It’s no surprise we’re still getting asked about GMO’s. They’re more in the news now than they were a year ago. The biggest news is consumer response to corporate control of information. In a July 2013 New York Times poll, 93% of respondents said that foods containing GMO’s should be labeled as such. Three-quarters (75%) of those interviewed expressed general concern about the presence of GMO’s in food, particularly their effects on human health.
What sadly isn’t news is industry resistance to labeling, to being upfront and honest, allowing consumers to make their own choices. GMO producers and trade groups continue to insist that GMO’s are safe and completely beneficial, that they increase crop yield, improve resistance to pesticides, and are capable of feeding a starving world.
The GMO industry also claims that labeling requirements will increase product costs and unfairly tarnish products containing GMO’s compared to those that don’t. As Serengeti Acacia Treerecently as November 2013, $22 million was spent in Washington State by pro-GMO interests to defeat an initiative that would require GMO-labeling on product labels. The top five contributors to this $22 million were the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience. Not one of those contributors was looking out for consumers.
The truth is, in the 25 years since the first GMO was approved by the FDA for human consumption, not a single industry claim has been proven. There are still no independent scientific studies – free of corporate funding or influence – that confirm their safety or their science. What’s more, when the FDA approved the first GMO, they violated their own statutes by not requiring the scientific proof expected of everyone else. The GMO industry has never had to prove its science. Bear that in mind the next time you hear a labeling advocate called “anti-science.” Maybe the distinction is, corporations are “above” science. As for industry’s consumer-oriented claims, decades of actual experience in Brazil and the European Union confirm that labeling doesn’t increase prices and consumers don’t see labeled products as being inferior. All this despite having the luxury of informed choice.
What They Are
Most simply, GMO’s are products of genetic engineering. More specifically, they’re genetically modified organisms that have been altered at the cellular level to take on specific characteristics. Genes from the DNA of one species are inserted into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal to achieve a desired effect.
GMO advocates insist this type of biotechnology is no different than traditional cross-breeding, the kind that’s been going on for centuries. Except that it’s not. In traditional breeding techniques, artificial selection enhances a specific characteristic over others. It’s done naturally. GMO’s are organisms that without gene splicing couldn’t occur in nature, through traditional techniques.
Who Can You Trust?
The problem with trusting industry to regulate itself, as the U.S. does, is simple. The interests that industry serves are its own. Studies used by the U.S. government as a basis for GMO approval were conducted by the same corporations that created and produced them. And their studies all had a fundamental flaw. The outcome was pre-determined. Which means they weren’t practicing science. They were practicing marketing. Bear in mind, also, that crucial to industry’s positive claims is the assumption that you can introduce an active foreign substance into a closed organic system and not change the entire system. This isn’t science. This is cheating and hoping that no one notices.
What You Can Do
Even without government regulations for GMO’s, consumers still have options. The Non-GMO Project offers comprehensive lists of certified non-GMO products, based on category and brand. Natural Food Certifiers, whose exclusive purpose is certifying the natural and organic products industry, has recently added non-GMO certification to its organic, vegan, gluten-free and kosher certification programs.
Consumers can also buy organic. Though the U.S. government doesn’t regulate GMO’s, as part of the USDA’s organic certification program, the presence of genetically engineered material and the use of GMO-related processes are prohibited.
Whatever source consumers use, it’s important to remember that third-party verification is crucial to knowing exactly what’s contained in commercial products. With American manufacturers regulating themselves and “GMO-free” joining “natural” and “organic” on the list of terms companies use for marketing purposes, independent verification is the only trustworthy option consumers have.