Why Your Friends Are Begging For Labels

Recently the scare of genetically engineered organisms (GMO) has been gaining speed and popularity. Introduced in 1996, GMOs are here to stay, for better or for worse. But, at closer investigation, this seal of approval has become relatively one sided.

July 7, 2015
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“A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria, in order to produce foreign compounds in that food” (Label GMOs).

Recently the scare of genetically engineered organisms (GMO) has been gaining speed and popularity. Introduced in 1996, GMOs are here to stay, for better or for worse.

Scientists and farmers have assured consumers that they are creating “better” food, and by better they mean food that is herbicide tolerant and possessing the ability to yield its own pesticide (Down To Earth).

But there are some concerns that consumers are vocalizing. Mommy bloggers, liberals, and conservatives alike are banding together to bring about change, or at least some sort of enlightenment. Scientists have been giving the green light to continue the use of GMOs, but, at closer investigation, this seal of approval has become relatively one sided.

In 1974, there was strict regulations on experimentation with the preliminary form of GMOs by scientists who feared the effects behind genetic engineering. However, in 1984 the White House was able to regulate, along with the American Food and Drug Association (FDA), the biotechnology. Not much was said during this period, as GMOs were a relatively unknown and undiscussed issue. Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to ban certain pesticides, they were eventually overruled by agricultural scientists and their supporters in Congress (Council on Foreign Relations).

This type of strong-arming for health and safety reviews still occurs and is actually supplied by the very companies who are seeking approval for their GMO products. This is a serious conflict of interest which begs the question as to how much validity these statements that “GMOs are harmless” posses (Down To Earth). This blurring of lines is one reason that so many people are confused regarding what they should believe in the GMO debate.

The fact of the matter is that the health risks behind GMOs are unknown. There has not been enough time to draw conclusive evidence whether GMOs are harmful or not. However the studies that have been conducted on animals does not look promising.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) believes that GM foods can be doing long-term damage to the human form. “The AAEM reported that several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,’ including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system” (Institute for Responsible Technology).

As studies continue to focus on animals being subjected to GMOs, even more problematic findings arise, such as third generation hamsters becoming infertile. Which may sound trite, but this could be an issue humans may face decades from now. And unlike drug regulations, there have been no human clinical trials for GM foods. So, at best, the studies that have been evaluated are only surface level.

Forty percent of the world’s population already label genetically engineered foods, including the entire European Union (Label GMOs). What is even more interesting is that the companies that are fighting so hard to ban GMO labeling are submitting to the EU’s rules, and either label or provide non-GM enhanced products.

Whether or not there are risks involved with consuming GM products, it is important for people to be informed about what they ingest. There never used to be nutrition labels or calories listed on products, but since they have been integrated it has been a big help for nutritionists and regular individuals.

However there is a flipside to the argument, which is “no” to GMO labeling.

Scientist and professor, Kevin Folta presented a slide which shows the difference between the genetic makeup of table sugar. An organically grown sugar beet was compared to a glyphosate-resistant sugar beet (GM food), and the end results were the same. Neither of their genetic makeup was different even though the sugar beet was a GMO (Kevin Folta).

The Washington Post had a special section back in 2013 where Tamar Haspel, a nutrition expert who has been writing and researching nutrition for the past 15 years, discussed the fact and fiction behind GMOs. “There is no mainstream scientific evidence showing that foods containing GMOs are any more or less harmful for people to consume than anything else in the supermarket” (Washington Post).

What’s more toxic than GMOs is the conspiracy and fear behind them. Haspel acknowledges that there are flaws behind the organizations who whole-heartedly claim that there is zero concern in relation to GMOS, but she is also quick to point out that those who are avid advocates against GMOs are just as harmful. She encourages an impartiality test to be used by consumers. When one is researching the truth behind GMOs it is a red flag if an argument is just one sided, chances are that this person is a “dog” — whether financial or ideological — in the GMO fight (Haspel).

Worrying about unknown risks is is seen as unproductive by certain scientists, as there is always a risk that you’ll get salmonella or fall victim to a car accident. Worrying over food that the FDA has already deemed safe is “futile,” and for those that are so concerned there is a solution: buy organic. Although these foods are more expensive, people can splurge the extra dollars if it gives them a peace of mind (Science Line). People argue that it is pointless and an unnecessary cost to label items as “GMO” since the foods that are missing these GM traits have already been flagged.

Since many people are uneducated with the GMO argument, labeling GM products could lead to hysteria.

Journalist Katherine Foley points out that as scientists continue to study GMOs and more factual and concrete information becomes available to the public there still should not be GMO labeling. She points to the denial of the climate change argument, which she believes if it has taught people anything, it is that we are no where close to ready for knowledge on that scale (Science Line). A common sentiments is that there is virtually no reason for people to be concerned over inconclusive evidence because, whether it is GMO or non-GMO, there will be its own variable type risks.

The world’s population is rapidly growing with one birth occurring every eight seconds, balanced against one death every 13 seconds, therefore providing a net gain of one person every twelve seconds (Census). Basically the births are outweighing the deaths on a rapidly growing scale. An argument for GM is that it could potentially assist in supplying food to the starving. Although there must be room for caution, to completely disregard a rather promising solution would be, as the editors of the Washington Post put it, “self-indulgent” (Washington Post).

The United States government has acknowledged that Americans throw about 40% of perfectly good food away due to slight imperfections that lead people to believe the food is inedible or just plain “gross.” Okanagan Specialty Fruits received the green light to produce genetically modified seeds that would essentially stop apples from browning when they are sliced or bruised. This is not to say they would never spoil, but the typical unfounded reasons for tossing an apple would be eliminated (United States Department of Agriculture).

The only answer to the GMO debate is research and time. Time will tell the true effects, but when one looks to more biased journals it appears that individuals can either be over cautious or accept the “truth” that is presented to them.  The chances that GMOs may be providing genetic abnormalities is slim, but if true, the consequences can be severe. However, just laying out in the sun for an hour or getting on the highway can result in the same if not greater consequences.

Technically, people have been eating GMOs for thousands of years, ever since farmers discovered the trick of selectively breeding crops to have certain traits. However with science, more precise modifications are being made (National Geographic).

Whether or not someone agrees with GMOs there’s a simple solution until GMO labels are created: buy non-gmo labeled foods. GMOs are not going anywhere so it is time to get used to that little green label that has begun to pop up on so many bags. If you do not see it, then you can infer that somewhere along the line a gene has been changed one way or the other.

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