Do You Read Your Food Label?

Contributors: April Campbell, Claire Crossgrove, Becky Golus, Shannon Ronhovde

As consumers continue to seek information about the safety and risks of GMOs, one of the issues that has reached high levels of concern is the labeling of GMO ingredients and whether or not it should be a requirement for companies to make that distinction in print. This affects the United States the most as GMO labeling is required in more than 64 countries around the world (1). However, with nearly 70-80% of processed foods containing modified ingredients (2), the labels may be more pervasive than distinguishing.

In a survey of 250 respondents, 68% of the individuals who felt they were informed about GMOs indicated their belief that GMOs are safe for consumption. Interestingly, out of those who felt they were not informed, only 30% thought GMOs were safe. This statistic, along with this Jimmy Kimmel video, are clear indications that an underlying issue to the great debate is the accurate education of consumers. Will labeling truly educate or does a mandate simply perpetuate the idea of safety concerns without further investigation by the consumer?

Former Executive Director of the Council for Biotechnology Information, Cathleen Enright, shared her comments about labeling requirements:

“We cannot support the mandatory labeling of GM food just because the food in the market was produced using genetic engineering, for example, in wine, yogurt or bread made with GM yeast, vegetable oil made from GM soybeans, or cereal sweetened with GM sugar. These foods are as safe and nutritious as their non-GMO counterparts as determined by recognized authorities around the world including the American Medical Association, the US National Academy of Science, the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Their safety has also been affirmed globally by food safety regulatory authorities including in the European Union, which comes as a surprise to some who mistakenly believe that GMOs are banned by the European Union.” (3)

As Enright alludes to, individuals who use the European Union restrictions as an example of why labeling should be required often do so without regard of the scientific, health, and food safety regulating organizations’ conclusions which are contradictory. While other countries have incorporated labeling laws and some restrictions to importing, it’s important to discuss their motives.

The European perspective of GMOs is in place primarily due to “policies of food security and self-autonomy through economic protectionism.” (4) In other words, their main concern is not the safety of consumers that so many believe the regulations to be based upon. Rather, restricting policies on GMOs is a way to limit the influence and dominance of other agricultural companies’ products being imported.

Consumers trust labels on products, which is why organizations to regulate safety for products–food or otherwise–exist in the first place. However, consumers are reading nutrition labels less than ever before (5) and their trust in the companies that produce their food is lacking. This is largely due to lack of education. According to Hartman Group research, only 52% of consumers understand what GMOs are and only 9% understand that certified organic foods are GMO-free (6). Additionally, a survey conducted by BFG discovered that only 20% of consumers who were buying organic food could define what “organic” actually meant. (7)

As the safety of GMOs continues to be critiqued and evaluated, it will remain crucial for companies and organizations to offer consumer education in order to make informed decisions. Whether this comes in the form of labels, education programs, more transparency, or some other means; a standard needs to be set for defining GMOs and organic produce to reduce the current dominance of confused but concerned customers.

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GMO…the Monster or Scientific Masterpiece?

Monster or Masterpiece?

Contributors: April Campbell, Claire Crossgrove, Becky Golus, and Shannon Ronhovde

The fascinating notion that something can be seen as both a monster and scientific masterpiece is mind blowing. Genetic Modification (GM) can be seen everywhere and in everything we consume or come in contact with, from the different brands of apples, dogs or even roses. Regardless of whether GM is a scientific masterpiece or a monster creation, it still has an effect on our lives; therefore, we must understand why it was created, what regulations are placed on them, and what science tells us.

Centuries ago, when farmers started settling in one location, they chose crops that were successful, and cross bred with other crops to generate better yields (1). This changed the genetic formation of the crop, meaning it was the beginning of using GM to improve production. Today the process is more complex, taking place in the labs and altering the genes to be as successful as possible at increasing yields. Monsanto was one of the first companies to start testing their genetically modified crops. From the beginning Monsanto has been a powerhouse with trying to create the most insect, weather and even pesticide resistant crops (2). The stronger the crop the less likely it will die to any unknown factor.  The question then becomes, when is the line crossed? Is this putting humans at risk for health complications just to produce the best quality of crops or is the risk slim-to-none resulting in irrelevance?

Monster or Masterpiece?

As consumers, awareness of what is getting put into our bodies is crucial; not only for individual survival but also for survival of humans as a species. The regulation of GMOs is governed by three agencies; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Each agency is tasked with a different job to ensure the safety of these foods. The FDA treats GMOs similar to non-GMOs because they do not differ much in structure, however when the gene structure has been altered significantly they require premarket approval, which is mandatory to guarantee the safety for consumers (3).  Critics of this structure say that these agencies ultimately leave the responsibility up to the producers, which means that there is no third party scientific research guaranteeing the safety. Furthermore, they argue that the FDA is tasked with contradictory jobs. They have to regulate foods for the safety of consumers, but promote biotechnology at the same time. Critics fear that because of this support, the effects of GMOs are being overlooked (4).

If the FDA, EPA, and USDA are not overly concerned with GMOs, then what is causing people to fear them? Peer reviewed articles conducted by scientists state that there is no consensus on the safety or danger of
GMOs. Meaning that there is viable support on both sides of the debate depending on the gene and the crop. The Center for Food Safety states that just because consumption of GMOs has not caused surmountable illnesses, does not mean that it is safe, and therefore needs to be proven either safe or harmful (5). An article by the University of Minnesota stated that it depends on “if you prefer proof of safety or proof of harm” in this instance (6). Both would agree that further research needs to be done on a product by product basis.

GMO the monster or the scientific masterpiece? The argument that all GMOs are safe or unsafe is irrelevant because the science is split. GMOs may be both the monster and the masterpiece; as consumers we should be aware of current research on the topic rather than being fearful.