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Professor looks at label debate

genetic apple

Missouri has a stake in the debate over labeling genetically modified foods. Photo by Rob Hill.

Fat grams, allergy warnings, serving sizes, bar codes, kosher certification: Considering the fine print that already covers food packages, should labels also disclose whether foods include genetically modified (GM) ingredients?

The European Union says yes. The United States, however, requires no such labeling.

That difference has inflamed activists and disrupted U.S. agricultural trade with the EU, says Paul Weirich, professor of philosophy, who edited Labeling Genetically Modified Food: the Philosophical and Legal Debate (Oxford University Press, 2007). Other MU contributors include law faculty members Phil Peters and Thom Lambert, philosophy Professor Peter Markie, animal science Professor R. Michael Roberts and agricultural economics Professor Nick Kalaitzandonakes.

Weirich studies decision and game theory. He became fascinated by the GM debate while serving on a life sciences programming committee that sponsored a conference at MU in 2005. He learned how profoundly the issue affects agricultural states such as Missouri and corporations such as Monsanto, a leader in GM technology. Weirich’s research looks at what information consumers require to make informed decisions when buying food. Since there’s no scientific evidence that GM foods are dangerous, labeling is a bad idea, Weirich says, arguing that such labeling confuses and scares people needlessly.

The topic is timely and the debate heated. “Labeling keeps coming up in the news, and I think it will for quite a few years,” Weirich says, noting that the FDA recently approved the sale of meat from cloned animals. This new generation of GM foods will ignite fresh public debate, he predicts. “The issue’s going to intensify.”