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Don’t Fear a Franken Public

The Surprising Reasons Why We Should Label Genetically Modified Food

Matthew Nisbet is associate professor of communication at Northeastern University and a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry scientific consultant. From 1997 to 1999, he was public relations director for CSI.

In January 2016, Campbell Soup generated headlines by announcing that it would voluntarily label its products containing genetically modified (GM) corn, soy, beets, and other crops. Like most food industry leaders, about three quarters of Campbell Soup products contain such ingredients.

The company’s announcement came in advance of a summer deadline set by Vermont requiring the labeling of GM foods sold in the state. Legislatures in more than twenty states have considered similar requirements. Food industry groups have lobbied for congressional legislation preempting any state requirements, encouraging voluntary disclosure. But Campbell Soup is notable for breaking with this strategy, calling instead for mandatory labeling (Strom 2016).

Contrary to the claims of “Frankenfood” opponents, research shows that Americans have not turned against the promising technology. Most remain unaware of the debate. If asked directly, Americans voice support for labeling, but these opinions are neither deeply held nor top of mind.

In this context, Campbell Soup’s strategy is a shrewd gamble that could lead to several counterintuitive yet welcome outcomes. If Americans were to encounter GM labels on almost all processed foods, the ubiquity and apparent safety of such foods may actually bolster public trust and confidence, quelling controversy and opening the door to a next generation of GM food products that offer enormous benefits.

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About Skeptical Inquirer

Creators of the Paranormal: A handful of twentieth-century figures “created” the modern concept of the paranormal and its leading topics, transporting fantasy, myth, or speculation into a kind of believable “reality.” Most proved to be a chimera. CRISPR-Cas9: Not Just Another Scientific Revolution Dissociation and Paranormal Beliefs Scientific Reasoning at the USAF Academy: An Examination into Titanium-Treated Necklaces Stick It In Your Ear! How Not To Do Science A Testament of Belief Masquerading as Science and much more...