These days, one of the biggest debates around food concerns labeling genetically engineered foods. State-level ballot initiatives and legislative efforts to require labeling of GMOs have sprung up in more than twenty states, with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont already declaring victories for consumers by mandating labeling.
Yet our nation’s taxpayer-funded cooperative extension program, created by Congress 100 years ago with a mission to conduct education and outreach around important agricultural topics, has been largely silent in the raging public debate.
If so desired, the USDA and our fifty states could marshal their army of extension officers and specialists to weigh in on GMO labeling. Perhaps wisely, extension has not taken a position.
However, individual extension employees are speaking out, and in the places where extension pops up in the GMO-labeling debate, it’s almost always taking the side of the biotechnology industry, using industry studies and talking points to make their case.
Extension specialists from the University of California are speaking out about how GMO labeling will increase the cost of food or will discourage consumers from eating healthy food. Extension officers from Cornell University and the University of Connecticut call consumers uninformed or emotional, then proceed to recite industry spin about GMOs.