Science, Not Politics, Should Drive Trade and Regulatory Decisions

The Obama administration issued a stinging rebuke of the European Union’s decision this week to allow countries in Europe to “opt-out” of U.S. imports of genetically modified (GM) foods and feed. The U.S. Trade Representative said that such a rule “ignore[s] science-based safety and environmental determinations” that modifying crops in laboratories is no more harmful than traditional cross-breeding crops in the fields. Yet, in today’s hyper-politicized culture, the regulatory process in the United States is also often hijacked by special interest groups that subvert science in favor of their own emotional “narratives” that can be deeply misleading.

Modern advances in food science, both in how we produce and deliver food, have become key battlegrounds in the science versus fear-mongering debate. On the production side, GM foods can offer a much-needed path to feeding the world’s population. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have carefully studied GM foods and found them safe. The lack of any scientifically valid concerns, though, has not stopped special interest groups from seeking federal and state laws requiring that GM foods be labeled. Also, as much as the federal government may want to cast aspersions, the USDA has held up approval of modified salmon despite clear science that such fish are safe.

The politicization of the federal regulatory process takes on a whole new level, though, when one federal agency funds special interest studies that undermine another agency’s scientific conclusions key to federal regulations. This has been happening with bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been used since the 1960s to coat metal food cans to stop germs from growing in the cans that can be harmful to consumers. It has long been well understood that BPA molecules can migrate from the packaging to the food, and the FDA regulates —> Read More