[Note from the instructor: “With GMOs in the news, and a big topic for Hawaii especially, I have my class writing a couple of essays and research papers on whether labeling GMO products should be required. The first essay is on ‘reasons for requiring labeling of foods with GMO ingredients.’ The final submissions are students’ research papers examining what research appears to show about GMOs and proposals for labeling foods with GMO ingredients.” -Danny Wyatt]
The requirement for labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has become an increasingly heated debate across the United States where food labeling is not required as it is in many other countries. Just this week it was announced in the Honolulu Star Advertiser that a proposed state legislative bill calling for the requirement of disclosure labels on foods containing GMOs was shelved by three Senate committees. According to the committees on Agriculture, Consumer Protection and Health, the initial indication is that the bill be deferred because, according to the state Attorney General, requiring labeling could be ruled unconstitutional by violating the First Amendment and federal Interstate Commerce and Labeling laws. As it now stands, the committee will ask several state groups to study the issue in greater detail and report the results (Zoellick 1).
There are three main reasons why people want all foods containing GMO ingredients to be labeled. One reason is that people want these foods labeled because they feel they have the right to know what it is they are consuming when they eat foods containing GMOs. Presently there are over 40 countries that require GMO labels, but not the U.S. where about 80% of foods made with corn or soy ingredients contain GMO ingredients. So at this time due to the lack of labeling, there is no way to know whether or not people are consuming GMOs and more and more Americans every day are taking a stand to demand they be informed what is in the foods to enable them to make a choice. At the heart of wanting the right to know is a great concern for potential health and environmental risks. Across the nation there are health advocacy groups that are also voicing their concern about the dangers to health from consuming GMOs. For example, in California there is even a coalition called the Committee for the Right to Know that has initiated efforts to support labeling. In 2012, the Mellman Group, a consumer research company, completed a survey that supported the idea that consumers feel they have a right to know what is in the food they eat; the survey results show 91% of the survey in favor of labeling.
The second reason the people want required labeling is because of potential health risks; when people don’t know what they have been eating, it could be harming their health. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), research based on animals and GM foods indicate serious health risks such as infertility, immune system problems, gastrointestinal problems, and organ damage associated with eating GM foods. Farmers around the world have linked GM foods to thousands of sick, sterile, and dead livestock. According to a study completed in 2009, three types of GM corn that were approved for human consumption were fed to rats for just 90 days resulted in damaged kidneys and livers. Only one GM study on humans has been published and it reports that in some people, herbicide-resistant genes from soybeans transferred into the DNA of bacteria living inside their intestines. This means there may be potentially dangerous GM proteins being produced inside of them even long after they stop eating GMOs. At this point all that can be done is to stop, look, listen, and hope for the best. There is a nonprofit public interest group, The Center for Food Safety, which calls the U.S. regulation of genetic engineering negligent and a disaster not only for consumers but for the environment as well.
The third concern that causes people to want labeling is the possible harm GMOs could be causing to the environment. According to the National Research Council, the overuse of the active ingredient in the most widely used herbicide in the U.S., is Roundup which is tolerant to glyphosate and results in weeds resistant to this herbicide and this is causing farmers to use herbicides that are even more toxic which results in harming the environment. One recent major environmental consequence has been the wide spreaddeath of honey bees which have been connected to the dramatic increases of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Other environmental concerns are the increase in the use of harmful herbicides caused by GM crops has resulted in having harmful effects on the environment. In addition, the increase of insecticide-resistant crops may bring an end to helpful insects, like bees, that play an important part in pollination. Still another environmental concern is crop diversity reduction brought about from mass cultivation of single GM plant variations that could cause problems with long-term sustainability of our global food supply.
Based on what has been shown and after careful review of the opposing arguments for labeling, labeling does not need to be required because it would only be a waste of money. As to the first reason discussed, that labeling is wanted because of the “right to know what they are eating”, this can be accomplished by consumers merely purchasing organic foods because they are labeled, otherwise avoid all other foods. There is no scientific valid reason as to why GMOs should not be eaten but consumers have a way to avoid GMOs without causing so much drama. As to the matter of health people want these foods labeled because they feel GMOs are unsafe for consumption; Americans have been consuming genetically engineered crops for 16 years without any evidence that these crops are a risk to humans. According to Sen. Roz Baker of Maui, state agencies will soon be asked to study the economic concerns of labeling and to review studies on GMO health and agriculture issues. As for environmental concerns, the over-use of pesticides and herbicides is very harmful to the eco-system so here is where money to control this issue should be spent, not on to label or not to label foods.
With recent decisions by the Senate committees, more fact finding studies are needed before making decisions to require labeling. Secondly the cost of labeling will undoubtedly drive the already high price of foods up even higher and that labeling will cause some customers to assume there is something wrong with the product. I It should also be made clear that for those who wish to avoid foods containing genetically modified organisms, they should make the choice to purchase foods that have the Certified USA Organic food label. These labels make it illegal for GMOs to be used into these foods.
“The Push To Label Genetically Engineered Foods.” Environmental Nutrition 35.6 (2012): 3. Health Source – Consumer Edition. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
Ruhs, Barbara. “Update: GMOs in Foods.” Environmental Nutrition 36.2 (2013): 1-6. Health Source – Consumer Edition. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
Smith, Melissa Diane. “Say No To GMOs.” Better Nutrition 73.3 (2011): 46-50. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
Young, Allison. “GMOs: Friend or Foe?” Natural Health 42.4 (2012): 46-50. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
Zoellick, Sarah, “Bill for GMO labels fails; study sought [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser].” 22 Mar.2013 <www.equities.com/…/bill-for-gmo-labels-fails-study.story