[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]
In today’s world you can pick up any type of printed material be it newspaper, magazine, pamphlet or whatever, and besides the weather being listed for sure, there is one other item that can be counted on being there which is news regarding the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This will be found in the media on any given time on any given day. As it goes with the written media, so it goes with the electronic media, be it radio, television, laptop or desk top computers, and even on cell phones, there will be someone, somewhere discussing current news topics tied to GMOs. The main focus of these GMO discussions are usually centered on three concerns. Those include environmental hazards caused by GMO’s, human health risks brought about by consumption of GMOs, and last but not least economic concerns brought about by worry that food prices will increase if labeling GMO foods is required.
After reviewing many articles regarding information concerning genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the biggest danger that GMOs present are environmental hazards through poisoning the land by excessive herbicide use , crop resistance to pesticides, and the reduction of beneficial insects such as honeybees. According to the article in “Natural Health” “GMO’s: Friend or Foe?” the overuse of the Roundup Ready crops that are designed to be glyphosate tolerant is resulting in resistant weeds which is forcing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides. Presently even more glyphosate is used now based on the large number of Roundup Ready GMO crops that are being cultivated (Young).
Information regarding glyphosate listed in a glyphosate fact sheet states that “glyphosate treatment has reduced populations of beneficial insects, birds, and small mammals by destroying vegetation on which they depend for food and shelter” (Cox). The decline in the population of bees has been a growing problem in recent years. Honeybees pollinate one third of our food supply such as tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries, and this service is crucial to agriculture. Pesticide use has been one of the growing concerns regarding decreasing numbers of honeybees and according to an article that appeared last year in The Guardian, research has strongly linked pesticides to the serious decline in honeybees. Common crop pesticide use has shown that the bee’s ability to navigate back to their hive has been harmed. “The research also found that bees consuming only one type of pesticide suffered an 85% loss in the number of queens their nest produced” (Carrington). Also it is commonly known that when honeybees are out foraging, they can come in contact with pesticides which can kill them but those that are not killed outright end up taking pesticides into the hive causing contamination of the hive resulting in more bees becoming contaminated. Pesticides are a growing threat to the honeybee population.
The next biggest danger that GMOs present is the human risks involved in the consumption of GMO foods. Because there has been no long-term testing of food products by impartial scientists, anti-GMO food activists indicate in an article entitled “Anti GMO Grass-Roots Effort Gains Ground In U.S” that a, “handful of scientists even speculate that genetically modified crops and the pesticides used to cultivate them may be partly responsible for the increased incidence of ills such as asthma, allergies, and gastrointestinal” (Marsa 42). This is the sentiment of more and more people across the nation that are calling for the testing and labeling of GMO foods.
So strong was the demand for wanting the right to know what’s in the food that people eat, are there risks involved in this GMO food we are consuming, that in the state of California, the requirement to label GMO foods was put to a vote. According to the article “Food Fight”, the “allies of mandatory GMO labeling were fiscally overpowered by the world’s largest biotechnology firms: Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and Syngenta which collectively poured tens of millions into the fight” (Imhoff). Nevertheless, this has not slowed down the support of anti-GMOs and the demand for new studies and tests also to have another vote to require the labeling of GMO foods in the very near future as other states are now pushing to vote for mandatory labeling.
The third biggest danger that GMO’s present is that of economic concern, mainly in the call for the requirement of labeling of GMO foods causing an increase in the cost of food. This claim is easily discounted by simply looking at the history of what occurred when labeling became law. There was no rise in the price of foods and in fact there was a reduction in price for some of the foods. In addition to that, a recent newspaper article announced that a non-affiliated analyst had conducted an analysis on this issue and the results are that there would no rise in the cost of foods if required GMO labeling was approved.
No reasons can justify that labeling not be required. It is also clear that labeling of GMOs should be required at the earliest possible time. Still, GMO producers are enthusiastically trying to convince consumers that labeling in unnecessary.
GMO food products are currently not required to be labeled in the United States as they are in over 40 other countries according to “What are We Eating”. As one article notes, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports no concern over the safety of GE foods and has taken a stance against labeling, alleging that the foods are basically the same as other foods and don’t pose any health risk” (“The Push To Label Genetically Engineered Foods”). Supporters who are against labeling GMOs are of the mindset that GMO foods are safe for human consumption; that GMOs do not harm the environment and that labeling GMO foods will increase the cost of food.
