About 93% of Americans polled say they support the idea of foods containing GMO ingredients to be labeled as such. Despite that, GMO labeling ballot initiatives have not seen much success yet in the United States. A large part of that problem is the huge amount of cash that corporations like Pepsi Co and Monsanto put into the no on labeling campaigns, but the other part is the overall inability of Americans to articulate what GMOs are and what labeling GMO foods would mean.
Overall public awareness of what GMOs are is incredibly low, according to Dan Kahan, a Yale public opinion researcher. So what are GMOs and why should they be labeled? We’ll break it down for you.
What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms in which the genetic material, or DNA, has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.
Why were genetically modified foods made?
GM foods were developed due to a perceived advantage in the durability of the food, the ease of farming it, and the total cost.
So what are the risks?
Short term studies seem to favor both sides, but there have been no long term studies into the overall safety of GMOs in regards to our health and the environment.
How much of our food has these GMOs in it?
About 80% of packaged food in the US contains GMO ingredients. 85% of corn grown in the US is GM. 91% of soybeans is GM. 88% of cotton is GM. A whopping 95% of sugar beets are GM too.
What are the health concerns?
Generally speaking, researchers investigate whether there are direct health effects, the tendencies for allergic reaction, whether or not specific components have nutritional or toxic properties, the stability of the genes inserted into the crop, overall nutritional effects, and just generally keeping an eye peeled for any unintended consequences of consumption.
What impacts to the environment are there?
Most of the current investigations are focusing in on how GMO crops impact insects, the potential generation of new plant pathogens as the pathogens move to adapt to resistant crops, the potential for damaging plant and wildlife biodiversity, and the potential for herbicide-resistant genes to move to other plants.
What ingredients are most likely GMO?
There are three to look out for. Glucose is commonly found in sodas and baked goods. Lecithin is found in sweets like chocolate and icecream. Maltodextrin is common in snacks, soups and crackers.
If we label GMOs, won’t that make food prices go up?
No. Other countries have implemented GMO labeling with no increase in cost.
But GMO labeling is unconstitutional/unenforceable/etc…
This is a pretty basic industry response. At the state level, legal experts have pretty well dispersed all these arguments. According to the Vermont Law School and independent lawyers with Emord & Associations, states do have the full authority to require food labeling for reasons of public health and it is not unconstitutional nor unenforceable.
But don’t we need GMOs to help feed a growing population?
Not according to a 2009 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. They found that GMO crops do not actually produce higher yields. Additionally, a peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability found that conventional plant breeding results in higher crop yields.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said that making GMO seeds is comparable to cross-breeding that our ancestors did to create hardier versions of crops.
This is one of those issues we’ll have to disagree with Tyson on. Cross breeding is a product of guilded natural reproduction. GMOs are created in a lab using sophisticated, high-tech techniques. These creations are untested and the basic antithesis of what we’ve done for thousands of years.
Don’t GMO crops reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides?
Not at all. In fact, according to a new study by Food and Water Watch, the “total volume of glyphosate applied to the three biggest GE crops – corn, cotton and soybeans – increased 10-fold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012,” and a 26% increase from 2001 to 2010.
What’s the bottom line?
In our minds, there’s a lot more study and research that needs to go into genetically modifying our crops and then feeding it to people. As we mentioned before, the jury is still out on long term health hazards associated with their consumption. There are some clear take-aways though:
- GMO labeling will not increase food prices.
- GMO labeling is not unconstitutional.
- GMO labeling is not unenforceable.
- GMO labeling is not needed for feeding more people.
- GMO labeling is not at all similar to natural cross-breeding.
- GMO labeling does not reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides.
So what do you think? Are you comfortable with the idea of labeling GMOs? If it were on the ballot in your state, would you check yes or no? Let us know in the comments below.
Read more here:: GMO Food Labeling: What You Need To Know