Just Label It! (JLI) is an organic industry front group that promotes doubt about the safety of genetically engineered food. Established in 2012 by Only Organic, a coalition of organic food companies, JLI toes the industry line that transgenic crops could be harmful to human health, but we don’t know for sure because major food companies are “hiding important information about our food.”
“Why Labeling Makes Sense”
Labeling GMOs makes sense, according to JLI, because genetically engineered (GE) foods have not been properly tested, so we don’t know how they affect human health. “Because it has only been 16 years since the introduction of GMO crops and they have been grown particularly fast in only the last 8 years, we don’t yet know … about the impacts of today’s first-generation-GMO crops,” JLI warns on its website.
The group also claims that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Academies of Science (NAS) warned in the 1990s that GE food could introduce “…new toxins or allergens, but these warnings were not heeded.” To round out their list of scary claims about GMOs, JLI alleges that “…no mandatory human clinical trials of genetically modified crops” have been conducted.
The industry group cites no evidence to support these assertions, and that’s probably because the FDA and NAS have come out in support of plant biotechnology, along with every other major scientific and regulatory body around the world. And while it’s true that no clinical trials have investigated the effects of consuming GE food, this point isn’t the slam dunk JLI thinks it is. Geneticist Layla Katiraee points out that clinical trials are designed to uncover how new pharmaceutical drugs change how the human body functions; GE crops are grown to produce food just like conventionally bred crops.
It’s for this reason that scientists compare GE foods to their conventional counterparts to ensure that they are “substantially equivalent.” This comparative approach makes sense, according to the FDA, because “[t]he regulatory status of a food, irrespective of the method by which it is developed, is dependent upon objective characteristics of the food and the intended use of the food.” The method of production can sometimes influence the nutritional quality of certain foods, the agency acknowledges, “[h]owever, the key factors in reviewing safety concerns should be the characteristics of the food product, rather than the fact that the new methods are used.”
90 Percent of Americans Support Mandatory GMO Labeling?
JLI is also fond of the claim that 90 percent of Americans support labeling genetically modified food, which the group says is based on data from several polls conducted in recent years. Putting aside the fact that arguing from popular opinion is a logical fallacy, JLI is simply wrong to assert that Americans want more warning labels on their food. Only three states, Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut, have enacted GMO labeling laws. Similar proposals were defeated in Oregon, California, Colorado and Washington, states typically sympathetic to anti-science activism. Moreover, following the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) effectively halted attempts to put a fear-based label on GE food, instead opting for a more neutral “bioengineered” label.
Just Label It! began as a project funded exclusively by the organic food industry. In 2011, Stoneyfield Organics and Fenton Communications, a progressive PR firm with deep ties to the anti-biotech movement, launched JLI in hopes of building popular support for state ballot initiatives that would have mandated GMO labeling. After the bulk of these campaigns were defeated at the ballot box, JLI continued as part of a “national coalition of 500 partner organizations,” called Only Organic. JLI now functions primarily as a propaganda outlet for organic food companies like Whole Foods, Nature’s Path, National Co+op Grocers and other food companies who profit by lying to consumers.