Category Archives: GMO

GMO Labeling – Advantages & Disadvantages – final words

So, just what are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO labeling?

To recap, we know that GMOs themselves have advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages:

  • potential less use of pesticides
  • increased food production in poor countries
  • perhaps lower food prices
  • potential for increased vitamins & minerals
  • increased disease resistance
  • increased shelf life
  • removal of certain allergens
  • less need for water

Disadvantages:

  • no long term studies, so potential for food safety issues & unknown health risks
  • the ability for large corporations to patent food source
  • potential for new allergens
  • risk of antibiotic resistance
  • potential increase in use of pesticides (because of the resistance)
  • potential for unknown toxins
  • unknown potential harm to the environment and animal/insect species
  • potential for toxicity with an over ingestion of certain vitamins and minerals

Given these issues, labeling seems the natural thing to do.  And polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see labeling.  And yet, states are having a hard time passing labeling laws.

Most countries that have labeling laws are national with a national standard.  The US is trying to pass laws regionally because the FDA states that GMO foods are, in essence, the same as non-GMO foods and therefore, need not be regulated separately.   This dictate leaves states no choice but to act on their own.

From (http://wakeup-world.com/2012/02/10/vermont-introduces-monumental-gmo-labeling-legislation/).
Photo from http://wakeup-world.com/2012/02/10/vermont-introduces-monumental-gmo-labeling-legislation/

Enter the problems.  Below are the advantages and disadvantages of GMO labeling:

Advantages:

  • Labeling gives the public information about what they are buying and consuming.  The “right to know” extends to this “food processing attribute”.
  • Consumers could make more informed buying decisions
  • It might encourage more companies to use non-GMO ingredients so they would not have to label.  This has been shown to be the case in at least six-ten other countries where labeling is mandatory.

Disadvantages:

  • Groceries will probably cost more as the manufacturers will have to pour a lot of money into testing and segregation.  Labels would have to be remade and, more than likely would have to be generic across state lines.
  • labelgmoshollywood.co
    labelgmoshollywood.co
  • Smaller food producers and specialty food producers would feel the cost burden much more and, if they are able to continue doing business, the products would bear a greater cost – and the consumer might not be able to afford products from smaller food producers.
  • States, farmers and food producers could be tied up in expensive litigation.
  • Having state laws and not using a national standard could create more confusion in the public’s mind.  In some cases, the consumer could be deceived into thinking a food doesn’t contain GMOs, when in fact it does.  For example:  a small food producer in Vermont is required to label.  Since they can not afford to have labels for one state and a different label for another state, all the products are labeled.  That product is then sold on a shelf in a state without labeling laws.  The product next to it comes from a large company that can afford to have separate labels for labeled stated and unlabeled law states.  The consumer looking at the two products would be deceived into thinking the product without the label does not contain GMOs.

Regardless, Vermont has now passed a labeling law.  Smartly, the law establishes a defense fund to defect against potential lawsuits.  And there is a whopper out there – a lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the Snack Foods Association.   Even Ben & Jerry’s is getting in the fray helping to raise funds for the defense of the law – a renamed ice cream, “Food Fight – Fudge Brownie” shows a box on the front of the ice cream that reads “Food Fight Fund”.   $1 of each pint sold will go to the fund.

photo by  GLENN RUSSELL / FREE PRESS FILE
photo by GLENN RUSSELL / FREE PRESS FILE

Attorney General Bill Sorrell has filed a brief defending the new law and asking the lawsuit be thrown out.

The lawsuit claims that the labeling law exceeds state authority and violates food manufacturer’s right to free speech to not label something they don’t feel necessary.  Defense of the law need only look to NY and the recent upheld law requiring calorie content be listed on chain restaurant food.

Either way, we should all get ready.  Whether it happens today or several years from now, labeling is probably coming to a state near you!

GMOs – Labeling

First, allow me to apologize – a family issue prevented me from being able to devote time to writing.  But, we’re back now!  Thank you to all that have been following this blog.

If you take an initial look at the issue of labeling, you might wonder what could be controversial.  I mean, letting the public know seems the right thing to do, right?

So why are the big-ag companies doing back flips to keep labeling laws from going into effect?  Unfortunately, part of the reason is because they know that people are still widely uneducated when it comes to GMOs.  If a label says anything like “contains or may contain GMOs”, an automatic assumption  may be made that GMOs are bad.   Also, the more the anti-GMO groups put out information on GMOs and stages protests, etc, the more influence this will have on the fears of consumers.  (Please keep in mind that this post DOES NOT mean to imply that GMOs are safe or unsafe – merely just perusing the thoughts and feelings of the public and what might go on in their minds.)

book cover for Sam Merwin Jr book, "A Matter of Policy - An Amy Brewster Mystery"
book cover for Sam Merwin Jr book, “A Matter of Policy – An Amy Brewster Mystery”

You see, friends – fear tactics are not a tool solely for Republicans – Liberals sometimes practice the same fear tactics.  Playing to people’s innate tendency towards fear works, despite being a sleazy way to get people on your side.

