Better Off Well


6 Reasons Why GMO Labeling Is SO Important

gmo hearing

I was at the Massachusetts State House yesterday, and damn, I'm so glad I went. Sometimes when you're fighting what you believe is the good fight, it gets mighty lonely. You wonder if anyone is even listening or if any of it really matters.

Then you go to an event like yesterday's hearing for the GMO Labeling Bill (H3242) and BAM! You remember why you are doing what you do and that YES, dammit, it matters.

Almost all the testimony delivered came from proponents of labeling GMO food. Politicians testified for their constituents, scientists on the lack of safety studies, lawyers on the constitutionality of labeling, environmentalists on the impact of gmo's, religious leaders on the impact of gmo food on spirituality and laws that govern particular religions, and organic farmers about the potential impact gmo cross pollination has on their acres of produce.

There were a number of people who have been particularly affected by changes in our environment, including to our food, who spoke about how these changes impacted their lives, their health, and the health of their children.

gmo hearing testimony

My colleague and sister-friend, Kristi Marsh (author of Little Changes), gave impassioned testimony about the ethics of science.

How do we guide our children into careers in science when so much of today's science seems to be influenced by the highest bidder?

I really wish you all could have been there.

The scientists, science teachers, and science writers made clear what most of us working for this labeling law believe: science is amazing. We are amazed by science. We love science.

Biotechnology can be very cool, too, but when it comes to our food, the science about its safety is not clear nor anywhere near definitive.

So here are my top 6 reasons why genetically modified food should be labeled. (There are more, to be sure.)

1) You are eating it every day. Probably with every meal. As are your children.

Pretty much all conventionally grown corn and soy in this country is genetically modified. Corn and soy and their derivatives are in nearly every packaged food on the shelves, including baby formula.

Almost all cotton is genetically modified (along with highest pesticide application). You don't eat cotton? Think again. Check your labels for cottonseed oil. All conventional canola oil is genetically modified, as is all papaya. Sugar beets are often the source of sugar in our processed foods and guess what? Yep, gmo.

Alfalfa is gmo now, too. I'm guessing you're not chowing on alfalfa but the cattle you're eating in your burger likely do. Unless they were fed gmo corn and soy.

For a complete list of current gmo foods, check here.

2) There is no consensus among scientists about the safety of GMO's.

Sure, you can find articles in well-established science magazines saying that genetically modified food is safe, but the bottom line is that there have never been any long-term studies done prior to the release of the first gmo-foods. We are, in effect, the guinea pigs of this study. Click here to read why there is no consensus and be sure to click here to see the 313 signatories of this document from around the world, including medical doctors, PhD's, molecular biologists, and professors.

3) Food allergies have increased along with increase in GMO food.

Between 1997-2011, food allergies among children has increased 50%. Classrooms across the country are nut-free today, but allergens encompass more and more foods. The first genetic modifications were introduced into dairy products in 1994 with a genetically-modified bovine growth hormone. Shortly before that, a genetically modified form of rennet was approved for use in cheese.

Does this mean genetically-modified food is the cause of food allergies? No. It's only a link. But it's the kind of link that should throw up a slew of red flags and prompt the government to start funding independent studies. In addition to increased food allergies, skin allergies, autism, asthma, and hay fever have seen dramatically rising numbers. Clearly we need to know more.

Labeling food that has gm ingredients would allow those who have food allergies, autoimmune disorders and other sensitivities who want to avoid gmo's to see if that makes a difference to be able to do just that.

4) Not everyone can afford organic.

At this time, the way to avoid gm foods as best we can is to buy organic. But because growing food organically requires more manual labor (it's easier to blanket a field with pesticides than to pull weeds) and paperwork, and because our government uses our tax dollars to subsidize the processed food industry (think corn and petroleum), it's difficult for a family of 4 living on two middle-class incomes to purchase all organic, never mind a family of 6 living on one middle-class income or any family living at or below the poverty line.

Labeling gm food would help to level the playing field at least a little.

5) We can't put a recall on gm food. Like a number of pharmaceutical drugs that have been pulled off shelves in the last decades, we can't pull genetically modified food products off the earth if we do learn one day that they are in part responsible for the increase in chronic illness we have today. Once released into nature, we cannot control for factors like wind and pollinators.

Labeling food would allow more people to become educated around the issues of genetically modified food- physiological, environmental, ethical, and philosophical.

6) 64 Countries Now Label GMO Food

Labeling systems exist now in Brazil, Russia, Australia, China, Turkey, South America, Sweden, Italy, Ireland, and the European Union. For a complete listing of countries with labeling laws, check here.

If labeling exists in all these countries, why does it not exist yet in the U.S.? (I'm afraid I know the answer.)

While the biotech industry may have their own bottom line to protect, our bottom is this:

We have the RIGHT TO KNOW what we are eating and what we are feeding our families.

Biotechnology is not all bad and there is a great deal of potential for this technology in a number of areas. Food, however, is personal to each individual, to every family, and to each culture. It's something we have a relationship with every day. It can fuel us or it can ruin us. Usually we get to make that choice.

It's time we all pay attention to the GMO debate and get involved.

To learn more, check out the Center for Food Safety.