Green Piece: GMOs provide food for thought

In Columns, Columns


In November 2012, millions of Californians went to the polls to cast their ballot in favor of their presidential candidate of choice. They also had the task of voting for or against a seemingly endless number of propositions, one of which was Proposition 37.

Hardly the hot button issue of the year, Prop. 37 would have required packaged food to indicate whether or not it was produced with genetically modified plants or animals.

Much to my amazement, the proposition didn’t pass. Californians voted “yes” on a plethora of other potential measures but were reluctant to vote in favor of something as simple as a label. It seemed that that was the end of the seemingly trivial Prop. 37.

Or was it?

Though the proposition didn’t pass, the argument rages on as to whether or not Americans should label their genetically modified foods.

Just this past month, representatives from Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Mars and many other large corporations met with the FDA in an attempt to start legislation for a national food labeling bill. It has some advocates of labeling genetically modified foods cheering, while others are suspicious of the intent of such large companies.

Some believe that by getting this bill passed at a national level, these corporate entities hope to squash grassroots efforts for stricter legislation. Effectively, they would get a weak bill passed and it would be preemptive to any future legislation on a local or state level.

I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do believe some form of legislation is necessary in order to placate those who are concerned about the potential impact of GMOs on human and ecological health, myself included.

Whenever we’re talking about genetically modified foods, It’s important that we recognize that there are two trains of thought.

The first suggests that GMOs could negatively impact the health of people because of certain biological pesticides that they contain. These proponents of food labeling suggest that extensive testing is required before we can determine what kind of health impacts genetically modified foods might have.

They might also have concerns over the ecological impact of GMOs.

A good example is a genetically modified salmon. A gene is taken from another fish and implanted into a salmon, which is now able to grow three times its normal size. If the salmon is able to escape from its hatchery and into a nearby stream, it could produce young that would out-compete the existing salmon population for food. This would wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

The second train of thought is that if anything could have gone wrong with genetically modified organisms, it would have already happened in the last 10 years where GMOs have been part of our business model. People aren’t getting sick from the food that’s produced and we haven’t had any ecological disasters, so what’s the worry?

Individuals in favor of GMO foods will point to the world’s rapidly growing population as a reason for their existence. Since there are more people on earth than there have ever been, it’s important that we have enough food for everyone.

Genetically modifying certain foods to make them stand up to weeds, fungus and the elements insures that there’s more food for each of us. The science has allowed for innovation in farming and food production, not a disaster or a health crisis.

It’s interesting because environmental journalist Mark Lynas recently took this position as well.

Previously, Lynas had gone with the idea that there’s just something unnatural about a big company like Monsanto splicing genes of different plant-life to make a hardier crop. He feared—like many still do—that these super crops might spread and be impossible to stop, or that they might make people sick.

Now he says that those fears were unfounded as he’s looking at GMOs from a more scientific perspective.

In any case, the arguments seem endless, and each side claims that their perspective is the most scientifically accurate. It’s an issue that’s about as divisive as anything else in American politics, really.

Personally, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle (as with most issues). Some types of genetically modified foods are totally safe and necessary to feed large populations.

But at the same time, I think companies should discuss the incorporation of chemicals like Glyphosphate—an active ingredient in weed killer—into soybean and corn crops.

Does Glyphosphate cause any harm to humans? Who knows.

Understandably, I would like to know whenever my food contains such an ingredient. Like anything, I don’t think that genetically modified foods are all bad or all good. There are positive and negative elements to their production.

So with that being said, the question that I pose to you is this: What’s wrong with labeling food?

When you think about it,  the labeling of genetically modified foods is a positive thing for both advocates and opponents of GMOs.

Individuals against GMOs can avoid them at the store, and individuals in favor of them should have no issue with them being labeled for what they are. You might as well call a spade a spade.

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  • Let’s look down the pipe and envision that indeed GMO ingredients must be labelled as such in America. The issue isn’t so much of getting the labels in place but the enforcement. Take cooking oils as an example. They contain no genetic plant material whatsoever, thus it is and will always be impossible to determine if an oil is sourced from GMO or non-GMO plant crops. They are identical. Wouldn’t this leave the labeling as an honour system? Open to misrepresentation by unscrupulous vendors and producers?
    There is nothing wrong with labelling food i think it just has to be effective so that the consumer can have confidence that they can make an informed decision as a result of reading the label.
    It might just be a bit early in the debate for successful labelling of GMO’s in the US.

    good article I have watched the Mark Lynas speech at Oxford good food for thought


    Bob Milne

  • Inspectors could go to the factory and examine the plant material before it is made into oil, so they would not have to rely on the honor system. (We have no honour in America, they only have honour in Britain.)

    Also the oil will often have trace proteins made by genetic modification; this is a frequent method of identifying GMO’s.

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