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 sp 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
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. America
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.”
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. Vermont 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
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. U.S.
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
GMO Labeling Law While
Case Continues." - RT Vermont .
N.p., 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 May 2015. USA
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.