GMO Labeling: What’s the Big Deal?
There are many good reasons to follow in the footsteps of the nearly 50 countries around the world who have either banned or required labeling for GMO foods.
There is no question that American consumers want to know if they’re eating GMOs. Depending on which poll you read, 93% to 96% of Americans want the right to know whether they’re eating genetically modified food.
US consumers expect fair and accurate food labeling. Consider some highlights from FDA history:
1906 The original Food and Drugs Act is passed. It prohibits interstate commerce in mis-branded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs…
1924 The Supreme Court rules that the Food and Drugs Act condemns every statement, design, or device on a product’s label that may mislead or deceive, even if technically true…
1938 A revised and expanded Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FDC) Act of 1938 is passed. Highlights include: safe tolerances to be set for unavoidable poisonous substances, standards of identity, quality, and fill-of-container to be set for foods, and authorization of factory inspections…
1958Food Additives Amendment enacted, requiring manufacturers of new food additives to establish safety. Going forward, manufacturers were required to declare all additives in a product…
1962 President Kennedy proclaims the Consumer Bill of Rights. Included are the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, and the right to be heard…
1965 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires all consumer products in interstate commerce to be honestly and informatively labeled, including food.
Given this set of guidelines supposedly in place for US food, the ongoing lack of GM labeling is a tribute to the biotechnology industry’s resourcefulness and determination to avoid it!
Informed consumers seek mandatory GM food labeling for many reasons.
1. People have the right to choose what to buy, what to eat, and what to feed their families. It doesn’t matter whether GMO producers agree with consumers’ decisions or not. For whatever reasons, many people simply don’t want to buy genetically modified food — and shouldn’t be forced through deceptive labeling to do so, solely for the benefit of the biotechnology industry.
We label all kinds of things that ‘haven’t been proven to be harmful’ (which pro-industry advocates assert loud and often about GMO foods, despite their shaky science). I’m allowed to know whether products contain milk, eggs, MSG, red dye #3, high fructose corn syrup, mono- and di-glycerides, torula yeast, and many other ingredients that I might choose to avoid for reasons that make sense to me — whether or not the manufacturers of these foods agree with me. Indeed, I’m sure they don’t! But that’s a pretty weak reason not to label them.
GMOs have done nothing to earn an exception to the rule we apply to other food products. It should be my right, not that of food manufacturers, to decide what substances I will consume or avoid.
2. Despite claims by GE proponents, many consumers find existing GM food safety research inadequate and inconclusive.
The biotechnology industry itself is in charge of all safety research for GM foods and farming techniques, and has fought tooth and nail to prevent non-industry researchers from studying potential health risks related to transgenic food crops. In some cases industry has actively attempted to keep consumers from hearing about GMO problems, by trying to bribe public officials or suppress media reports when harmful effects of genetically engineered food products were identified.
Biotechnology proponents like to frame GMO labeling advocates as ‘anti-science‘– but industry’s deliberate experiment manipulation and data suppression is the very antithesis of good science, making any kind of meaningful GMO risk assessment difficult if not impossible.
Sustainable agriculture should meet the following criteria:
- produce adequate amounts of food, over long periods of time
- preserve biodiversity and environmental quality
- protect farmers’ economic viability and life quality
- integrate natural biological cycles and controls, to limit pollution
- make the best use of nonrenewable resources
And these factors must be considered long-term rather than short-term pursuits.
Patented genetically engineered seeds — and the overly aggressive marketing of these products, to the point of antitrust investigation — has failed to facilitate sustainable agricultural practices, and has instead actually slowed progress toward the goal of sustainable food production.
4. For the US to be financially competitive in the global market, we need to move out of the dark ages of GMO non-labeling.The reality of the world food market is that genetically modified food products are often either not welcome as imports, or else required to be accurately labeled.
By supporting mandatory GMO labeling, for example, Washington wheat farmers protect their ability to export to Japan.
Whether or not you personally embrace GM foods, it just makes sense to label US-produced food in such a way as to preserve optimal global trade options, and reduce economic risk for farmers who count on a stable export market.
