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GMO food labeling chaos : what is really behind the label

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GMOs, shorthand for genetically modified organisms, are created when the genes of one species are inserted into another species. The purported purpose of such genetic engineering is to grow food with desired "good traits" such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides. Indeed, some argue that GMO food is the best way of ending world hunger. Others consider GMOs as experimental and hazardous to the health of both animals and people. In fact research has linked GMOs to several health problems including cancer, Morgellons disease, and organ damage. Nevertheless, GMOs have been used in soy, corn, beet, cotton, and alfalfa agriculture. They are also commonly used in animal feed. Unbeknownst to many consumers, GMO ingredients are present in many processed foods and GMO foods are sold in most grocery stores. I would argue that in the next 15 years there will be a staggering amount of research demonstrating all the negative side effects linked to GMO’s and we could have the largest product liability suit in history (just a thought).

Why is labeling important?
Consumers are unaware of the existence of GMOs in food because the United States federal government does not require labeling of GMO food. Many other countries, however, do require labeling of GMO foods. Over 60 countries require labeling of GMO foods if the food contains more than 0.9 percent of GMOs. Yet labeling is not mandatory in either the United States or Canada. This makes identifying GMOs much more difficult. Simply put, labeling is important in order to let consumers know what they are buying and ingesting. The consumer can then make a decision based on the labeling whether or not that particular food is a good choice of his or her family.

Which foods contain GMOs?
It is pretty difficult to avoid consuming GMO food. Several common foods and food ingredients such as corn starch and soy protein are predominately derived from genetically modified crops. Papayas are often genetically engineered. 70% of the Hawaiian papaya crop is genetically altered. Milk and milk products may contain a growth hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone- RGBH. RGBH has been banned in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. However, many milk-containing products sold in the United States such as ice cream and cheese contain this hormone. Sweet corn is also a GMO food. It is genetically altered to be herbicide resistant. This means that corn on the cob commonly found in grocery stores and farmer's markets, as well as corn contained in some processed foods contain GMOs.

In the absence of GMO labeling, the best way to avoid GMO foods is to purchase organic foods. Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) organic food standards, foods labeled as organic cannot contain GMOs. Foods that are labeled "all natural" however, are not necessarily organic and may indeed contain genetically altered ingredients.

Is the U.S. likely to require GMO labeling in the future?
It is unclear whether or not the USDA will likely require GMO labeling in the future. However, states are starting to pass initiatives requiring labeling of GMO foods. Both Connecticut and Maine have passed such laws. However, neither law will go into effect until a bordering state and at least 3 other states pass similar laws. That has yet to occur. In 2005 Alaska passed a law requiring labeling for genetically modified fish and shellfish. In November 2013 a GMO labeling law failed to pass in Washington State. Similarly, California's Proposition 37 requiring GMO labeling also failed to pass in 2013. Thirty other states are contemplating passing GMO labeling laws.

What is the argument for NOT requiring GMO labeling? If, as some argue, GMOs do not pose health risks, then why not? If GMOs do indeed pose health risks, then consumers should be allowed to decide whether or not to buy the product based on the labeling.

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