The proposal to require labeling of GMOs was recently shelved by the Hawaii legislative committee until such time that studies of their risks on human health are completed and the results are reported. While there is nothing wrong with further studies, it is important to know that while no tests have been done on human beings, tests of the effects of GMOs on rats have indicated consumption of GMO foods can be very hazardous to health. some examples and results of those tests include, the results of a two year study by the French on mice that ate GMO corn sprayed with Roundup indicated they were more likely to develop tumors, organ damage and die earlier. The results of the test were printed in the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal reveal that the mice fed either a diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize sprayed with Roundup (the company’s brand of weed killer), or drank water with levels of Roundup similar to what is found in U.S. tap water were much more likely to have health problems and die at an earlier age. The health problems that were recorded included the onset of tumors which had the most obvious and damaging effects on the liver and kidneys. Approximately 50% of the males and 70% of the females that consumed Roundup died prematurely in comparison to only 30% of males and 20% of females that did not. (Philpott). Another example of GMO foods being hazardous to human health is from research conducted in 1996 that concerned GMO related food allergies. In the article “GMOs: Friend or Foe?” it is noted that researchers inserted protein from a Brazil nut into soybeans that turned out to be highly allergenic. Luckily the soybean did not go to market, but great concern was caused by what occurred. As a result, GMO critics blame the increase in food allergies occurring in children on GMOs because, between 1997 and 2007, there was an increase in allergies of 18% seen in children (Young).
As strong as the mindset of supporters is on the food issue, so it is with concerns about GMOs being good in all aspects to the environment and the eco-system. One example of GMOs being involved in the management of environmental issues is the creation of bacteria that can produce biodegradable plastics, and the transfer of this ability to microbes that can be grown easily in a laboratory which may enable the wide-scale “greening” of the food industry. Another benefit is that engineered crops can dramatically increase the per area crop yields and, in some cases, the use of chemical insecticides can be reduced.
Those two environmental gains are attributed to the decline of the application of wide-spectrum insecticides in many areas that grow crops, such as potatoes, cotton, and corn, which are endowed with a gene from a bacterium which produces a natural insecticide called the Bt toxin. A 30-80% increase in yield was reported in a field study conducted in India in which Bt cotton was compared with non-Bt cotton. That increase is attributed to the GM plants ability to overcome insect infestation ((Diaz and Fritovich). Another important gain brought about through genetic engineering is the transfer of a gene into soybeans that makes them resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.
So now glyphosate can be sprayed onto soybean fields to kill weeds without it killing the soybean plants (GMOs: Good or Bad). Of course this is but one example of many ways in which plants can be transformed the ability to be able to change shapes or colors of produce or to make it resistant to insects, herbicides and even to drought are now all possible through genetically engineered organisms.
The last issue that GMO supporters hold to is that labeling GMO foods will cause an increase in food prices. It is currently being said that labeling is going to cause a tremendous increase in food prices here in Hawaii; however, this is being said by those against GMOs. It appears both GMO and non-GMO supports are saying the prices will increase, but it does not appear like that will be the case. Take what happened in Europe as an example for what happened to food prices when labeling became law. According to all reports, the prices stayed the same and in some cases they reduced. Another circumstance that might be considered is that recently an analyst reported his study predicts that food prices will not increase should the labeling law be passed.
Carrington, Damian. “Pesticides linked to honeybee decline.” The Guardian. N.p., 29 Mar 2012. Web. 29 Apr 2013.
Cox, Caroline. “Glyphosate Factsheet.” Mindfully.org. N.p.. Web. 3 May 2013.
Imhoff, Daniel. “Food Fight!.” E: The Environmental Magazine 24.2 (2013): 20-25. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Apr. 2013.
Marsa, Linda. “Anti GMO Grass-Roots Effort Gains Ground In U.S.” Discover 34.3 (2013): 42 43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
Young, Allison. “GMOs: Friend or Foe?” Natural Health 42.4 (2012). Academic Search
Premier. Web. 15 Mar. 2013