Public Good vs. Corporate Greed: The Case for Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods

Protest sign against unlabeled GMOs: "I am not a science experiment!"

Reasons to Label GM Foods

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.

The right to choose what food goes into your own body is a fundamental freedom, one that corporate interests simply do not have the right to supersede.

2. Despite claims by GE proponents, many consumers find existing GM food safety research inadequate and inconclusive.

To be clear, existing research does not prove GMO foods to be harmful; the problem is that neither does it prove them to be safe for long term production and consumption.

Bias Guaranteed, Results Uninspiring

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 GM 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 GM 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.

In one 2010 report on health concerns surrounding Roundup-Ready soybeans and glyphosphates, authors also point out that:

Contrary to claims by the GM industry and its supporters, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved any GM food as safe. Instead, it de-regulated GM foods in the early1990s, ruling that they are “substantially equivalent” to non-GM foods and do not need any special safety tesing. The ruling was widely recognized as a political decision with no basis in science.

Inadequate Toxicity Testing for GM Foods

Standard toxicity testing considers several types of physiological response, including acute, subchronic, chronic, reproductive, and developmental toxicities. The procedures and study durations vary, depending on which type of potential toxic effects researchers are evaluating. Acute toxicity can be assessed in two weeks, in rodent subjects; subchronic toxicity in 90 days. This is where industry research seems to call it a day, reach for its coat, and start patting pockets in search of the car keys.

Chronic, reproductive, and developmental toxicity studies take as long as two years to study in rodents, and can involve multiple generations; these studies are notably lacking, in current (industry) safety research on GM foods. Considering the prevalence of GMOs in our food supply at present, many consumers find this emphasis on only acute and subchronic toxicity irresponsible and disturbing.

According to a 2011 analysis of Monsanto’s data from 19 GM food studies– which is what we have to settle for, since independent researchers are prevented from conducting independent testing or reporting un-GMO-flattering conclusions– results raised what should have been further research questions:

Several convergent data appear to indicate liver and kidney problems as end points of GMO diet effects in the above-mentioned experiments. This was confirmed by our meta-analysis of all the in vivo studies published, which revealed that the kidneys were particularly affected, concentrating 43.5% of all disrupted parameters in males, whereas the liver was more specifically disrupted in females (30.8% of all disrupted parameters)…

The 90-day-long tests are insufficient to evaluate chronic toxicity, and the signs highlighted in the kidneys and livers could be the onset of chronic diseases. However, no minimal length for the tests is yet obligatory for any of the GMOs cultivated on a large scale, and this is socially unacceptable in terms of consumer health protection.

The limitations of existing toxicity studies, in concert with the ongoing lack of unbiased peer-reviewed research, raise the specter of potential GM food toxicity that hasn’t been found yet because it hasn’t been sought.

GE Crops and Glyphosate Health Risks

Man in field, wearing biohazard maskAnother potential health concern related to GM food production involves Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant GE crops, marketed under the Roundup Ready label. Despite stated goals of reducing the need for herbicides, the rise of Roundup Ready GM crops has in fact dramatically increased the use of glyphosate-based pesticides in American agriculture.

Glyphosates are known to cause birth defects in frog and chicken embryos, at exposure levels much lower than those related to modern agricultural use. Multiple research studies indicate increasing glyphosate-related health concerns directly linked to the production of crops with genetically engineered pesticide resistance, especially in farming communities. Runoff from Roundup Ready GM fields puts glyphosate in our waterways, potentially causing significant damage to human health as well as environmental integrity.

Industry’s unscientific response to glyphosate health concerns, related to GM crops? To paraphrase, “Nuh-UH!” Unsurprisingly, Monsanto chose to  deny the problem, deny their own data, and dismiss concerns without further ado. That is not good science, and does not inspire consumer confidence regarding industry’s ability (or willingness) to accurately assess health and safety risks of GM crops.

Fox Runs the Henhouse: Bad Science Inevitable

The biotechnology industry– Monsanto especially– has systematically and consistently attempted to suppress, omit, and avoid research data that paints anything but the rosiest possible picture of their products, and those who benefit most from GM foods’ approval are themselves in charge of health and safety testing.

Even if the biotechnology industry believes this system of carefully limited in-house safety testing to be adequate, lack of labeling should not impede consumers’ right to avoid GM foods if they disagree.

Next>> Reasons to Label GM Foods: Environment

  1. Mary

    It’s crazy there’s so much controversy just about labeling. Everyone should be suspect of food suppliers who don’t want people to know about their food.

    1. Tanya Sitton

      Right?! Seems obvious, unless you’re Monsanto… Surely with increasing demand/ awareness of the problem, we can finally see some progress!

  2. Dee Esseff

    The debate over labeling reminds me of the ag-gag bills popping up around the country. It is disturbingly suspicious that the people providing our food don’t want the public to know or see exactly what they’re doing or how.

    1. Tanya Sitton

      When a used car salesman says ‘just take my word for it, it’s fine! DON’T LOOK UNDER THE HOOD!!!!’ you’re suspicious, right?!… funny how we put up with it, when we’re talking about OUR FOOD! :-P

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