As the 2016 presidential election heats up, a key issue might emerge from the field of biology. Over the past few years, the labeling Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) in food has become the subject of intense debate. Though it is not as well-known as other topics, the stars are aligning for GMO Labeling to dominate this year’s political discussion.
Before explaining how GMO Labeling could make or break campaigns, a brief description of GMO’s is necessary. Genetically modified organisms are created through the complex process of isolating and extracting a useful gene from one organism, and using a virus to transplant that gene into another organism. GMO’s have been around for decades and have multiple uses, including medicine; however, their more recent uses in food are generating controversy. Agricultural and biotechnology companies genetically modify all kinds of food for various purposes; they make corn and soy resistant to weed killing herbicide, they make tomatoes ripen later to have a longer shelf life, and they modify cows to produce higher quality milk. Despite the vast possible benefits of GMO’s, many people are wary of disrupting the process of natural selection with manmade evolution. On one side of the argument, there are promises of empowered farmers and an abundance of high quality food; on the other side, there are studies revealing possible carcinogens in GMO’s, and fears of creating unforeseen dangers to agriculture. Currently, the main debate is whether or not genetically modified foods for sale need to be labeled.
The positions of the presidential candidates on GMO’s are incredibly important. Nearly all the candidates oppose federal requirements for labeling genetically modified food. According to Tea Party Conservative Ted Cruz, “anti-science zealotry” cannot be allowed to “shut down the ability to produce low cost, quality food for billions across the globe”. Moderate Republican Jeb Bush firmly believes GMO’s help farmers, and these scientific advancements should be celebrated. Interestingly, Democrat front runner Hillary Clinton shares this position with her Republican opponents; she publicly supports the seeds and products of Monsanto, a major biotechnology company. The only major presidential candidate who has advocated for GMO Labeling is self-proclaimed Socialist Bernie Sanders. In 2013 he attempted to get legislation passed that would guarantee states the power to require labels on GMO’s sold within their borders. The reason why the issue of GMO Labeling could prove crucial is multiple polls report over 90% of Americans support requiring genetically modified food to be labeled. It would seem the majority of candidates, except Sanders, are not in touch with mainstream America on this issue. If GMO Labeling gets more political and media attention, Sanders could get a boost in the race by attracting the support of concerned biologists.
Current legislative actions could cause GMO’s to become the center of many disscussions. As of now, only a few states, like Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine, have passed laws to require GMO’s to be labeled. Many more state legislatures have tried, or are in the process of trying to pass GMO Labeling laws. However, as states attempt to make their own labeling requirements, a debate is raging over if states have the power to do so, or if such laws must be done at the federal level. Earlier this summer the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill banning states from enforcing GMO Labeling Requirements. The bill’s sponsor, Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo, stated “Precisely zero pieces of credible evidence have been presented that foods produced with biotechnology pose any risk to our health and safety”. As the debate moves to the Senate, GMO’s will gain more attention. That, combined with presidential candidates further defining their stances on agriculture as the Iowa Caucus approaches, will put a spotlight on the debate and may make GMO Labeling one of the most important issues in this election.
GMO’s are important to discuss. The debate right now is primarily about GMO Labeling but there are more aspects to be considered. While their benefits are numerous, some could be dangerous to both consumers and the environment. Biologists and politicians need to work together to determine the best course of action for this nation. Can we have our GMO’s and eat them too, or did we bite off more than we can chew?