But, this issue isn’t about fear.  It is about informing people about what they are buying.  Cigarette pack warnings are an attempt to instill fear and make people reconsider buying cigarettes with negative messaging.   GMO labels are not implying any negative – they are simply telling you what is in your food.  A better comparison would be allergen statements or even ingredients – both are simply telling the consumer what is in the product.

Labeling GMOs is really a debate over labeling process attributes.  Should food processing, of which GMOs are one process, be labeled?  There are several ways to go here:

1.  Legislation that does not allow any GMO process statements – either containing or not containing GMOs.

2.  Legislation requiring all foods containing GMOs to be labeled.  A statement would accompany such label that disclaims government judgment on the safety of GMOs.

3.  Voluntary labeling with the use of GMOs or the absence of GMOs.  This seems somewhat arbitrary, leaving consumers confused.

4.  Voluntary labeling of the use of GMOs, but again, requiring a statement accompanying the non-GMO label that disclaims government judgment on the safety of GMOs.

The first option no longer seems viable as anti-GMO groups are not going away and neither is the issue.  By not allowing any labeling of process attributes, consumers could make a judgment call with little to no information.  (Yes, you might say that many people already do that when they go out to vote, but I digress! ;-)).  Lack of information leaves a ripe ground for conspiracy theories!

The second option might work as some of the onus is no longer on the small manufacturer to get verified, even though they will still have to go through the work of getting in house paperwork on ingredients to make sure they are not using GMOs.   But either way the issue goes, no longer are we going to be able to ignore the issue, so this could be the best option.

originally from sustainablepost.com
originally from sustainablepost.com

Under the anti-labeling guise, the third option above would be a continuation of what we have now.  However, that option – in my mind – is the least viable.  The confusion it creates in the minds of consumers is unfair, not only to the consumer, but to smaller manufacturers.  If one product is labeled non-GMO and another product is NOT labeled non-GMO, the natural inclination of a consumer is to believe that the product not labeled does contain GMOs.  But the cost of getting verified non-GMO is prohibitive to many manufacturers that might actually be non-GMO, but can’t afford to get verified.

Gringo Jack’s is going through the process of getting non-GMO verified and I can attest to several things:  it is very expensive and it is extremely time consuming and frustrating.  The requirements for paperwork are over the top (more on that in another post!) and it is a continuing cost every year once accomplished.

So, we’ve presented the beginning of the labeling issue, but there is so much more – evidenced by the many dollars being spent on the part of the anti-labeling campaigns as well as local governments fighting the groups fighting the labels.   Money is being poured into lawsuits, campaigns, advertising, marketing etc and so this issue deserves more time.

Next week will delve into what both sides have to say about the labeling.

GMOs and Food Sustainability – Part IV

Here are some crazy statistics:

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a 2011 report, about 25% of the world’s agricultural land is now highly degraded.  The Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that climate change is going to further exacerbate the problem.
  • According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 70% of global water use is used in agriculture.  However, the share of water is going to dramatically drop to 40% by 2050.
  • By 2001, the FAO food price index more than doubled its level from 2000-2002.  We’ve now had the longest cyclical rise in food prices in the last 50 years.
  • As population continues to grow, food supply demand will continue to rise and therefore prices will continue to rise while supply will continue to decline.

Whole-Foods-940x626

Taking these statistics into account, we know we have to do something as the dismal future looms ahead.  The GMO proponents feel they are doing something to help the situation.  According to these groups, some of the benefits of GMOs include:

  • Increased crop yield
  • Increased nutrition in existing crops  (read about the GM anthocyanin tomatoes)
  • Improved food production efficiency
  • Improved shelf life (about 60-70% of all processed foods you buy have GMO)
  • Decease resistant crops  (read about the late blight resistant potatoes)
  • Pest resistant crops

Those seem like some pretty cool benefits!  While some of these characteristics can be achieved using traditional or classical breeding methods (as they’ve been doing since the beginning of agriculture), not all crops are easily bred for the desirable traits.  The late blight resistant potatoes are an example of this.

However, the GMO community is trying to tell us that using biotechnology and genetically modifying crops is the same as cross breeding (the practice of thousands of years).  It is not the same.  And the claims of sustainability due to decease resistance and  pest resistance may or may not prove out.  Many of the GM crops are developing new and improved insects and deceases which could be strike one against sustainability.  During a time when we are learning about antibiotic resistance, we should consider the same with our food supply.

There are also indications of the following:

  • GE crops require more water and can not depend on rainwater
  • GE crops are more susceptible to secondary pests
  • GE crops depend on the chemicals developed by the bioengineer companies and therefore, crops become more costly

So, the questions of sustainability are a lot more complicated than the GMO community would have us believe.  However, one of the biggest issues might actually be – not whether or not GMOs can help the world’s food ills, but rather, if we rely on GMOs, are we going to ignore the myriad of OTHER proven techniques to sustain a quality food source (ie:  urban vertical farming as just one example in my mind)?