5. GMO-driven agriculture corrupts democracy by facilitating global biotech companies’ undue influence over governments — as we saw in the US just earlier this year. It also decimates poor rural communities around the world; seed patents can have devastating effects on rural farming communities.
In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, global social justice advocate Vandana Shiva spoke powerfully about the tendency of GMO agriculture to make desperately poor people poorer. Far from facilitating increased food production, Shiva says, when you make traditional farmers dependent on patented GM seeds,
“You are creating hunger; you are creating disease. Superweeds taking over your fields are a recipe for hunger; pests overtaking your fields are a recipe for hunger. But worse, seed patents are a way of getting money out of poor people. This is NOT a solution to hunger and poverty: this is aggravating the crisis that poor people already face.”
For all these reasons US consumers should be able to choose whether to support GMO agriculture or not, based on fair and accurate labeling.
Reasons NOT to Label GMO Foods?
1. Biotechnology corporations don’t wish to do so. They know that many consumers don’t want GMO products, and wouldn’t buy them if given a choice.
GE proponents claim that labels would imply a safety concern that has not been proven, causing consumers not to buy genetically modified food products. If the relevant research were conducted in an open, unbiased, and thorough manner, instead of being limited to only in-house non-peer-reviewed safety data carefully managed by those with a strong interest in positive results, this might be a valid argument.
Instead, that’s exactly the reason so many consumers are clamoring for GM labels: the biotechnology industry has made it impossible to prove harmfulness or safety of GE foods, one way or the other. So if consumers don’t want to buy your products for that reason, Monsanto, don’t blame GM labels– blame your own shady behavior regarding scientific integrity and safety testing for your products.
2. Biotechnology companies don’t want to spend the money it would take to add an extra line to their nutrition labels.
I know times are hard, for multi-billion-dollar global megacorporations, but let’s all just buckle down and live with our consequences, shall we? If you guys hadn’t slipped GMOs into our food supply unlabeled in the first place — to trick us into buying something you know we didn’t want and wouldn’t voluntarily buy — then there wouldn’t be any expenses from adding GM labels at this late date, now would there?!
The millions of dollars being pumped into the anti-labeling efforts reveal the ‘expense’ argument as the nonsense it is: Kellogg’s and Monsanto and other megacorporations currently benefit from mandatory consumer ignorance, and they would like very much to keep doing so. The end! They know their science isn’t strong enough to compete in a truly free market — if they were required to label GMO foods, they couldn’t convince you to eat them.
Apparently no expense is too great as long as it’s spent preserving consumer ignorance, rather than adding those pesky extra text characters to food packaging.
Lights… Shopping List… Action!
If GMO labeling makes sense to you, join GMO Free USA in direct action against Kellogg’s. Then consider these ideas to keep the pressure building, for working towards a fair and accurate GMO labeling system in the US:
- Vote your dollar! Buy organic or ‘Non-GMO’ labelled food every chance you get, until we see change on this issue. Reward producers who aren’t trying to trick you into eating stuff you wouldn’t buy if they labeled it. Go here to learn more about avoiding GMOs.
- The only thing legislators hate more than lawsuits is bad press. Write a letter to the editor of your favorite local publication, and share information about this issue (and about GMO Free USA!) on all your social networks — the more people who know about GMO labeling issues, the harder it is for politicians to crumple like wet paper bags before Monsanto’s legal foot-stomping or deceptive propaganda.
- If you live in a state with pending GMO labeling legislation, agitate! Call, write, and generally pester your representatives to demand accurate labeling of genetically modified foods. Volunteer with a local Right to Know Group. Vote! And bring people with you!
- Wherever you live, sign this to show support for California’s GMO labeling initiative. And don’t stop demanding GMO labels until we get them!
Analiese Paik of Right to Know CT sums it up nicely:
“Remember that the American consumer reigns supreme, and each and every organic and Non-GMO food vote you cast with your wallet will likely carry more weight than the votes of our legislators in support of GMO labeling bills.”
GMO ingredient labels (along the free-market pressures and scientific transparency they will force upon a so-far corrupt and deceptive industry) will either destroy GMO farming — if it can’t stand up to scrutiny — or vindicate it.
Either way, it benefits consumers of food in the US, and is long overdue.