Dr. Oz interview with Stonyfield Organic CEO Gary Hirshberg & Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam

Narrator 1: On Dr. Oz dot com we ask you, if given the choice between eating genetically modified foods and those that aren’t, which would you choose?  Your answer when we return. 

Promo Narrator 2: Coming up next (Dr. Oz) “So why do you think genetically modified food labeling is so critical?” (Gary Hirschberg) “This is about the right to know.”  Narrator 2: “What are we really eating? (Dr. Oz) “Do you think genetically modified foods are safe? Narrator 2: And are there health risks? (Hirshberg) “We have the right to know while science sorts this out.” Narrator 2: And later (Dr. Oz) “Most of these grown in America today are genetically modified, and what you can do right now if you want to avoid them.” Narrator 2: “Don’t go away.”

Gary Hirshberg, Founding Partner, Just Label it: (Note: very beginning of segment pre-empted by local weather announcement) “… I can think of hundreds of reasons, but for example there are folks, nurses are concerned about the increased amount of herbicides that are now being used and the results of these herbicide tolerant crops.  Religious groups are concerned about messing with God’s work, with the actual DNA of these crops.  We have environmental groups concerned about the herbicides.  We have folks who just don’t trust big business.  The bottom line is people feel they should have the rights to know what’s in their food that, by the way, citizens have in 50 other nations including Russia and China. 

Dr. Oz: “That right? (Yeh) One of the big fears I’ve heard mentioned of labeling all these products and determining what’s genetically modified and what’s not.  What you do think that impact is on us in our wallet?

Mr. Hirshberg: “I think this is a diversionary tactic honestly and we should really keep our eyes on the ball. This is about the right to know.  Emory University has calculated that even if you load those full costs of those labeling changes on its 73 cents.  So this is a… (Dr. Oz 73 cents per person?) Yes, 73 cents per consumer.  So this is a non-issue.  To me that’s a small price to pay for transparency and the right to know, very fundamentally an American ethic.”

Dr. Oz: “Well Alison Eenennaam is an animal scientist from UC Davis, she disagrees with Gary and thinks mandatory food labeling will cost consumers significant more.  Alison thanks for joining the show.  Give us an idea how much this is going to cost?”

Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, PhD, Animal Scientist, UC Davis: “They’ve estimated this initiative, this Prop 37, is going to increase the cost for a family yearly grocery bill about three to four hundred dollars.  As a California consumer I’m not willing to pay that to have mandatory labeling.  And, the reason that the cost of food is going to go up is that those grocers are going to have to go in and go through the hundreds of thousands of products they have in their stores and determine which have bioengineered ingredients, and that’s about 60 to 70 percent of processed foods.  They’re going to have to label it specifically for the California market and of course national changes are going to have to specifically have labels for California or else reformulate that to have non-biotech ingredients and that’s going to have an additional cost as well, so that’s the reason it’s going to increase the cost of food.”

Dr. Oz: “So Gary, that’s a big difference, 73 cents – three to four hundred dollars?”

Mr. Hirshberg: “I’ve read the study Alison quotes.  The reality is that the bulk of those costs are associated with this substitution that Alison just mentioned, this idea that the companies have to change over.  The reality they don’t have to substitute if they’re so proud of these technologies I think they should remain.  Nothing about this initiative in California or nationally asks them to get rid of these crops.  We’re simply saying we have the right to know while science sorts this out.

Dr. Oz: “Alison do you think genetically modified foods are safe, independent from the labeling costs?”

Dr. Van Eenennaam: “Yes I do.  As a scientist I’ve looked at the data and I believe that these foods are safe.  And I think it’s a little disingenuous to compare the cost of labeling for a specific brand that you might change randomly to mandatory process-based labeling.  And that’s what this initiative is asking for, it’s saying this particular process, genetic engineering needs to be mandatory labeled and that actually has quite extensive costs in the food supply chain in order for you to comply with that because it’s a law, it’s no longer a voluntary approach like  for example organic based process labeling and that provides consumers that want to avoid genetically engineered foods with an option in the market place right now and so I don’t want to have conventional foods cost more when people that want to avoid genetically engineered products can go ahead and by organic if that’s what they chose to do.”

Dr. Oz: “Thank you for your insights.  Whether or not genetically modified food labeling happens in California or in the nationwide, if what you heard today concerns you what you can do about now.  I’ll have that answer when we return.”

Narrator-2: “Coming up, what you can do to avoid genetically modified food.”

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  1. Alison Van Eenennaam, B.Ag.Sci, M.Sci,, Ph.D. says:

    Science HAS sorted out the safety issues of GE crops. The EU alone, hardly a ardent biotech supporter, has invested more than 300 million Euro in GM organism (GMO) biosafety research. Quoting from its recent report (ec.europa.eu/research/biosociety/pdf/
    a_decade_of_eu-funded_gmo_research.pdf): “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130
    research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent
    research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular
    GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional
    plant breeding technologies.” Every credible scientific body that has examined the evidence has come to the same
    conclusion. In the USA, each newly modified crop must
    be shown to be equivalent to the original crop and the
    products encoded by the added genes must be independently
    tested for toxicity and allergenicity, making GM crops the most extensively tested crops ever introduced
    into the human food supply.

    If people still want to avoid GM foods they already have that choice – they can buy organic or GMO-free – VOLUNTARY process-based labeling options that exist in the market today and provide consumer choice – it is the mandatory process-based labeling in the absence of any difference in the food that is the expensive and controversial issue. If voluntary labeling provides people who do not want to eat GM a choice (and these people are unlikely themselves to eat GE-labeled products)– what is the rationale for making the rest of the food supply chain that considers GE food to be safe carry the cost of mandatory GE segregation and labeling with legal exposure for incorrectly labeled products? Mandatory labeling should be reserved for food safety and correctly identifying material differences in the nutrient content of the food.

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