I was reading Keith Kloor’s article Teaching the Controversy. He likens the “right to know” campaign (the movement to label genetically modified foods) as a variation of the creationist “teach the controversy” strategy. There is no “controversy” over whether evolution is true or not (spoiler: it's true) and “teach the controversy” is just a bit of misleading framing to try to get their pseudoscience taught in schools. Kloor was saying this is the same as when anti-GMO activists frame the GMO labeling debate by saying that consumers should have the right to know what’s in their food. It’s an interesting point and there’s some truth to it, but I don’t think it’s quite the same. As much as I dislike conceding points to anti-GMO nuts, I have to agree that the right to know what’s in your food isn’t totally bogus. Many people are loath to eat GMO food, and they feel justified in asking for GMOs to be labeled.
My objection to Prop 37 and the labeling proponents is that food labeling should be based on the best available science, and not on a majority vote of a largely scientifically illiterate electorate. And that is especially true when that electorate has been influenced by the many misleading claims and fear mongering from anti-GMO groups. (Although they actually ended up voting against it in California.) There is no valid science that I have seen that provides any reason for blanket labeling of GMOs in food, and so in my view they shouldn’t be compulsorily labeled.
What if you still want to avoid GMOs? Well, there is nothing to stop producers of non-GMO food from labeling their products as such. That would seem to solve the problem without further regulation. There is a precedent for this - the organic industry regulates what can be labeled as “organic” food although there is no good science that shows organic food is any healthier than conventionally grown. (For example, see this systematic review of 240 studies comparing the health effects of organic and conventional foods. Steven Novella explained the review here: No Health Benefits from Organic Food.) In fact, the organic standard already excludes GMOs so if you are really concerned to avoid GMOs then just buy organic. In addition, many “no GMO” labels are already appearing on food. So in my view there is no need for an additional regulation to provide what is in reality useless information about GMO content.
While the anti-GMO movement is similar in may ways to intelligent design proponents and global warming deniers (bogus scientific studies, logical fallacies, changing goalposts, repeating claims long after they have been refuted), I don’t think the right to know is quite like teach the controversy. Similar in some ways, but not quite the same.
if you want to read about the latest examples of anti-GMO arguments that are based on complete misunderstandings of science, read Mark Hoofnagle’s article this week in Denialism Blog: Anti-GMO writers show profound ignorance of basic biology and now Jane Goodall has joined their ranks. Note the first two comments that are from the conspiracy nuts.