The Right to Know About GMOs

If you’re a parent who wants to know what’s in the food you feed your family, you’re one step closer. After a few similar but failed attempts in other states, including California, Connecticut has earned the distinction of being the first to legally mandate the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

GE foods* are defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as foods from genetically engineered organisms—also known as biotech foods or food from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In our food supply for about 20 years, GE foods are those that have been genetically engineered to create a new trait. Foreign genetic material is introduced to the food to create a desired trait, and some of the crops produced with this technology are disease- or pest-resistant because of greater tolerance to herbicides.

Currently, GE foods are widespread in the food supply. According to the FDA, the majority of genetically engineered plants—corn, canola, soybean, and cotton—are typically used to make ingredients such as cornstarch, corn syrup, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil commonly found in many food products. The non-profit organization, the Non-GMO Project, says up to 80 percent of conventionally processed foods contain GMOs including soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, and squash (zucchini  and yellow). Because GE foods aren’t currently labeled, many of us likely eat them and don’t even know it.

According to the World Health Organization’s 20 Questions on Genetically Modified (GM) Foods, GM foods are not likely to present risks for human health. The document also states, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” On the flip side, safety concerns have led to the creation of the GMO Evidence project, touted as a “one-stop resource for information about research and information from scientists and the general public on genetically modified foods and their associated pesticides.”

For those who want to avoid GE foods, the Non-GMO project created a “Non-GMO Project Verified seal” that can be used on products that have been produced according to consensus-based best practices for GMO avoidance.

Supporting a consumer’s right to know, Whole Foods Market recently announced that it will require all products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be clearly labeled by 2018. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other food markets follow suit in years to come.

According to public health lawyer Michele Simon’s recent Huffington Post blog, the Connecticut bill that recently passed did so because of an extraordinary grassroots effort led by GMO Free CT. Although the labeling requirement won’t take effect until four other states in the northeast enact similar bills, Simon says it’s a victory that should be savored.

I agree. Although the 2013 Food and Health Survey by the International Food and Information Council found that only three percent of people mentioned GMOs as something they’d like to see on food packages, a recent CNN segment cited on a great blog by health advocate Robyn O’Brien shows that many consumers want to know—and have the right to know—what’s in their food.

Only time and credible scientific studies will show whether eating GE foods—or whatever you call them—impacts our health for better or worse. Nevertheless, food manufacturers should be fully transparent and clearly put all ingredients found in a food on the food label. Such information is vital to help us make more informed decision about what goes into our shopping carts and on our plates when feeding ourselves and our families.

*GE foods is the term preferred by the U.S. FDA.

What’s your opinion? Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?

Image of woman buying sunflower oil via Shutterstock.

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