Push to Label Genetically Modified Foods

Hundreds of partner organizations representing healthcare, consumers, the environment and farmers have launched a campaign called Just Label It! that’s working on gathering one million signatures to send to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in support of labeling all foods that contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. Among the members are the Organic Trade Association, Environmental Working Group, Horizon Organic, Stonyfield Farm, Amy’s Kitchen, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety. More than 80% of processed supermarket foods likely contain GMOs, according to the campaign, meaning the genetic makeup of certain ingredients have been altered—often combined with DNA from other sources—to yield more productive, disease-resistant and/or vitamin-boosting plants and animals.

The site Human Genome Project Information writes that “On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as hepatitis B; fish that mature more quickly; cows that are resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease); fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties.”

The U.S. grows the most of these transgenic crops (53%); with Argentina coming in a distant second at 17%. What’s more, the U.S. is the only major developed country that does not require labeling of genetically engineered food—50 other nations require labeling, including those in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China. A 2010 study by Thomson Reuters found that 93% of those polled said genetically engineered foods should be labeled, and many expressed concerns about eating these modified foods, particularly in regards to meat and fish.

There are also lots of concerns about the way GMO crops like alfalfa and corn may cross-breed with non-GMO crops, contaminating organic crops in particular. And because alfalfa is used as livestock feed, it has raised further concerns about how these crops may impact the dairy industry. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to fully deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa (alfalfa bred to resist the herbicide Roundup) in Jan. 2011, it was widely viewed as a complete handout to the biotech industry which spends more than half a billion on Congressional lobbying efforts. Roundup, and Roundup Ready alfalfa are owned by biotech giant Monsanto; Monsanto’s former vice president, Michael Taylor, was appointed by President Obama as senior advisor to the FDA in 2009, prompting a petition calling for his ouster.

As New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman writes: “Even more than questionable approvals, it’s the unwillingness to label these products as such — even the G.E. [genetically engineered] salmon will be sold without distinction — that is demeaning and undemocratic, and the real reason is clear: producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?”