We Have the Right to Know

lemongmoRecently Congress has proposed a new bill that seeks to ban states from implementing their own labeling laws when it comes to genetically engineered ingredients. Currently there are more than 60 active bills in 26 states such as Alaska, California, and Hawai’i that require labeling of genetically engineered foods in stores which grant consumers the right to know what is in their food. When you want to know if a product contains ingredients like gluten, aspartame, or high fructose corn syrup the information is readily available because it is listed on the package. However in most cases if you want to know whether or not a product contains genetically engineered ingredients, you’re usually not going to find any information on the package. Having the right to know what the food contains that you eat should be part of American citizenry, right? If this is the case, why has Congress proposed this new bill that will take away those 26 states’ requirements to have companies inform customers when their food is produced using genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? The majority of Americans already believe genetically engineered foods should require labeling and the proposed bill demonstrates how big businesses control what the rest of the population consumes despite the health and environmental risks involved. Those of you reading this probably have many things to worry about such bills, family obligations, or even school stress and should not have to worry about whether or not your food could be slowly poisoning you simply because Congress believes that genetically engineered food shouldn’t require a label. As a healthy individual who advocates the non-GMO project, I believe Congress’ newest bill should not be passed because it will take away citizen’s rights to know if their food is natural.

Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants and animals. During this process, farmers who work with genetically engineered crops are able to obtain desirable traits and characteristics within plants or animals including pest resistance, herbicidal properties, and improved shelf life. The United States has implemented genetic engineering for almost two decades and despite some studies that have shown that GMOs are generally safe for human consumption, it is widely accepted that the long-term effects remain unknown. In theory then, consuming GMOs wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing; unless you wanted to know if the products you consider eating contain genetically engineered ingredients. As with every controversial subject in the media today, there are two sides to it. When it comes to the topic of genetically modified organisms, there are arguments discussing the benefits and the risks of using GMOs in our food supply. Advocates of GE products argue that “agriculture is by definition the manipulation of nature to meet the desired ends of people,” and even though the creation of GMOs is quite sophisticated, agriculture is a high-tech revolution in progress that began 10,000 years ago. Major corporations and GE farmers compare their bioengineered products to those that are grown naturally and pesticide-free and believe that their processes to get to the finished product are very similar. Genetically modified organisms are believed to produce a higher yield of crops and if the world population continues to increase, scientists believe that we will need to rely on GMOs to feed everyone. With this higher yield from genetically engineered farms, it would also mean that GMO crops would provide more affordable food to consumers around the world. However, supporters of the non-GMO project believe the exact opposite.

Proposed by Republican Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas, the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” would prohibit any mandatory labeling of foods made with bioengineering techniques. According to Pompeo, “We’ve got a number of states that are attempting to put together a patchwork quilt of food labeling requirements with respect to genetic modification of foods. That makes it enormously difficult to operate a food system.” It seems as though this bill would just make life easier for the major corporations involved, such as Monsato and Koch Industries, to sell their products without customers worrying if they contain any GMOs. Furthermore, supporters of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act point to their own scientific studies, showing that genetically engineered crops are safe so they do not need to be labeled differently than other products. “It has to date made food safer and more abundant. It has been an enormous boon to all of humanity,” Pompeo stated and he believes that the new bill will “set a standard” regarding food labels around the country.

Unlike most other developed countries such as Japan, Australia, Brazil, and the 15 nations in the European Union, the U.S has no laws requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods. Almost 20 years ago, the FDA decided that genetically engineered foods did not need to be labeled because they were not “materially” different from other foods. In the spring of 2000, the Food and Drug Administration announced that labeling of GE foods would remain voluntary, even though there was no indication that any company would voluntarily label GE foods to give the right to know to their inhabitants. Since then, 26 states have taken the initiative to label products made with GMOs in order to keep their citizens informed about what they’re eating. Something else that’s interesting to note is the fact that GMOs have not been approved by the FDA, according to Bill Reese, an analyst of Friends of Earth organization. According to Reese, “GE food is most likely classified under the regulation ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ by the FDA” and the FDA has not approved a single GMO crop as safe for human consumption. Even after a study conducted by Monsanto proved that the company’s corn elevated white blood cells in laboratory rats, the FDA still did not ban GMOs. Monsanto didn’t even release the results of the study until a year later after receiving an order from German Court. So how are GMOs allowed on the shelves of your local super market then? Simply stated: Big businesses can afford to pay to get what they want.

In 2012, ballot measures in California lost after GMO crop developers, including Monsanto Co. and The Hersey Co., spent millions on campaigns to defeat the measures. Apparently both corporations contributed about $44 million for “No on Prop 37,” while proponents were only able to raise $7.3 million. Proposition 37 would have required retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients and if it had passed, California would have been the first state to pass GMO labeling legislation. This was a perfect example of how major corporations can pour huge amounts of money in order to maintain their business in the country, despite poor quality products that are speculated to be harmful for human consumption. Even though ballot initiatives to require GMO labeling have failed twice, a New York Times survey from last July found that 93% of Americans believe that foods containing GMO ingredients should be labeled. Clearly there is strong support for labeling nationally; it’s just a matter of getting to the conclusion that we the people desire which is: we have the right to know what’s in our food.

The USDA estimates that 80 percent of corn crops are genetically modified and 90 percent of American soy and cotton crops are genetically modified. This may come as a surprise to some, especially since those percentages are significantly higher than half of all of the products that are consumed by the United States. This past February, environmentalists reported increasing concerns about weed and insect resistance to the crops and the chemicals used on them. In the same study, scientists found that the chemicals used on genetically engineered crops could be linked to disease and illness as well. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in the early 1990s. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in only 9 years; food allergies increase enormously, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems along with others are on the rise. Although there is not sufficient evidence to confirm that GMOs are the only contributing factor, given the increase in disease since their release the AAEM found, one could assume that they definitely play some sort of hazardous effect on human health. Given the severity of these results, despite the notion that GMOs are not the only contributing factor to the rise in illness and disease, we need to think twice about what the consequences will be of Congress’ proposition around the country.

The “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” will take away citizens’ right to know what is in their food that they will be feeding to themselves and their families. Despite your own stance on whether or not GMOs are hazardous to human health, wouldn’t you want to maintain the right to know what kinds of ingredients are in your food supply? Especially if it has been made using GMOs? Surveys have consistently shown that consumers want more information about their food, not less, so it makes me wonder exactly why Mike Pompeo would propose to limit consumers’ knowledge. Pompeo’s reasoning behind the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” is that consumers will have to pay more for the labeling of GE foods if they were required it, but given the results of numerous surveys, it seems as though people wouldn’t mind to pay a little more money for a healthier product. If Congress votes yes on the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”, what other absurd laws will come into play in the future that will take away our rights as citizens of America? For now all we can do is wait, and see what Congress’ reaction will be towards the bill and hope they don’t take away our right to know.

 

 

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