Despite the growing strength of the grassroots movement against the purchase and consumption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), propositions to mandate GMO labeling in Oregon (Ballot Measure 92) and Colorado (Proposition 105) were rejected on Election Day. The failure of these initiatives is particularly surprising given the liberal leanings of the two states involved, which serves as yet another reminder of the unparalleled influence of the corporate food industry. In light of this defeat, agricultural justice advocates have all but given up the fight against GMOs.
The measures’ lack of success can likely be attributed to the $37 million efforts of biotechnology-based companies like Monsanto, which health organization NaturalNews claims was part of a ploy to deceive uninformed American voters. With an almost infinite budget fueled by their monopolization of the American food industry, these companies have proven themselves willing to undermine any attempt to vilify genetically modified products.
To further complicate the debate, researchers are conflicted about the alleged dangers of consuming GMOs. Some studies point to adverse effects on health and well-being, while others indicate no significant difference in the health of consumers versus non-consumers of genetically engineered organisms. For instance, a study carried out by the peer review journal PLOS ONE analyzed over 1,000 samples of human DNA and found that certain DNA fragments from GMOs were large enough to evade being broken down. This allows them to enter the human circulatory system and potentially interact with human DNA with deleterious effects.
Though this particular study did not indicate any actual adverse effects on human health, other studies performed on alternative organisms have indicated potential hazards of GMO consumption. An analysis conducted by three French scientists in 2006 investigated the effect of Monsanto-modified corn on the health of a group of rats. Interestingly, they detected notable signs of excretory toxicity in the GMO-fed rats as compared with control rats that were fed a non-GMO diet during the course of the 90-day study.
However, a study published by the Journal of Animal Science culled data pertaining to the general health of United States livestock from the years 1983 to 1996 (before the widespread prevalence of GMOs) and from 1996 to 2011 (after GMOs had become an integral part of the American food system). A comparison of the overall health of livestock during the pre- and post-periods of GMO implementation did not report any significant difference in animal wellbeing with respect to the presence of GMOs in the diet.
Based on these contradictory arguments, it can be difficult to form a decisive opinion regarding whether or not the government should label GMOs. Nonetheless, the biotech industry’s adamant opposition to labeling products that fall under the GMO umbrella seems to be digging companies like Monsanto into an even deeper grave: the more aggressive the corporate food industry becomes in opposing this kind of legislation, the more skeptical people become of the food that they’re eating. From this perspective, it seems like these companies are trying to hide information from consumers.
With no clear-cut answer concerning the safety of GMOs, the current debate seems to be more of a personal issue than a matter of public health. Regardless of whether or not GMOs are truly detrimental to consumer health, people want to know what it is that they’re putting into their bodies. And why shouldn’t people be fully informed when it comes to something as intimate as the food they’re eating?
If big agribusiness is so convinced of the safety of GMOs, they should have no problem advertising their products in an honest way. Instead of quashing this type of legislation, it would be wise for these companies to use such initiatives as an opportunity to promote GMOs as an accepted part of the American food industry. Instead, by vehemently opposing any form of labeling, the industry provides even more reason for food justice advocates to remain skeptical of the safety and sustainability of GMOs.