Food is an emotional topic.  Parents want to know that the food they put on the table is safe and nutritious.  As an industry, and as parents ourselves, we understand, appreciate and share that concern.   

But in the context of driving a political agenda, anti-science interests are seeking to exploit fear about agricultural practices, including the use of pesticides, as justification for their campaign for mandatory labeling of foods derived from genetically modified (GM) crops.  Their emotional arguments ignore both the practical use of pesticides in agriculture and important information about the science-based regulation of pesticides in the United States. 

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Our industry supports currently pending federal legislation that sets a uniform national labeling standard that prevents confusion and provides certainty for consumers in food labeling no matter where they live or shop.  We believe that our nation’s food-labeling standards should be based on the best available science and that food labels should provide relevant, factual and useful information for consumers. 

We’d like to set the record straight on these distortions and scary-sounding claims. 

First, the use of pesticides is not limited to GM production.  Organic, conventional and GM farmers use a variety of pesticides to control weeds, bugs and other pests on their fields.  So it’s very important to understand that mandatory labeling of foods derived from GM crops would provide no useful or relevant information to consumers about whether a particular pesticide was used during production.   

In the United States, all registered pesticide products undergo careful review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure they will pose no unreasonable risk to human health or the environment when used according to label instructions.  EPA regulation of registered pesticides applies regardless of whether the registered pesticide will be used in organic, conventional or GM production.   

One of the most commonly used pesticides in both conventional and GM agriculture is glyphosate, which is highly effective in controlling a broad range of weeds and enables the use of farming techniques that reduce erosion and improve soil health.  The recent advertisements have made baseless accusations about the safety profile of glyphosate.  We would like to set the record straight. 

Glyphosate has a 40-year history of safe use and has been the subject of more than 800 health and safety studies.  The U.S. EPA and other regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate can be used safely when label instructions are followed.  Glyphosate is not a carcinogen. 

Recently, the fear-mongering campaign of political attacks against GM ingredients and agriculture have pointed to a recent assessment of glyphosate by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which selectively used and interpreted data to classify glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. For context, IARC has given this same classification to occupations such as being a barber or working the night shift.   

IARC is just one of four World Health Organization (WHO) programs that have looked at glyphosate.  It is notable that IARC’s classification is inconsistent with the conclusions of the three other WHO programs which have also reviewed glyphosate and found no evidence of carcinogenicity or health concern.  IARC’s classification is also inconsistent with the findings of regulatory agencies around the world. 

Just last year, EPA reviewed more than 55 epidemiological studies on glyphosate, and came to a different conclusion from that of IARC.  “Our review concluded that this body of research does not provide evidence to show that glyphosate causes cancer, and it does not warrant any change in EPA’s cancer classification for glyphosate,” EPA said in a statement after the IARC classification was published.  

Decisions about a topic as important as food labeling should be based on the best available science and a true desire to provide useful information to consumers.  The Safe & Affordable Food Act passed by the House would accomplish these objectives, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing October 21 to look into these issues. 

Emotions are powerful, but government policies need to be based on facts and science.

Collins is a registered dietitian and senior vice president for Science & Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America.