If you’re anything like us, you’ve got a long list of questions about GMOs. For the last twenty years, the science community and consumers alike have been trying to make sense of genetically-modified foods and come to a consensus. Are they safe to eat? What’s the impact on farmers? How should we label GMO products? There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s a challenge to sift through it all to find what you really need to know. That’s what we’re here for – let’s dig into it.
The GMO Low-Down
Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are plants whose cells have been altered with different DNA so that they have better traits, like resistance to insects. Current science says GMOs are indeed safe, but not everyone agrees. They’ve been touted as increasing crop yields in the face of invasive weeds and insects, enabling us to feed the world — though partially true, those results are slightly overstated. Critics say they could pose a risk to our health, from carcinogens to creating allergens, but the science on that isn’t definite. In general, you’ll find that the science community is giving us the go-ahead, but many consumers choose to avoid GMOs for their potential health risks. So, are GMOs bad or good? There’s currently no consensus — it depends on where you’re seated.
GMO Labels & Regulations
Can you determine whether a product is genetically modified by simply reading its label? In a word, no. That’s because the FDA has yet to mandate that manufacturers label their products as GMO. However, GMOs are prohibited in organic products, so that’s one sure-fire way for skeptics to avoid them. A growing number of consumers say they have the right to know what’s in their food, resulting in more companies voluntarily disclosing whether their products contain GMO ingredients. Even more likely, you’ll find companies clamoring for the “health halo,” where they claim the“non-GMO” label to increase the perception that their food is healthy. Think “non-GMO potato chips” or “non-GMO cookies.” Gluten-free folks are familiar with this phenomenon, and our community continues to promote the message that gluten-free does not equal healthy.
It’s worth noting that some states have taken steps toward regulating GMO foods — Vermont will require that genetically-modified products be labeled as such after July 1, 2016. That brings neighbors Connecticut and Maine one step closer to realizing their own GMO-labeling goals, as both states have passed labeling legislation that requires four neighboring states to enact similar regulations before their own can take effect. With states like Vermont leading the charge to label GMO foods, Congress is under pressure to confront the issue on a national level. But will Congress act on that legislation before Vermont’s law takes effect? Not likely.
GMO Impacts on the Farming Industry Worldwide
The good? Thanks to genetically-modified seeds from agri-business giants like Monsanto, farmers can increase their yield with crops that are more tolerant to droughts and resistant to weeds killers like Roundup. The bad? A tight grip on the patents for these seeds takes the power away from farmers, which can result in economic hardship. In 2013, an Indiana farmer sued Monsanto for their long reach on their seed patent, meaning that farmers can’t use Monsanto seeds for more than one planting. Monsanto won.
Beyond the United States, GMOs continue to be a hot-button issue. Take the farmer in Australia, whose organic farm was contaminated by his neighbor’s GMO crops, but he received no compensation for the loss of profit. Wondering how the United States stacks up to other countries when it comes to labeling GMOs? Currently, 64 countries around the world require labeling of GMO foods. Our neighbors to the north currently do not require companies to label products containing GMOs. As for those that do require GMO-labeling, it’s literally all over the map, from Brazil to Japan.
The GMO debate is getting louder and more public all the time. Bottom line: until a definitive study or FDA regulation comes along, we’ll all have to use our best judgement. The more informed we are, the more we can actually influence what products are on the shelves.
Now that you’ve heard what we think you should know about GMOs, share your perspective. Do you think companies should be required to label GMO foods? Do you avoid products with genetically-modified ingredients? What else do you want to know about GMOs? Let us know in the comments below!