Consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and they rely on food labeling to provide that transparency. But one of the fastest growing unnatural ingredients found in 80 percent of processed foods sold in supermarkets—Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)—are not required to be labeled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although all 27 nations in the European Union, as well as Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, China, and many other countries mandate the labeling of GMOs, in the U.S., we are shopping blind.
Most processed foods sold in the U.S., even those labeled “natural” and “all natural,” contain at least one GM ingredient—soy, corn, canola, cottonseed, or sugar—yet they carry no labels declaring, “contains GMOs.” Just last week, Kashi responded to consumer backlash against the company for using GM soy in its “natural” cereals by announcing it would formulate new products to be mostly organic and Non-GMO Project Verified starting in 2015, and that existing popular products would be Non-GMO Project Verified by the end of 2014. Lesson learned—the desires of the American consumer reigned supreme.
GMOs are organisms whose genetic characteristics are purposefully changed through genetic manipulation or modification. Through laboratory processes, DNA is extracted from one species of plant, animal, bacteria, or virus, and forced into another unrelated species of plant or animal to exactly confer a desired trait that would not occur in nature or be possible through traditional crossbreeding methods. In agricultural products, the most common GMOs are engineered to tolerate herbicides or produce their own pesticides. Twenty years ago, the FDA declared that GMOs were not materially different from their conventional counterparts and therefore were generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and required no safety testing or labeling. Consequently, no independent, long-term scientific testing has been conducted on GMOs to show that they are safe for humans, animals, and the environment.
Due to growing concerns about the safety of GMOs and polls consistently showing that over 90 percent of consumers want GMOs labeled, lawmakers in 17 states, including Connecticut, have introduced legislation that would mandate, in some form, the labeling of genetically modified foods. In February, State Representative Richard Roy (D – Milford), co-chair of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee, introduced HB 5117, An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Foods. Connecticut had the potential to become the first state to pass a bill mandating the labeling of GE foods. Despite grassroots advocacy by the Right to Know CT campaign that resulted in widespread, bipartisan support from state legislators, fears of a lawsuit by the biotech industry led to the labeling provision being excised from the bill before it had a chance to make it to the floor of the House of Representatives. Lesson learned—the will of the people does not reign supreme.
The FDA so far has dismissed pleas to update its arcane GE food labeling policies. Not even a bicameral letter to FDA Commissioner Hamburg, signed by 55 members of Congress in support of the Center for Food Safety’s (CFS) legal petition filed on behalf of the Just Label It campaign, could sway the agency. It is essential to label GMOs so consumers can choose whether or not to eat them. When a GMO labeling bill is introduced in your state, send your legislators an email saying that you believe we have a fundamental right to know what’s in our food so we can make informed choices about what we feed our families. Remember that the American consumer reigns supreme, and each and every organic and Non-GMO food vote you cast with your wallet will likely carry more weight than the votes of our legislators in support of GMO labeling bills.
Analiese Paik is the co-founder of Right to Know CT (RightToKnow.org) and the founder and editor of the award-winning website FairfieldGreenFoodGuide.com.