By Natasha Longo, Prevent Disease, May 6, 2015
It’s a topic of furious debate and discussion, not only among consumers, but also public health specialists, nutritionists and industry experts, many who stand strong by their opinion that genetically modified organisms (GMO) foods should be labeled. Here’s why labeling GMO foods is an exercise in futility and why there’s only one way to ensure the public is informed about what’s in their food.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently requires labeling of GMO foods if the food has a significantly different nutritional property; if a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present (e.g., a peanut protein in a soybean product); or if a food contains a toxicant beyond acceptable limits.
Even though it does exist, the generally accepted science of GMO foods does not clearly distinguish between its nutritional properties and those of non-GMO foods. Allergens are also known to be present in GMO foods, but this is largely ignored by the FDA. Also, now that the EPA has allowed Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide at levels 60 times above toxic exposure for canola, soy, sunflower, flax and peanuts, it’s a free pass to chemically spray most GMO foods beyond acceptable limits.
To government scientists, it’s all the same and they don’t see a difference, not because one doesn’t exist, but because they refuse to acknowledge it.
LABEL NON-GMO, NOT GMO
Unless you are geographically located in a dozen or so countries in the world who have declared GMO (genetically modified organism) bans, then you’re likely eating GMO. It’s almost impossible to avoid all GMO foods, however educating yourself can make a big difference in the percentage of GMO foods you purchase as a consumer.
Corporate lobbyists have been very effective in preventing any GMO labeling legislation from being enacted into law. The emphasis on GMO labeling by activist groups seems to be misguided and misinformed at best. GMOs litter the entire food supply. There are thousands of foods containing GMO ingredients. Labeling them all would work against awareness campaigns because there wouldn’t be many foods left without the label. In the sea of GMO foods, consumers would essentially ignore the warnings and eventually their attention would be immune to such labeling standards.
If every food contains a label that states “poisonous ingredient,” people become so accustomed to that statement that it loses its meaning. Our focus must be on highlighting the good, not the bad. The solution is to label Non-GMO foods to create the greatest awareness possible.
5 REASONS TO LABEL NON-GMO FOODS
1. Labeling Non-GMO foods would allow consumers to identify and select food products they know can advance their health. This would cause a ripple effect on the entire food industry causing information campaigns on some of the largest and most successful Non-GMO brands in the world, effectively elevating their popularity through incremental education.
2. Non-GMO labels are increasingly permitted on the front of packaging. In a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, a team of researchers led by the University of Surrey, has found that front of package nutrition labels can enable consumers to make healthier food choices. In several different food categories, people are able to differentiate between the healthiest, middle and least healthy varieties.
3. Labels on Non-GMO foods would eventually be accepted as a better standard of nutrition, even if it was not organic. This alone would cause big name GMO brands to slowly adapt or disappear. It would stir controversy among millions who strive daily to maintain or advance their levels of health and wellness through dietary strategies.
There are significant differences between Non-GMO and conventional foods in terms of side effects, allergens, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases. Although no nutritional or allergenic differences are acknowledged by the FDA, labeling foods as Non-GMO would immediately place the decision making process back into the hands of the consumer by-passing the regulatory agency’s control. If people don’t see the Non-GMO label, they will think twice about buying.
4. Labeling of Non-GMO foods to fulfill the desires of health conscious consumers would come at a consequence to all food manufacturers who use GMO ingredients. Experience with mandatory labeling in the European Union, Japan, and New Zealand has not resulted in consumer choice. Rather, retailers have eliminated GMO products from their shelves due to perceived consumer aversion to GMO products. Can you imagine what the effect would be in the US?
5. Labeling Non-GMO foods allows the food industry to highlight products worthy of purchase. If GMO foods were segregated with labels, the food system infrastructure (storage, processing, and transportation facilities) would need to change drastically in a short period of time to accommodate the need for this change. The cost of labeling involves far more than the paper and ink to print the actual label. Accurate labeling requires an extensive identity preservation system from farmer to elevator to grain processor to food manufacturer to retailer.
Either testing or detailed record-keeping needs to be done at various steps along the food supply chain. It would be very chaotic and the expense would go down the tubes if the majority of consumers avoided foods labeled as containing GMO ingredients. It’s a process the food industry knows would be extremely painful if it were to ever materialize. Instead, labeling Non-GMOs would allow the food system infrastructure to remain relatively unchanged in the short-term. The only difference is that healthier foods would be highlighted by this process and consumers would gradually opt-out from foods that did not have the Non-GMO label.
Governments will simply never be our best health and safety advocates, because they are too heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists. We need to take the control away from the government and put it back into the hands of the people. Start with focusing your efforts on what foods are most commonly GMO. Through this method alone and the process of elimination, you will gain a greater awareness of which foods to avoid and others you can rely on for your daily nutritional needs.
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.