Tag Archives: GMO controversy

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 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…