FROM READERS: GMOs and your right to know

Sunday, March 2, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Courtney McBay is a senior agriculture education major at MU.

If you know anything about agriculture, you've heard the term GMO — genetically modified organism. Wait, scratch that — even if you don't know anything about agriculture, you've probably heard the term GMO. The term and others associated with it pack a whole lot of punch, and I'm sure you've got some of your own media-induced opinions floating around in there.

Everyone's problem with the word is all of the across the fence yelling: one side says it's healthy, one side says it's not. One side says it's what's been happening as long as man has been steward of land, one side says seed science is playing god by tampering with life. One side screams "SCIENCE!" while the other screams "ETHICS!" — it's a hot issue, and it's a wicked problem. I feel very strongly about one side of the fence, and I'll admit to threatening to throw tomatoes at the other side.

I have a friend on Facebook who isn’t shy about his thoughts on agriculture. He’s never rude, but always honest. I appreciate that and I like to know where the other team's head is at, even if I want to throw tomatoes at them. He posted an article reacting to the Washington State (ahem, "The New California") GMO labeling initiative I-522's defeat. The article's true focus is on "food giants" (akin to The Foodie Farmer's pet peeve, "Big Ag") and how they have become "unstoppable."

What really got me going is what I saw of the promotional images. The posters, simple, easy to read, and no-doubt created by a hip Seattle graphic design undergrad sipping on an $8 latte, make you feel a certain way. There's that one line at the bottom, beckoning voters to embrace their right to know.

Claiming voters need this initiative to know what they are eating does two things: First, it insinuates that agriculture is some far-away world keeping dark secrets from its consumers. And second, it severely underestimates the intelligence of Washington's eaters.

If I were a Washingtonian, I'm not quite sure how I'd react to this. I'd imagine my train of thought would be along the lines of: "Um, thanks but I already have my right to know. I'm not stupid and I don't need someone's permission to know what I'm eating. I can read, I can research, and I can eat whatever I want. Why do I need you to tell me what's OK and what's not?"

Washington's issue isn't about health or food safety. It isn't about educating consumers. It's about policing them and controlling them in the most intimate way — by telling them what should be on their forks. Jayson Lusk, author of The Food Police, put it in the most attainable way in the dedication of his book. It simply says:

"For those who wish to eat without a backseat driver"

That's me. I'm a grown-up, and I'll take it from here. If I chose to buy something to eat at the store, it's going to be because Big Girl Courtney wants it and certainly not because the government slaps some label on it.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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Ellis Smith March 2, 2014 | 1:07 p.m.

I reside a few miles from the headquarters an old and world-widely known firm engaged in crop genetics. Their "campus" buildings would do justice to a small university, and their greenhouses cover acres. If there's going to be enough food to feed the projected world population then genetically engineered agricultural products will NOT be an option; there will be no choice.

As for labels, how many consumers actually read those now on products, agricultural or otherwise. Some read them, but far from everyone. Can all domestic consumers read English; can some comsumers competently read any language at all?

I agree that consumers should be expected to be mentally gownup humans, capable of making their own decisions. Unfortunately the "food police" don't seem to tnink so. Maybe they've spent too long gazing at their [own] mirror images. :)

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