Monday, November 9, 2015

GMO Labeling Research

This is a research paper I wrote recently on the need for labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) which are sometimes called "frankenfoods" for good reason.  I am very passionate about food safety, purity, and sustainability, and I believe the American public has a right to know exactly what it is they are eating - especially when their food contains unnatural and potentially harmful ingredients like GMOs.

Mandatory Labeling of GMO Foods

      We live in an age of information, where through the internet we have the instant gratification of being able to learn about almost anything we would ever want to know.   Therefore, it is makes sense to arm ourselves with as much information as possible when making life decisions, especially when said decisions are as important as what kinds of food we put into our bodies.  I believe that this is especially vital when having doubts about what exactly is in the food that we eat and whether or not the food is both nutritious and safe.  The safety aspect is the number one priority, for who would want to knowingly consume something that can prove harmful to one’s health?  Currently in the United States there are many food producers who use GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in their products, and because they are not required to disclose whether or not they are used, it is likely that we are all consuming these controversial ingredients on a regular basis.  Most recently, a law was upheld in Vermont that would require the labeling of GMOs and although specific groups, such as the Grocery Manufactures Association, are fighting this law, it appears that it will go into effect on July 1, 2016.  This would make Vermont the first state to require labeling of GMO ingredients and GMO foods.  However, I think that there should be mandatory labeling of GMOs across the entire United States.  It is important for citizens to know exactly what they are consuming, and it is their right to make purchasing decisions based on this information,

            The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which includes food industry giants such as ConAgra, Cargill, Kraft, General Mills, and Coca-Cola, wants to block the GMO labeling law and argues that it is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  According to Eduardo Munoz at RT News, they also maintain that the new law “imposes burdensome new speech requirements on food manufacturers and retailers” with regards to labeling.  For the moment, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss has ruled against the Grocery Manufacturers Association.  RT News reports “the court also found that the ‘safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious belief and practices are all quintessential government interests,’ as is the desire to promote informed consumer decision-making.’”  If mandatory labeling of GMOs were to go into effect across the nation, the labeling law would not ban the manufacture or use of GMOs; it would simply require products to be labeled as containing them.  Top genetic engineering companies, such as Syngenta and Monsanto, would not be regulated in their research, development, and production of GMOs.  Rather, the food producers that use the GMOs would be the ones required to label them appropriately.  As such, the cost would be shouldered by each grocery company that uses them, not the GMO producers themselves.  Moreover, companies are constantly changing and updating the packaging on their products, and the labeling laws would not go into effect for at least a year or more, giving these companies ample time to comply. 

      Food companies argue that mandatory GMO labeling will drive up the cost of groceries.  Yet according to justlabelit.org, “Requiring GMO food labels would cost a mere $2.30 per person per year, or less than a penny a day.”  This is a small price to pay for companies to offer consumers more detailed information about their products.  Scott Faber goes on to point out that “what’s really at stake is whether food companies like Land O’ Lakes and PepsiCo will be required to tell consumers something they’ve spent more than $100 million to hide.” (AgMag). Won’t spending all that money also drive up food costs?  Besides, grocery manufacturers would only need to change their labels if they decide to use GMOs in their products.  Items that contain no GMOs would not be affected, such as organic foods, and producers always have the option to switch to non-GMO ingredients.  This helps regulate the grocery industry by requiring transparency in manufacturing practices.  Those who do not wish to comply with mandatory labeling could switch to safer, more traditional ingredients – otherwise they should be forced to let the public know that GMOs are in use.

