Should GM Foods be Labeled?

[social_buttons]Should GM (genetically modified) foods be labeled as GM foods? I would say that obviously they should — we label everything from nutritional content to ingredients to place of origin — but there are many who think otherwise. Currently in the United States, food containing genetically-modified organisms does not have to indicate that it contains GMOs. It’s not required, but it is allowed.

Manufacturers who wish to proclaim their foods are GMO-free are able to and many do. Again, they’re not required to, but they are allowed. Manufacturers who don’t want to say their foods contain GMOs and manufacturers who don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of certifying that their foods are GMO-free don’t have to put that on the label.

May 3-7, the Codex Committee on Food Labeling will meet in Quebec City, Canada to discuss food labeling requirements. The FDA and the USDA have decided to oppose a Codex document stating that each country may make its own labeling requirements in regards to GM foods. They consider that labeling foods as GMO-free would indicate that they were somehow different from GM foods.

Genetically Modified Foods Are Different

But aren’t genetically modified foods different from the old-fashioned type of food? Isn’t that what we’re constantly being told by proponents of GMOs? GM crops use less pesticides and/or herbicides. Some GM crops are more drought tolerant, thus requiring less irrigation. Surely these lower inputs make the food cheaper.

If a bag of GM wheat flour (labeled) were on the shelf at my grocery store next to a bag of GMO-free flour, I could compare the prices and see for myself how much biotechnology can save the average consumer. The problem with labeling is that it would quickly disprove these claims.

Studies have shown that GM crops cost the farmer more to grow. Other studies have shown that organic crops outperform GM crops during periods of drought.

Governmental resistance to labeling GM foods has been consistent in the United States, but there have been no restrictions on labeling foods GM-free (except that the foods must be GM-free). If the FDA and USDA have their way at the meeting in Quebec City, this may change.

What Next?

Consumers Union has a press release and a copy of the letter they sent to the FDA.

Credo has a petition that they will send to the U.S. delegation to the Codex meeting.

Need a little light reading before bed? Here’s the Codex Alimentarius site.

Written by Heather Carr

19 Comments

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  1. Heather,
    This discussion is about 15 years late. Back in the day I favored a “may contain” label just so people wouldn’t claim anything was hidden. The reason that labeling was not required was that it would be unnecessarily expensive to track everything in the grain markets. Its far more efficient to let people label non-GMO for the market that worries about that. By the way, we don’t have comprehensive labeling of origin because that turns out to be complex and expensive.

    Actually, its pretty easy to know what is or isn’t GMO. The only crops an American is likely to get that are GMO are Soybeans, Corn, Cotton and Canola, Alfalfa and Sugarbeets. You would find those mainly as ingredients in processed foods. There are essentially no GMO vegetables or fruits on the market – GMO potatoes were killed by McDonalds for brand protection reasons which is sad because there were far fewer insecticide sprays needed on the modified potatoes. There are virus resistant Papayas in Hawaii (otherwise they wouldn’t still be a viable industry). There is insect resistant sweet corn, but for brand protection reasons the corn processors have suppressed its use to almost nothing – again, forcing much continued insecticide use. There was a virus resistant squash, but I don’t think it is used much. The FlavrSaver tomato has been off the market for more than a decade, but that was because of the incompetence of the conventional breeding that was associated with the trait commercialization.

    If you ever talk with farmers, they definitely appreciate the GM crops they grow. Most wish they could also have GM traits in wheat.

    • Actually Steve, from my experience as a farmers son, I can definetly tell you that, while GMO Wheat grows much much faster, it has detrimental effects to the land used for its growth, and crops after the first crop Yeild less and less everytime, even fi the lands is fertilized heavily.

      And There are ALOT of GE fruit and veg, Even Bananas have been GE.

      Tomatoes are also extremely GE.

  2. Steve,

    This is happening next week, May 3-7. You’re certainly free to tell the USDA and the FDA that they’re so last century. I encourage you to do so.

    Like I said, it seems obvious to me that food manufacturers should be allowed to label their foods GM-free if they are. It’s the purveyors of GMOs who want to remove that option. It’s because they can’t compete economically.

    None of the farmers I talk to regularly are organic growers. They’re all conventional grain farmers and ranchers and they’ve all looked at the costs associated with raising GMO crops. They’ve all decided against it for economic reasons.

  3. Heather,
    Where are these conventional grain farmers? The percent of soy or corn growers that don’t plant GMO is small. If your neighbors are small grain growers they don’t have the option (wheat, barley…)

    I actually agree that people should be able to label things as GMO free – not because there is a problem with GMOs but because you can’t end that argument that way. By the way, the “purveyors” of GMO compete just fine. They just don’t like the implication that their food isn’t safe when every major science panel around the world has said that it is.

  4. Everything I have read says GMO food is bad for your health – so of course gov`t and the GMO growers do not want you to know. Personally I will not eat GMO food if I know – but obviously without details I am never certain. Organic as much as possible.

  5. Mark,
    I work in agriculture and what you are saying does not reflect reality. There is no commercial GMO wheat today, so this experience you are talking about isn’t real. Tomatoes are also not GE commercially. Many crops have been modified in University labs etc, but very few are commercial – it costs far too much to jump through the regulatory hoops.

    Knowalittle,
    If everything you read says GMO is bad for your health, then you have somehow missed the assessments from every major scientific body in the US and Europe which says there is no health risk at all with GMOs. This idea that the government or growers are hiding something from you is about as credible as the idea that insurance reform includes “death panels”. Falsehoods repeated over and over don’t become truth

  6. Steve,

    Please provide information on where the public can obtain this scientific evidence on the safety of GMO’s. Of course, the only studies of use will have to be completely independent third party studies (so, no funding or influence can come from the biotech industry).

  7. Sherry,
    I can see that you have a comment in the queue (because I’m an Eat Drink Better author) but it might not get approved before I go to bed. You want to see independent safety data. There have been a great many independent scientific reviews of the data that are independent of the industry, but these are obviously not sufficient for what you want to see.

    The way that most regulatory systems work is that the burden of proof of safety is on the applicant and the costs (often very high) are paid by them. They have to use audit-able labs etc, but I’m sure that does not sound satisfactory to you. If you have an idea of how to get tens of millions of dollars for independent reviews I’d love to hear it.

    Just this week there was actually an independent (even skeptical) study on gene expression in GMO corn in the Netherlands that is about to be published. I posted a blog about it on another site in the Important Media network just the other day. I know this won’t answer all or even most of your questions, but it is something.

    http://redgreenandblue.org/2010/04/29/messing-with-gene-expression-in-corn/

  8. I am supposed to be living in a “free” country. To my mind, one of my freedoms is to choose what I eat, and what I feed my family, including the family pet.

    I chose long ago that GMO’s would not form part of my diet, since I learned of the ridiculous risks being taken with my health, in order to patent and license the growing of food, and profit from it. The multinationals appear to want to own all life, and must alter it to own it, because you cannot patent what God made(did you ever wonder why they’re in such an all-fired rush to collect our DNA?).

    I for one refuse to be force-fed what I don’t want. I want the food God made, not carrots with pig genes, or pigs with human genes, or tomatoes with fish genes, or any other of the “designer genes”.

    These international agreements steal our sovereignty by making rules at the international level where we have no say at all, no vote. These are unaccountable, unelected committees. Our nation has one vote at the table. And guess what?

    That’s right, you don’t get to vote.

    Don’t mess with my food, and if you mess with anything, you’d best be telling me so on the label!

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