Should we be labeling genetically modified foods?
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been in our food supply since the mid-1990s, but most didn't even realize it until recent years. Now, the big question is: Are GMOs harmful to our health?
"The contention that GMOs pose no risk to human health can't be supported by studies that have measured a time frame that is too short to determine the effects of exposure over a lifetime," said Robert Gould, M.D. and president of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main concerns to health center on allergies, gene transfer and outcrossing — the movement of genes from genetically modified plants into conventional crops and/or related species in the wild.
Let's take a closer look at GMOs and their impact.
Do GMOs harm the environment?
Monsanto, a sustainable agriculture company based in Missouri, contends that using GMO seeds versus conventional seeds reduces the use of pesticides. Since 1996, Monsanto has genetically engineered its seeds to be resistant to glyphosate, a weed killer known as Roundup (also manufactured by Monsanto). Over 90 percent of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other crops grown in the U.S. are engineered to be resistant to glyphosate.
The problem is that crops grown with these seeds can be soaked with glyphosate and still survive. While insecticide use has declined, herbicide use (which kills weeds) has skyrocketed. There has been a tenfold increase in the use of this herbicide.
According to the WHO, the following problems are identified with GMO seeds and the environment:
- The ability of the GMO to escape and potentially introduce genes to wild populations
- The perseverance of the gene after harvesting
- The stability of the gene
- Nontarget organisms — e.g., the susceptibility that insects may become infected
- The loss of biodiversity
- The increased use of chemicals in agriculture
Earlier this year, the WHO identified glyphosate as a known carcinogen. In California, Monsanto is suing to have the "known carcinogen" label removed from Roundup.
Use of herbicides in GMO foods expected to increase
DOW AgroSciences has received federal approval to sell its newest product — Enlist, a brand of GMO corn and soybeans. These seeds were engineered to be both resistant to glyphosate and an herbicide known as 2,4-D.
The USDA estimates that there will be a threefold increase in the use of 2,4-D with an almost sevenfold increase in the next five years. Charles Benbrock, Ph.D., a professor at Washington State University, says, "This solution to the super-weed problem makes about as much sense as pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out."
DARK Act impedes GMO food labeling in U.S.
The majority of adults in the U.S. want clear labels indicating the presence of genetically modified organisms on food products. In fact, a survey conducted by Consumer Reports' National Research Center showed that 92 percent of Americans believe foods containing GMOs should be clearly labeled.
As of 2013, sales of non-GMO food that were either labeled organic or carried the Non-GMO Project Verified seal increased by a whopping 80 percent. Transparency in the labeling of GMO foods is increasing, according to Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods Market.
Going against the wishes of 250,000 petitioners, President Barack Obama recently signed Senate Bill 764, dubbed the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know (DARK) Act, into law. This bill was a mandatory national labeling standard for GMO foods.
Originally, the DARK Act came together as a result of the powerful agrochemical industry lobbyists and their allies in Congress (both Democrat and Republican) to stop mandatory labeling of GMO on food. In signing this bill, the president ensured that we would not follow 64 other countries requiring plain labeling of GMO foods.
More importantly, this law prohibits states from requiring mandatory labeling. Consumers will be able to scan a QR code to learn more information about the use of GMO in a particular food product, but due to loopholes in the law, the USDA makes the determination if a QR label is required based on "how much" bioengineered product in the food.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only national leader to take a vocal stand against the DARK Act.
"The legislation that has passed is an outrage and speaks to the power of big money in American politics," Sanders said. "The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and other agribusiness spent hundreds of millions of dollars against the Vermont law and against other states going forward to protect consumers."
Knowledge is power — it's important to know that over 90 percent of soy, sugar, cane beet, canola and cotton crops are grown using GMO seeds.
With the creation and implementation of the non-GMO verified label, consumers have many more options available today to ensure they are not consuming or feeding to their families foods that contain GMO ingredients. However, there should be mandatory labeling that provides clear information to consumers about the food they are considering eating.
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