Food and environmental safety

Should Genetically Engineered Foods Be Labeled?

Everyone needs food to survive, but what happens when food becomes scarce? An answer to that question could be genetically engineered foods, GE foods. GE foods are “plants that have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content” (“Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful”). Today a large amount of GE foods are grown world wide, with the United States being the lead producer (“GM Crops around the World in 2011”). According to “Genetically Modified Foods: Get the Facts” , “as much as 80% of all packaged foods contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms)”, but due to the Food and Drug Administration’s GE food labeling policy you might not even know it.

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Amount of GE foods grown world wide (“GM Crops around the World in 2011”).

In 1992, the United States Food and Drug Administration put into affect its policy on genetically engineered foods. “This policy provides that foods developed through genetic modification are not inherently dangerous and, except in rare cases, should not require extraordinary pre-market testing and regulation” (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation). According to Gertsberg, this means, “genetically modified foods are regulated as ordinary foods, and not food additives, unless they contain substances or demonstrate attributes that are not usual for the product”. In short, the regulation only requires companies to label their food if substances are added or altered within the food and change the natural make-up of the product. Many American’s felt that this regulation was not stringent enough and the Just Label It movement began.

The Just Label It movement wants there to be a change in the labeling of GE foods. In September 2011, the Just Label It movement created a legal petition that was filed demanding the FDA to require labeling on all GE foods (currently 1.3 million people have signed the petition). According to their statistics more than 60 nations have labeling regulations, but the U.S. does not, even though 91% of Americans support the mandatory labeling of GE foods. The main argument associated with the Just Label It movement is that Americans have a right to know what is in the food they consume. Many parents are also concerned with introducing new genes into plants that could potentially create a new allergen and harm their children (“Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful”). Along with allergen concerns, some activists are also concerned with the effects that GE foods will have on the environment (“Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful”).

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Facts based on the American population according to Just Label It (“Just Label It”).

In contrast with the Just Label It movement there are “an array of groups in many mainstream agribusiness, the grocery industry, and the biotech industry” that oppose the labeling of GE foods (“To Label or Not to Label”). These groups are mainly opposed to labeling simply because they are concerned about Americans not understanding the labels and in turn not purchasing there food (“To Label or Not to Label”). This is a problem because “labels on GE food imply a warning about health effects, whereas no significant differences between GE and conventional foods have been detected” (“Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods”).

Currently there has not been a change in the national FDA regulation on genetically modified foods, but in 2001 the FDA released Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Developed Using Bioengineering; Draft Guidance (FDA). Image

Examples of voluntary labeling (“Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods”)

This guidance is not nationally required by any food production company, but is highly encouraged by the FDA. That being said, “nearly half of all U.S. states have introduced bills requiring labeling” (State Labeling Initiatives”). Meaning that companies are required to follow each states bill on labeling GE foods. Unfortunately Georgia is not one of these states, but there is a statewide movement asking that genetically engineered foods be labeled. In the end there will always be people who are for or against genetically engineered foods, but it is up to oneself to learn the facts and politics associated with GE foods before they make a decision on whether they should be labeled.

What did you previously know about GE foods? Did you know that there was controversy surrounding the labeling of GE foods? Do you think that GE foods should be labeled? Do you think GE foods would be good for the future? Does it surprise you that the FDA has not changed the regulation? Do you think the Georgia should pass a GE food labeling bill?

 

Guide to U.S. Regulation of Genetically Modified Food and Agricultural Biotechnology Products: http://www.pewtrusts.org/uploadedFiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/Reports/Food_and_Biotechnology/hhs_biotech_0901.pdf

Sign the Just Label It petition: http://justlabelit.org/right-to-know/fda-ge-policy/

Sign the Georgia petition to label GE foods: http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/sign/support_gmo_labeling_in_georgia/

References:

Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation, p. 147 (2000), available at http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9795&page=147

FDA. Guidance for Industry: Voluntary Labeling Indicating Whether Foods Have or Have Not Been Developed Using Bioengineering; Draft Guidance. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/labelingnutrition/ucm059098.htm&gt;.

“Genetically Modified Foods: Get the Facts.” The Dr. Oz Show. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/genetically-modified-foods-get-facts&gt;.

“Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?” Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful? N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php&gt;.

Gertsberg, Deniza. GMO News and Analysis Food Safety Politics GMO Journal RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://gmo-journal.com/2009/09/02/the-food-and-drug-administrations-policy-on-genetically-modified-foods/&gt;.

“GM Crops around the World in 2011.” The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/graphic/2012/feb/09/gm-crops-world-2011-map&gt;.

“Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods.” Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09371.html&gt;.

“State Labeling Initiatives.” Center for Food Safety. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/state-labeling-initiatives&gt;.

“To Label or Not to Label.” EHP. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2013. <http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/120-a358/&gt;.

