Should GE food be labeled?
Should GE Food Be Labeled?
With over 89% of Americans wanting genetically engineered food to be labeled (rodale.com), why isn’t it? Maybe the question should not be in the why, but how. The process of genetic engineering, in the basic sense, isolates a desired gene from one organism and inserts it into the host organism in hopes that the desired trait will then become part of the new and improved genetic makeup of the host plant and its progeny. What bothers some, is that the introduction of novel substances my cause adverse reactions in those who may be sensitive. Several valid reasons for labeling and against labeling genetically engineered food have been made in recent debates. Some of them are explored in the following.
Arguments Against Labeling
When food is manufactured ingredients from many different sources go into any given product. Consumers aren’t given a list of countries of origin for a particular ingredient, or particular variety of crop. Bread, for example, can have several different varieties of wheat just in one loaf. Manufacturers many times would not even be able to identify which wheat variety or farm it came from (agbioforum.com). There is also a question of what to label as well as the cost of doing so. Should all products be pulled off the shelves and relabeled? Or should all new packaging display a new label? Would consumers be comfortable with an increase in price to offset the cost associated with the change in label? The FDA requires allergenic ingredients to be labeled or ingredients which shared the same processing facility as allergens to be noted as such. Since the current approved biotech crops on the market have shown not to contain allergens or are not significantly different from conventional varieties, a label shouldn’t be necessary (www.monsanto.com). To label something simply, “Genetically Modified” would require virtually all food to have this label. So, the question yet again is: How should it be labeled to make accurate and true statements? Manufacturers can voluntarily label their products under guidelines made by the FDA.
Arguments For Labeling
Consumer choice. Right-To-Know. People want to know what they’re eating and since the public has very little information about genetic modification of our food crops, they want to be able to make an informed choice. It could possibly be that the idea of GE foods does not bother them so much as the companies who manage this technology and want to avoid supporting a company they disagree with. This happens all the time; people want to buy things made in the USA or avoid Wal-Mart because the consumer is unhappy with the customer service or business practices. The bottom line is the consumer has the information to make that choice. 86% of Americans want that choice when it comes to their food and right now the only way to ensure, for the most part, that their food is pure is to buy organic. Sadly, this is an option that not everyone can afford since most organic foods are priced higher than conventional. Consumers do want some sort of control, or at least transparency, over the genetic modification of their food. Some people are uncomfortable with the amount of safety testing; others are uncomfortable that things are being done to their food without their knowledge. Others still, are allergic to certain foods and need to know what’s in it in order to make safe choices. Overall, people just want to know what is in their food. Companies change their packaging from time to time, so the point could be argued that the cost of changing packaging due to new label requirements is insignificant.
The public does have a choice and available information to avoid genetically engineered food already. The USDA Organic label prohibits the use of biotechnology in products with this certification (www.fda.gov). Another organization, the Non-GMO Project, provides a list of foods that are not genetically engineered and provides a label for manufacturers to indicate their products as such. However, although they are the only organization officially verifying products, they cannot legally and scientifically claim products to be completely free of all traces of bioengineered ingredients (www.non-gmoproject.org). The Non-GMO Project has a verification process consisting of on-site visits and testing of at-risk ingredients. They have a threshold of 0.9%, which is the same as regulations in Europe (www.non-gmoproject.org).
So, to answer the question, “Should GE food be labeled?” The simple answer in my opinion is yes. However, I think there needs to be more to it than just saying something is genetically engineered. Foods that contain novel substances that wouldn’t otherwise be possible naturally or conventionally should be noted, simply for the fact that people want to know this. Down the road if something were to cause allergic reactions it would be easier to trace. This is as much in favor of biotech companies as it is for consumers because it would create an easier trail should something like adverse reactions to novel substances happen in the future. I think there is a general fear in the food and biotech industry that labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients would cause unnecessary economic hardship due to boycotting GE products. Once the criteria for labeling are decided, the food industry may be surprised that their products are still being purchased or will know why certain products aren’t selling and can adjust. The future of food is changing, and consumers can’t be expected to just accept something they’re uncomfortable about without the right information from an independent party.
A list and some links
How many GM foods are we eating? Although there are several GM crops grown in the US, Canada, South America, China, Europe has banned them–although not entirely. The list of foods most likely to be GM in grocery stores are: “Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papya (most) and a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash. GM alfalfa is also fed to livestock. Sugar, if not listed as pure cane sugar probably comes from cane and GM sugar beets.” (www.non-GMOshoppingguide.com) rBGH and rBST are also genetically modified products used to increase milk production in cows. Milk is usually labeled if it does not contain these artificial hormones. Although the labeling of GM foods is an issue that has yet to be resolved here in the US, many manufacturers have begun labeling their products non-GMO with the help of the non-GMO Project.
The non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization which provides consumers with products that have been independently verified as having no GM ingredients (www.nonGMOproject.org). Without this labeling, or the USDA Organic label, there is no real way to know if the foods we eat come from GM sources.
Whether or not genetically modified foods are bad for us is still an issue many people would like to address. Thus far, the FDA assures that the GMOs out there for human (and animal) consumption will not hurt us. One of the problems I see, however, is that since several huge crops grown here in the US and Canada have become dependant on GM seed and are under contract by the large corporations who own the patents on these crops it may be extremely hard to halt the production should proof of serious problems arise.