This brings me to my next point.  Mandatory labeling laws are also necessary because grocery manufacturers do want to be able to hide what type of ingredients their products contain.  The Federation of American Scientists claim that the “FDA considers most GM [genetically modified] crops as ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-GM crops. In such cases, GM crops are designated as ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and do not require pre-market approval.”  If the FDA assures us that GMOs are safe, then why aren’t there more companies voluntarily labeling their products with GMOs?  In fact, an even better question is why aren’t the biotech companies that produce GMOs “proud” to advertise them?  Why won’t they stand behind these supposedly beneficial products?  This skittish behavior on the part of GMO producers is a huge red flag that something is wrong and that the American public is not being told some crucial information about the use of GMOs and GMO products.  This was very apparent when California had Proposition 37 on the ballot in 2012.   Prop 37 was much like Vermont’s mandatory labeling law, as it would demand that all products containing GMOs carry a label stating as such.  Again and again biotech companies have historically had a problem with this kind of divulgence, and this was no exception, as they were attempting to stop GMO labeling from becoming law in California the same way they are doing it now in Vermont Unfortunately for Californians, they succeeded in defeating Prop 37 due to a massive disinformation campaign launched by biotech companies, chiefly Monsanto. A press release on the website carighttoknow.org reveals how millions of dollars were spent by Monsanto in defeating Prop 37, which failed to pass because of their claims that food costs would go up an average of $400 a year for families (Malkan).  However, this was said under the assumption that food producers will switch to costlier organic or non-GMO ingredients rather than change their labels.  Taken directly from the Official Voter’s Guide, Monsanto also claimed that "37 is full of absurd, politically motivated exemptions. It requires special labels on soy milk, but exempts cow's milk and dairy products. Fruit juice requires a label, but alcohol is exempt. Pet foods containing meat require labels, but meats for human consumption are exempt."  At first glance, this does seem confusing and somewhat irrational, which is exactly what Monsanto wanted. 

The truth about Prop 37 is that upon closer inspection, it actually did make sense. For example:  soy milk was required to be labeled because most soybean crops grown in America are genetically engineered – some sources say as much as 70 – 90%.  Milk and other dairy products are foods that come from cows, and cows are not genetically engineered. The labeling was also not required if the cow ate genetically engineered grain or feed, which is, incidentally, why meat was not required to be labeled – because the animal which the meat came from is itself not genetically engineered.  On the other hand, this is why pet food would have been labeled – because it also contains genetically engineered plants, such as grains, and not because it is made out of meat as the opponents to Prop 37 led everyone to believe.  The fact that pet food has meat in it is completely beside the point; it would have been labeled because it contains GMO crops.  This is also why fruit juice would have been labeled, if it came from a GMO plant.  Organic foods were automatically exempt from the labeling law, because anything "organic" by definition is not allowed to contain GMOs (USDA).  When dissected like this, Prop 37 is actually not too difficult to understand, but the deceptions persisted and Prop 37 failed to pass.

Which brings us to another question:  if GMOs are safe and are, according to biotech companies, even superior to other crops, why are these companies afraid to have them labeled? Although the FDA claims that GMO’s are safe, there is not sufficient evidence to support this.  All FDA trials have been short-lived, conducted over a few months at most.  In a paper by responsibletechnology.org, it is stated that the FDA has knowingly concealed knowledge of GMO health risks, and that” internal memos made public from a lawsuit showed that the overwhelming consensus among the agency scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. Various departments and experts spelled these out in detail, listing allergies, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases as potential dangers. They urged superiors to require long-term safety studies.” The paper also asserts that “studies are rigged to avoid finding problems,” and that “In addition, to relying on untested assumptions, industry-funded research is often designed specifically to force a conclusion of safety” (Smith).  The paper goes on to describe how Monsanto publishes studies to prove that their GMO products are safe and indistinguishable from their non-GMO counterparts by using an array of underhanded research tricks.  These range from using obsolete methods and testing materials to relying on irrelevant controls and variables to deliberate misuse and underreporting of data and statistics.  Furthermore, in the same paper, former Environmental Protection Agency scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman attests that “biotech companies can determine if their own foods are safe. Anything submitted is voluntary and,” according to him, “often lack[s] sufficient detail, such as necessary statistical analyses needed for an adequate safety evaluation” (Smith).  To sum up, third party evaluations of GMOs are allowed and conducted, but most are buried by biotech companies who have much greater funding and resources to publish their own studies.  No wonder GMOs are defended as safe!