If we use seeds as our sole solution to the problems in food production, we must also consider that these seeds are going to be patented (yes, corporations can actually now own food sources!) and study all the potential problems that will bring.  Those problems could go a lot way to mitigate any potential gain to sustainability.

I could go on for pages citing studies on both sides of the sustainability argument – there are many.  However, trying to weed through these studies to find which ones are flawed, which ones are “industry funded” and which ones are put forth solely with an agenda in mind, is almost an impossible task!   Suffice it to say that we are ALL for safe and effective methods for feeding the world in the coming hard times.  However, I am not nearly as convinced that GMOs are a long term effective and safe method.

Obviously, technology plays an ever increasing role in the quality of life and its ability to improve quality of life.  However, just because genetic engineering is technology doesn’t make it the be all and end all solution.  Further, there are other technologies being developed that might not have the potential risks involved with GE.  But that being said, there very well may be a place for GE in a comprehensive solution to the world’s food problems.  IMHO, however, if we do use GE as a part of our plan, it should be for the benefit of our species and NOT for the benefit of a corporation.  I do not ever want a corporation owning any part of the human condition.

Next week – GMOs and food labeling.

 

 

 

GMOs and FOOD SAFETY – Part III

The attempt to concisely discuss GMOs and food safety is daunting.  There is so much conflicting information, studies and opinions that it seems impossible to be able to definitively say whether GMOs are safe or not.    To quote Greggor Ilagan, one of the nine member County Council in Hawaii,

“it takes so much time to find out what’s true.”

When the GMO bill came up in Hawaii, Ilagan was in a quandary.  He promised his constituency he would always vote and take a stand on any issue, but he truly did not know what to do.  Every time he tried to research the topic, new questions arose obfuscating the issue further.

There are many studies the non-GMO community pointed to that would indicate GMOs were a health risk:  a French researcher that found tumors in rats;  a Russian study that showed hamsters lost the ability to reproduce; a study linking GMOs with childhood allergies; disappearing butterflies; sterile seeds – the list goes on.

hamster in a cage

However, most of the studies that have been cited have also been shown to be wildly flawed and already debunked and, therefore,  not worthy of inclusion in the discussion of GMOs.

So, the question remains – is there any evidence of the safety or harm caused by GMOs?  It is true  that we have been eating foods with genetically modified ingredients for years.  Approximately 60-70% of processed foods you buy in the grocery store contain genetically engineered ingredients.  The most common GMOs include maize, soybeans, cotton and grapeseed oil.

The US (also the largest producer of GMOs) government’s position remains steadfast – GMOs are perfectly safe and are the “substantial equivalent” of non-GMOs.   The EU, however feels differently – they want to avoid GMOs and stick with organic food they feel doesn’t pose a health risk.  Their position doesn’t seem to rely on studies but rather avoidance of the possibilities of risks.  If non-GMO food is eaten, there are no worries as to whether or not risks exist.

Here is what has become the main crux for me just on the food safety issue: most of the crops presently being modified are one-gene modifications.  That means that one gene is being introduced to the crop to bring about a desired result.  So far, there is no credible evidence that any of the currently modified crops are unsafe.  That is not to say that they are safe.  The argument that we’ve been eating these crops for years with no negative results is a false assertion.  Because of a lack of any credible studies that study cause and effect, we have no real idea of their safety.

As to allergens, genes that are used are already tested and known to be allergens or not.  Usually when a gene is found to be an allergen, it is discarded.  However, as happened with Kraft Foods, sometimes it gets by and into the food stream.  Case in point, the genetically modified corn that was approved for animal feed.  Cry9C is a protein that was injected into the corn (Starlink corn) and was only supposed to be used for feed.  However, it was found in the food supply by way of taco shells at Taco Bell – shells that were also sold in the grocery store under the Taco Bell name.  There was a wide recall and lawsuits to follow.

http://www.gefoodalert.org

So, of course, accidents can happen.  So far, all accidents have been benign.  But who’s to say the next one will not be?  IMHO, with a lack of corporate regulatory oversight and corporate responsibility, the likelihood that something bad will hit the food supply is just an eventuality.  After all, it has been shown again and again that corporate profits trump public safety.

The World Health Organization, the Center for Decease Control, the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as other organizations all seem to agree that there are, as yet, no known safety risks with GMOs.

However, there is a letter put together by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility which reads, in part:

“(We) strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is ‘over’.”

One thing I believe that most agree on, we have to take each instance at a time.  Every time we change the make up of a food stuff, there needs to be testing and understanding of that gene or protein and the effect of adding it to whatever crop they are changing.

Next week, GMOs and food sustainability…