GMO labeling bill and public representation

There’s been a lot of heat lately surrounding GMO labeling, both nationally and locally. The Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (H.722) was introduced to the Vermont House in February. If passed, it will require mandatory labeling on all genetically engineered food. Despite overwhelming public support, and a majority (6 to 5) of Agriculture Committee members supporting passage of the bill, legislators of Vermont have put the bill on hold.

In a post titled ‘Vermont Could Be the First State in the Nation to Require GMO Labeling’, City Market shows unwavering support for H. 722 and consumers right-to-know. Though the post does not include direct quotes from members of the public, it does include them in the discussion. In the below excerpt, the general public and City Market are represented as important stakeholders in this discussion:

We all have the right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our children. Yet, without information on the label, we can’t tell if our food contains GMOs unless we only buy Certified Organic products which are never allowed to contain GMO ingredients.

50 countries including the European Union, Japan and China already require labels on genetically engineered foods.

Interesting to note, is at another point in the post the public is portrayed as a separate stakeholder, specifically, separate from the experts. In a paragraph highlighting several alarming statistics about genetically engineered crops the author writes,“At the same time, scientific studies are increasingly questioning the safety of these products for our health and our environment.”

In the spirit of devil’s advocate, I’m going to argue that the above sentence privileges expert knowledge systems and as a result, undermines the knowledge of the general public. Gross (1994) argued that dominant understandings of the public’s relationship to science reflect a deficit model, where general public is considered ignorant and easily swayed by subjective biases. To make up for their deficits, the public is thought to rely on experts whose knowledge is believed to be objective and sufficient (Heiss, 2011).

While in a subtle way this sentence situates the conversation as an exchange between knowledgeable scientists and a ignorant public, I doubt it was intentional.

All in all, by emphasizing the Right to Know Campaign, the post gives authority to the public to talk about the health and environmental risks of GMO’s, thus giving the public agency in this highly important discussion.

WP 3/2

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One Comment on “GMO labeling bill and public representation”

  1. April 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    I sure hope we can get this kind of legislation passed, not just in VT, but federally. The just Label It campaign is working towards this but so far, the FDA has not seemed terribly impressed by the 1 million signatures demanding GMO labeling they delivered. Still, this seems like one of the things that consumers can and will continue to demand and eventually law-makers will have to catch up!

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