A number of studies over the past decade reveal that genetically modified foods (GMOs) can pose serious risks to farmers, human health, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Surveys also show that a growing number of U.S. consumers are concerned about GMOs in their food—even when they don’t really understand what they are, according to Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md.
Regardless, consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. That’s why the government is getting involved, requesting restrictions and stricter regulations in labeling. For example, the GMO labeling law, which requires labels on products containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.
“More than 30 states introduced legislation to require GE labeling in 2013 and 2014, with laws recently passed in Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska. This is because consumers have a right to know what is in the food they buy and feed their families. In fact, many major companies, including Mars, Campbell’s, General Mills and ConAgra are already labeling GMOs on-package and that has not impacted the companies or consumer cost,” says Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, Washington, D.C. “Although the law allows companies to print a clear GMO label on the food package, it also allows QR codes or call-in numbers, which are much less accessible, non-transparent and discriminatory against those without smartphones and wholly impractical. Most food companies, which have spent tens of millions of dollars opposing mandatory on-the-package labeling, will undoubtedly opt for QR codes instead of real labels. One third of Americans don’t have access to the technology required to get that information.”
In fact, only 50% of U.S. consumers with low income own a smartphone, according to Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. And, even those who do own a smartphone may not have consistent access to the internet.
To make matters more complex, FDA’s evaluation of GE foods is voluntary.
“The agency neither approves the safety of these foods nor requires any specific tests to establishing safety. Instead, safety testing is left up to the companies set to profit from the commercialization of GE food,” adds Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Center for Food Safety. “Many GE crops are not being regulated any longer, despite broad regulatory authority provided to the agency by the Plant Protection Act of 2000 (PPA). These problems need to be remedied by making FDA regulation a mandatory safety approval, with stringent test requirements developed by the agency, including for long-term risks. Similarly, USDA needs to develop robust regulations under the PPA, and vigorously enforce them.”
Likewise, gene-edited foods are making their way onto grocery store shelves because USDA continues to overlook gene-edited crops as being something to regulate.
“For food processors, the big problem is that it is difficult to keep GMOs out of production lines that are intended to be non-GMO or organic,” says Hanson. “Eighty-nine percent of Americans support mandatory GE labeling. [But], highly refined food products that do not contain genetic material, such as soybean or canola oil, probably would not have to be labeled under the law’s definition of an engineered food. Finally, there are no penalties for non-compliance, providing almost no disincentive against cheating.”
It’s clear that GMOs are here to stay, regardless of government intervention. It’s just a matter of educating consumers on how to better read labels that defines the future of GE foods.
Toyo Garber [email protected]
Center for Food Safety
Courtney Sexton [email protected]
Just Label It!