by Abigail Leon
A genetically modified organism is an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering. Ever since the early 1990s it has been the goal of many to find a way for crops to be genetically modified to survive and prosper despite the harmful pests and bacteria that exist in the soil. It has also been the source of many disagreements between people about whether or not genetically modified (GM) foods and organisms are actually bad for us. The question now is not whether they are bad for us, but whether we should get the choice of buying GM foods by having a label on the products or not. People have the right to know what they are feeding their families and themselves, therefore GM foods should, indeed, be labeled.
One of the arguments made against the labeling of GM foods is that they are the same, if not better than traditionally grown crops. “If we found that a genetically modified food was substantially different, we could require it to be labeled,” says FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey. “But the way a food is produced doesn’t make a material difference. We haven’t found that GM foods as a class are different, or less safe, than conventionally processed foods” (qtd. in Black 82-89).
According to the spokeswoman, as long as there are not any differences in the smell, taste, and nutritional values between GMOs and traditionally grown crops, then there is no need for the FDA to require them to be labeled. If it smells like corn, acts like corn, and looks like corn then it is just corn. What is wrong with the FDA’s way of thinking is that they are basing their opinion on limited knowledge. The effects of GM foods are not yet understood because there is not enough information available to scientists or to the public. People cannot let the lack of knowledge be the reason that they get severely sick some years ahead. When the Industrial Revolution was happening we did not know that the increase in CO² production would lead to the Greenhouse Effect many years later. No harmful effects are known as of yet, but that does not mean that there are not any.
Little research is being done to find out just how harmful genetically modified products are; Roger Beachy, the very expert who sowed the Falvr Savr tomato (the first ever tomato to have a resistance for the tomato mosaic virus), agrees. In an interview by Brendan Borrell, Beachy admitted:
In my opinion, the field would be more advanced if more academic scientists were involved in testing and other types of experimentation. We’ve had too little involvement of the academic sector in some of these cases. Many of us urged early on that there be more sharing, and I can understand the concerns of the academics. (Borrell 80-83)
Is it the fault of the consumer that even researchers are hard pressed to delve more deeply into the mystery of GMOs? No it is not. That is exactly why the consumers should decide whether or not they wish to take that chance to purchase GM products, and they should make that choice with the help of a label that specifically states “genetically engineered” or something to that effect. Until researchers themselves understand what GM foods do, we cannot be certain that they are harmless. We should take all of the precautions that we can.
Monsanto Company is a U.S.-based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation (Sarant). In a recent interview Wenonah Hauter blames Monsanto Co. for the lack of uniformity in the restrictions placed on GMOs. Hauter explained that Monsanto was influential enough to push for laws that were not strict on the regulations forced on companies that genetically modify organisms. “And that’s how we’ve ended up with this mishmash of different agencies involved in approving genetically engineered crops” (Goodman). The different agencies approve different products and so the regulations are all different. This makes it so much more important for research to find if GMOs are going to be harmful for us in the future, which specific ones are more harmful, or if they are harmful at all. Are they as bad for us as pollution is to the Earth–something we just learned years ago–or as beneficial as fertilizer is to a low-nutrient crop? As consumers we should want to know more about what we feed ourselves and our families.
Another argument that is made against the labeling of GM products is that it would make organically grown crops much more expensive and less attainable for the consumer. There are food markets that have banned GM ingredients from their house brands, such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s (Black). While it is true that organic food is a bit pricier than GM products, it comes with the guarantee that it was organically grown and is therefore healthier for us. Not only are the health benefits of organic foods great but there is no doubt about what sorts of effects they might cause to the body. One concern is that with all of the GM products being labeled as such, the price of organic foods will climb and they will be even more expensive than they already are, says Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme (Dahl). This past November California residents voted on Proposition 37, a Proposition that stated that all GM products must have a label so that consumers would know that they were GM (Dahl).
According to Richard Dahl’s article, “To Label or Not to Label”, expert Stacy Malkan, Fairbanks’ counterpart for the pro-labeling organization California Right to Know, believes the opposite:
There’s no evidence to support the claim that Californians’ grocery bills would go up if the labeling measure passes. She also says that while there’s no conclusive evidence that GE foods are unsafe, there also is no conclusive evidence that they are. “Many scientists are saying that in the face of scientific uncertainty, labeling is an important tool to help track potential health risks,” she says.
Would it not be more logical to say that if GM products were labeled it would in turn make the organic products cheaper for the consumer? If more people wanted organic foods, then the suppliers would want to make them more accessible and affordable. That might lead to a fall in the production in GM products. It might also turn out that the labeling on GM products will not change anything at all; the consumers will still be buying what they previously thought was regular ketchup but then turned out to be made with GMOs. At this point it is all speculation and it will remain that way until more is learned about anything and everything GM.
Although California residents did not pass the proposition, there is little doubt that the next time it goes up for a vote more citizens will be able to make an educated vote because of the spread of knowledge. It might not be the very next time but sooner or later people will demand that their food be labeled as GM.
There are currently 24 states that have introduced bills that require labeling. Today there are more than 50 countries, including China and all of Europe, that require GM foods to be labeled (or banned); the European Union countries were the first to label as of 1998. There are many campaigns around that urge consumers to do their part in pushing for at least specific companies to advertise their products as containing GM ingredients, such as the coalition powered by Green America. Doing your part is as easy as entering your name, email, address, and pressing submit to get the attention of Kellogg’s and General Mills to do something about labeling their products. The Center For Food and Safety also has a couple of petitions that can be signed online. These are just a few of things that we as consumers can be doing to push for labeling in our states and country. We made a nutrition label mandatory with the passing of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) nearly 20 years ago; is a label identifying a product as having GMOs really that different?
It all comes down to choice: the choice of the consumer and what phone company they wish to employ, the choice of parents and how they raise their children, the choice of a teacher and how she wishes to teach in her classroom. Why should consumers not also get to choose if they want to buy and consume genetically modified foods? GMOs are not yet completely understood by the general public or scientists. As knowledge increases more people will push for the labeling of them because it is their right as consumers. Everybody deserves to have a choice.
Black, Jane. “Foods As Nature Made Them.” Prevention 64.4 (2012): 82-89. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. <http://www.prevention.com/food/smart-shopping/genetically-modified-foods-what-you-need-know>.
Borrell, Brendan. “Food Fight: The Case for Genetically Modified Food.” Scientific American 304.4 (2011): 80-83. Web. 26 Nov. 2012. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=food-fight>.
Dahl, Richard. “To Label Or Not To Label.” Environmental Health Perspectives 120.9 (2012): A358-A361. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/120-a358/>.
Goodman, Amy, prod. “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America from Monsanto to Wal-Mart.” Democracy Now! New York, N.Y. 2 Apr. 2013. Democracy Now! Web. 6 Apr. 2013. Transcript. <http://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/foodopoly_the_battle_over_the_future>.
Sarant, Louise. “Monsanto and the Arab Spring.” Earth First Newswire. WordPress.com, 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 4 Apr. 2013. <http://earthfirstnews.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/monsanto-and-the-arab-spring/>.
Weingarten, Hemi. “What Are We Eating?” LabelGMOs. Fooducate, Feb. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2013. <http://www.labelgmos.org/the_science_genetically_modified_foods_gmo>.
“Who Requires Labels.” Green America. N.p., May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. <http://www.greenamerica.org/pubs/greenamerican/articles/AprilMay2012/Who-requires-GMO-labels.cfm>.