. Come on, I want to know when I’m having the donuts fried in lard rather than those fried in canola oil (it matters, seriously).

The notion of other, reasonable justifications for labeling the constituent parts of food is not considered or addressed by AAAS.  To their narrow point of view, labeling is only done for purposes of safety, and since safety has been definitively proven, genetically modified food doesn’t need to be labelled.

Frankly, I think a lot of agitation over this issue could be effectively quelled by being in favor of transparency, and open information.  I was under the impression this was a good scientific practice. Continue reading