Food labels have long had to list all ingredients on the Nutrition Facts Panel. This is great, if you can interpret the many additives found in most processed foods (which now total over 3000!). Consider, for example, titanium dioxide (used as a coloring agent), butylated hydroxytoluene (used as an antioxidant), or propylene glycol alginate (used as a food thickener or stabilizer). Scary, huh? But at least these products are listed on the label, by law. What about foods that have been altered at the genetic level (called genetically modified organisms [GMOs])? Do they require special labeling? Do you think they should, and if so, why?
First, let’s take a look at the science and rational behind the genetic manipulation of agriculturally important organisms. GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically modified to contain DNA from microorganisms, such as bacteria of viruses, or other plants or animals. These experimental combinations of genetic material could not have been otherwise produced naturally. Almost all GMOs have been engineered to withstand herbicides or to produce insecticides. The idea is that if the plant produces a protein that allows it to withstand a particular herbicide (e.g. Roundup), then the farmer just sprays the whole field and everything dies except the engineered crop plant. Although the scientists and the companies they work for have declared GMOs to be safe for human consumption, there are others that disagree (see, for example, NON GMO Project).
It turns out that there is no current U.S. law requiring the labeling of foods which are derived from GMOs. This goes against current policy in many countries worldwide, including some countries of the European Union, Japan and New Zealand, which restrict or ban the production and sale of foods derived from GMOs (Examiner GMOs). If you, however, agree that genetically modified foods should be labeled, you are not alone. In fact, the state of Vermont has recently passed a law requiring all foods made from GMOs (VT Approves GMO Labeling). Three counties in California (Medocino, Trinity and Marin) have also successfully banned genetically modified crops. Other potential bans are in the works in several states, including Connecticut and Maine. However, many U.S. states and countries worldwide have embraced the use of GMOs products in foods.
Obviously there exists a controversy regarding the safety of foods derived from GMOs for human consumption. Since all the world’s countries have very smart people living there and working in government and the sciences, why is there such inconsistency in policy? It seems the differences in policy go beyond human intelligence and are based more upon human emotion than upon proven scientific facts. Some argue that GMOs could contain new toxins, have different nutrient content or lead to the development of new food allergies. Others express concern about the emergence of herbicide-resistant ‘super weeds’ and insecticide-resistant ‘super bugs’. These are noteworthy concerns, but so far, these fears have not been backed up by scientific study. Only time will tell. In the meantime, will you choose GMO-free foods?