Biotech companies stand by the idea that GMOs are safe if the FDA says they are, and that because it is the job of the FDA to regulate the safety of foods and food products, the public should accept that GMOs are acceptable to use, otherwise they would be banned or severely restricted.  This is a completely circular argument.  How do we, as consumers, know that the FDA hasn’t been paid off by biotech companies to support their claims about the safety of GMOs, especially considering the fact that these companies have been proven to use fraudulent methods in their testing?  This is the main reason why it is so important to institute a mandatory GMO labeling law.  Those who are undecided about whether or not GMOs are safe might be persuaded to do their own research about GMOs if suddenly they are presented with the knowledge that all the foods they regularly eat contain GMO ingredients.  To illustrate my point, the website nongmoproject.org has an appalling statistic:   In North America, over 80% of our food contains GMOs.  If you are not buying foods that are Non-GMO Project Verified, most likely GMOs are present at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Although Vermont looks like it will be the first state to pass a mandatory GMO labeling law, it is highly likely that soon other states will follow suit.  Worldwide there are already twenty-six countries that have partially or completely banned the importation and use of GMOs, including Australia, France, Germany, Russia, Mexico, and even China and India.  U.S. citizens that want our country to join the ranks of those who have banned GMOs are increasing in numbers, as a search for “GMOs” on Google will confirm.  Besides the Wikipedia entry, the first page of websites to be displayed in the search includes nongmoproject.org, responsibletechnology.org, saynotogmos.org, and labelgmos.org, which are also some of the websites I have used in my research.  Monsanto’s website has this to say about their GMO products:   “We’re working to double the yields of corn, soybeans, cotton and spring-planted canola between 2000 and 2030.  The world population continues to grow and at the same time there is a limited amount of land that’s suitable for agricultural production.  To meet the needs of the booming population, we have to be more productive with our crops.”  Monsanto, among others, would have us all believe that GMOs exist to strengthen the food supply and put an end to world hunger.  However, Monsanto’s GMOs are actually patented products, including their seeds, which means that in reality they are trying to control the world’s food supply (Shiva).  For this reason alone I would support a mandatory GMO labeling law regardless of what I think about GMOs, simply because then I could avoid them and also avoid giving companies like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, and other agribusiness that kind of control over my life.  No one entity should have that much power, nor should they be able to tell me and other consumers how and what we will choose to put into our bodies.  

         California General Election Tuesday, November 6, 2012 Official Voter Information Guide. N.p.: n.p., 2012. Proposition 37 Arguments and Rebuttals. California Secretary of State. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         Dyke, Andrew, and Robert Whelan. "GE Foods Labeling Cost Study Findings." ECONorthwest (2014): n. pag. Consumersunion.org. Web. 19 May 2015.
         Faber, Scott. "GMO Labeling Will Not Increase Food Prices." EWG. Environmental Working Group, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         Foreign, Out-of-State Companies Bankrolling Campaign Against GMO Labeling. Yes on Prop 37. Yes on 37 For Your Right to Know If Your Food Has Been Genetically Engineered, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         "GMOs and Your Family." The NonGMO Project RSS. Non GMO Project, 2015. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         "Improving Agriculture." Working to Maximize Yields. Monsanto Company, 2015. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         McEvoy, Miles. "USDA Blog » Organic 101: Can GMOs Be Used in Organic Products?" Web log post. USDA Blog RSS 2. United States Department of Agriculture, 17 May 2013. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         Munoz, Eduardo. "Judge Upholds Vermont GMO Labeling Law While Case Continues." - RT USA. N.p., 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.
         Shiva, Vandana, Dr. "The Seeds Of Suicide: How Monsanto Destroys Farming." Global Research. Center for Research on Globalization, 5 Apr. 2013. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         Smith, Jeffrey M. "State-of-the-Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods." 13th ser. V1.24 (2013): 1-25. Institute for Responsible Technology. Institute for Responsible Technology, 2013. Web. 19 May 2015. .
         "U.S . Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops."  Case Studies in Agricultural Biosecurity. Federation of American Scientists, 2011. Web. 19 May 2015..

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