I am not telling you to stay away from GMOs. I am not telling you GMOs are bad. I do think that we, the public, need more education on the issues of genetic modification of our food supply as well as pesticide residue. There was a paper written about how the Environmental Working Group determined the “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 most pesticide-contaminated foods was inaccurate (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135239/) I have trusted the EWG’s dirty dozen list up until now. I used to follow their recommendations because buying organic is expensive and I just can’t afford to go completely organic. I had been more concerned about ingesting pesticides than GMOs, but this paper (reference needed) leads me to believe that I should be careful who I believe. I always ask myself, “Who funded the research?” and you should too.
*Apologies if the blog appears a little wonky. I’ve been having trouble with things looking just right and after listening to my cat lick himself for the last, oh I don’t know… ever, while trying to fix this thing (and figure out the map thing I was supposed to do!), I have given up. I’m not sure why there are a bunch of different fonts either, but I’m out of patience and out of time!
Monsanto hand in hand with GMOs
While searching for “interesting or outlandish tweets” for this assignment regarding my blog topic I came across many about Monsanto. If you spend any time in the agricultural world, you’re bound to hear mention of them in some way, shape or form. Who is Monsanto? Headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, Monsanto specializes in agricultural products like seeds, crop protection chemicals (i.e. Roundup) and plant biotechnology. Most “frankenfoods” come from these guys, and they are a major player in the biotech industry. Most of the GMO crops grown in the U.S. and Canada were developed to resist the herbicide Roundup; both the GMO seed and herbicide are patented by Monsanto.
I’m sure you would share my suprise when I found the tweet below from @GMKnowBoulder:
Monsanto Workers Ban GMO Foods From Their Own Cafeteria http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/09/01/monsanto-workers-ban-gmo-foods-from-their-own-cafeteria.aspx =>They should be FORCED to eat GMOs just like we have! #nolabel
And if you follow the link to the article from Mercola.com, the article refers to a decision back in 1999 when the Monsanto cafeteria banned GM soya and maize because of “concerns”. Monsanto’s director of corporate affairs, Tony Combes, said it was their catering company serving Monsanto’s cafeteria who decided to stop using GM products in honor of their other customers’ requests. Of course no one from the company was concerned… they all LOVE eating GMOs!This tweet on Monsanto made me laugh a little:
@JennaBlumenfeld Roundup in rain and rivers probably only means that Monsanto will try to sue God for patent infringement! #naturalchat
I found myself saying, “Amen! Ain’t that the truth!?” only because of the lawsuits conducted by this corporation directed at small farmers whose crops become unknowingly contaminated with patented Monsanto property (sourcewatch.org). The movie, The Future of Food, (available on Netflix InstantPlay) documents the horrors farmers have faced through lawsuits and lost livelihoods courtesy of Monsanto.
A recent study published in August 2011 by the USGS reports that the popular and most widely used herbicide Roundup has been found in rain and rivers around the Mississippi River watershed. Roundup is the herbicide of choice in these areas where it is used to control weeds in the fields of GM corn, soybeans and cotton–and when I say GM I mean genetically modified to resist Roundup, because if it wasn’t it would die right along with the weeds(usgs.gov).
So, if you ever research on your own about GMOs, know that Monsanto isn’t far behind. You won’t have to look too hard to find negative information about these guys.
What IS this?
The Newb’s Guide to Frankenfoods
newb- /n[y]oo’b/ (shortened from “newbie” sometimes spelled as “noob”) Novice, first-time user.
frankenfood- n. Slang- A genetically modified food, especially a fruit or vegetable. (The Free Dictionary, 2011)
Genetically engineered food, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Frankenfoods; whatever you call it, the idea of altering food in a lab scares a lot of people. Still, the science behind genetically engineering food is widely unknown. Priya Advani, author of Explained: What are GMOs?, took to the streets to determine what the general public knows about the subject. What she found was that although several people she talked to knew or had at least heard of GMOs, a surprising number of people didn’t have a clue. She dedicated her article to inform the uninformed.
I decided to conduct my own interview with John Taylor, a self-described man-who-doesn’t-care, to find out what he knew and thought of GE foods. “As long as it doesn’t kill me, I’m okay with eating it” he says. “By the time it gets to me it should already have passed by all the people who are supposed to know if it’s safe.” John puts his trust in the FDA and the scientists who have worked on this technology for the last 30 years, even though GE foods have only been on the market since 1996 (Advani, 2011) The fact is, the scientific studies about the health risk of GE foods is minimal at best (Pusztai, 2001). And an internal report from the FDA stated that genetic engineering “lead to different risks”(Advani, 2011)
While Ms. Advani expressed her belief that knowing and understanding what we eat is important, she remained objective and neutral about her own personal views about genetically engineered foods. “Being without prejudice or bias” is how Richard F. Taflinger defines objectivity in his article, The Myth of Objectivity in Journalism: A Commentary.
With this blog I hope to remain as objective as I can while informing readers about the potential benefits and risks of genetic engineering in our food supply. I do not believe we need to panic, nor do I believe we should just look the other way and trust the experts. Genetic engineering is still relatively new and not fully understood (Cummins, 2011). It is a good idea to know what science is doing with our food.
The Free Dictionary www.thefreedicionary.com
Explained: What are GMOs? by Priya Advani, 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/priya-advani/effects-of-genetically-modified-food_b_967667.html
Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops: Why We Need A Global Moratorium by Ronnie Cummins, 1999 http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/geff4.html
Genetically Modified Foods: Are They A Risk to Human/Animal Health? by Arpad Pusztai, 2011 http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html