Genetic engineering creates organisms through multiple techniques that involve altering the genetic material in ways that would never occur naturally. They combine traits from plants, bacteria, viruses, or animals to make their final organism more resistant to weather factors, grow at accelerated speeds, or produce more edible substance than all-natural products.
Since their first commercial appearance, GMO products have made a huge impact among farmers, thanks to their accessibility, speed of development, and convenience. In the US, over 90% of the soybeans and approximately 85% of the corn cultivated, nowadays, are GMOs. Other successful genetically modified products include beets, sugar beets, and cotton, but animal farming isn’t much more natural either, since animals are fed GMO seeds all the time.
These products round up to more than 70% of the processed foods available on the market, and customers have no way of knowing which ones they are. With all the genetically modified organisms in the market today, it’s only natural that the GMO labeling debate be a complicated and long one.
What is GMO Labeling?
GMO labeling aims to highlight the origins of foods present on the US market mainly as GMO, non-GMO (organic), or a mix of the two, noting the percent of each type of ingredients. It has been estimated that GMO labeling would cost about 30 pennies per month for consumers. Many powerful arguments support and disapprove of implementing the GMO labeling and we will discuss them in this article.
The GMO Labeling Debate
As with any other debate, there are many sides that strongly support their point of view for the GMO labeling, and we can’t blame them: We each have to follow our own interests and wellbeing. Even though many large organizations and well-known publications have supported or condemned the implementation of GMO labeling, the only players with an active role in this debate are the Government, the consumers, and the companies.
What the Government Thinks
The official stand is that ingredients that pose health risks towards consumers are banned, not labeled; the label would determine the presence of additives or genetic modifications, not because they’re unsafe, but because consumers have the right to know when chemicals have been added to their food. However, GMO crops have been around for about 30 years and invaded the markets just 20 years ago, so it’s still too early to observe and understand their consequences on the human body or the environment.
Maybe the FDA doesn’t think GMOs differ greatly from non-GMO products, because they really aren’t. The aforementioned institution and the National Academy of Sciences developed many tests that concluded they pose no threat to consumers. GMO crops are much more intensely regulated and scrutinized by government authorities than conventional farms, which can mean two things: Either they are safer, thanks to all the regulations, or they are much more unstable and need permanent supervision not to become dangerous to consumers. This is a question to which only time can provide an answer.
What Consumers Think
Since GMO products include DNA and features of other organisms, this might mean, in some cases, a product might contain substances or allergens not naturally found in its ingredients. If so, labeling GMOs can ultimately save lives, since allergic reactions can be fatal to some.
GMO labeling would, eventually, increase the market power of small farms and agricultural companies that still use traditional farming techniques and have kept away from GMOs, which would increase diversity in time. As a consequence, food and farming magnates would lose some of their power and, maybe, rethink their strategies.
Consumers and non-GMO farms are the only gears in the mechanism that would 100% benefit from GMO labeling. Being properly informed as a consumer will lead to easier decisions when shopping and a healthier lifestyle, while a non-GMO farm will finally have its efforts recognized by the market and can price its products accordingly, without being suspected of lying.
What Producers Think
Another aspect that must be considered when talking about the GMO label is that farmers and producers who provide organic, non-GMO products already label them accordingly. The “Non-GMO Project Verified seal” or the “USDA Organic” are the labels for products that surpassed regular testing, traceability, and segregation to guarantee their products are 100% organic.
However, this requires time and finances for retailers just to prove their products are natural, which is already expected by a vast majority of consumers. There are many small farming companies, like family businesses, that simply do not have the time, money, or access to critical information to obtain this seal. Therefore, a much more reasonable solution would be to label GMO products.
GMO farmers and supporters fear a mandatory GMO label will mislead consumers and stigmatize their products, interpreted as a warning label. While it might be true, it’s still too early to tell if this would be a misconception or a fact. In addition, using this as an argument to avoid the implementation of GMO labeling is, in more than one way, wrong and immoral. Their products probably should be stigmatized, since more scientists warn consumers of the disastrous effects of GMOs.
GMO Labeling in the US
The US authorities do acknowledge that GMO products are new and different from traditional ones. The hundreds of patents that the US Patent Office has granted stands as clear evidence for this. However, the FDA claims that GMO products are, in essence, almost identical to non-GMO ones. The parameters they take into account to support this claim are amounts of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and water. As long as these variables stay similar to a non-GMO product, a genetically engineered food wouldn’t need labeling.
States that already passed GMO labeling laws are Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. Such laws have been proposed in many other states, like Alaska, Arizona, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, and are awaiting approval.
As a result, some well-known companies like General Mills, Kellogg, Con Agra, and Mars chose to label all their products that are to be sold all over the US, mainly because the costs of labeling only the products that are to be sold in certain states would have increased the costs for their consumers.
What can We Do?
Basically, you need to be as vocal about your desire to see the GMO labels as you can. Talk to your local representatives, the FDA, and the Congress, saying you want to be informed, regarding the contents and ingredients of your meals. If you see an online petition that supports the GMO label, sign it and forward it to others interested in this topic, too. Another thing every farmer can and should do is start farming organically.
Even though genetically modified products dominate today’s market, the consequences of a GMO diet are still not fully known. Although there are many scientists and doctors, who support GMO crops and products, there are more signs of these products being much more harmful to ourselves and our environment. There’s no question about it; consumers would greatly benefit from implementing a GMO labeling system.