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10 thoughts on “Should Genetically Engineered Foods Be Labeled?

  1. dnlo10 says:

    When I am at the grocery store shopping and pick up a food item, I never ask myself if it is genetically engineered or not. That is because it is not something that most people think about every day. I do believe however that this is a big issue. I was unaware that there was a controversy about labeling happening at this time. It is kind of scary to think that a lot of the foods that we eat are genetically engineered and we do not even know it because they are not labeled so. The fact of the matter is, Americans are essentially one gigantic group that is in a research study that we did not even sign up for. I believe that we should have the option of knowing whether the food that we are eating is genetically engineered or not. I am still unsure on the entire idea of genetically engineered foods. I like the idea that more nutrients and things can be added but there is still not concrete proof that they are completely non harmful. There is a possibility that we could be spreading new allergens or even adding toxins into our foods without even knowing. These possible toxins could be passed down to our children like many of the toxins that our parents and grandparents passed down to us. It is also disheartening to hear that Georgia is one of the states that is not enforcing the labeling of GE foods while other states are. It all comes down to the fact that the US is a free market economy which dictates that products that Americans choose not to consume will go away. I believe that if foods were labeled with GE warnings, less of them will be consumed. It is because of that, that I believe that many industries will keep emptying their wallets to ensure that these labels are not required. In closing, I will end with simply stating that I will never completely agree with GE foods until there is concrete evidence that they are neither hurting us or the environment.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carole-bartolotto/why-genetically-modified-food_b_4039114.html

  2. I believe that GE foods are a great way to help those who are struggling with lack of nutrition and food supply around the world. When it comes to consuming these products within the U.S., however, I do believe that there needs to be some label for these GE foods. Our grocery stores are already separated by “Organic” and “non-organic” foods, so why not label what has been genetically modified? Over the past couple of years there has been a cry out for those companies who chose to grow their food organically to label their products, and I believe that needs to be the same for GE foods, whether it’s something minor (adding the ability to create more of the nutrients we need) or something that is completely different (grapes that taste like cotton candy). The bottom line is that if its in our grocery store we should have it adequately labeled. I think having something labeled “GE food” will stop people from buying it initially, but hopefully it will get them on their computers to research what ‘genetically modified’ actually means, and get a better understanding of what they are eating. It doesn’t surprise me that FDA hasn’t done anything to change the regulation, simply because this is another controversial topic that is still new, and I’m sure they’re not sure how to properly regulate it. Based on the last blog, it seems like we need to worry more about the food that we are already trying to regulate before we add more things on our plate. As my last thought, you have to wonder why these foods aren’t being sent to places where they need food instead of feeding Americans, who are more worried about labeling food they are more than likely not going to think twice about any ways.

  3. pfc1344 says:

    I was not aware that so many people across the nation felt so strongly about labeling GE foods. Whether or not a food is a GE food never really crosses my mind, and I think this is true for many people. I do think that GE foods do need to be labeled though. People have a right to know exactly what they are eating and have the ability to choose to eat these foods or not. No one really knows if or how genetically modified foods are hurting us. It was briefly mentioned, but new allergies are a huge concern with GM foods. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences says that “if a protein” from “specific proteins in milk, eggs, wheat, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, and shellfish” which cause over 90% of food allergies were to be assimilated into a “food that normally would not have this protein”, people could begin to experience allergies towards food that they normally were not allergic to. Through working in several daycares in the past, I have noticed that food allergies are becoming more and more prominent. Are GM foods to blame? Maybe. I think labeling GM foods would help people make better food choices and would encourage people to look deeper into the effects of creating genetically modified foods. I think it needs to be required and regulated. Until the impacts of GM foods are fully researched and understood, I do not think they are a good thing.

    http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FS/FS08400.pdf

  4. I was not aware that this was an issue in the US. Surprisingly enough, I have never heard of the Just Label It Movement either. I knew there were GE foods on the market, but I never realized just how many there were. I guess this arises from the fact that the FDA and food companies neglect to let us know just what food have GMOs. Sure, the FDA doesn’t find any danger in including GMOs, but the FDA has approved substances before that have turned out to be harmful to the public. I think everyone has a right to know what they are buying and eating. Our market is so concerned with advertising and appearance that they sometimes forget that they are technically hiding and withholding information from us. Even if GE foods are completely harmless, people still have a right to know if they’re consuming them or not. I feel that people have been misled.
    I think GE foods have made a huge impact on nations by providing higher crop yields and a larger availability and variety of foods. I don’t think they should be banned necessarily at the moment since there is still no data as to whether they are harmful. I do think we should be aware if we are consuming them though. I thought the FDA was concerned with the health of the public, but it seems they are taking the side of the food industry in this case. Hopefully Georgia sides with its citizens and passes the law. I don’t think it will hurt the profits of the food industries at all, because I think we will be surprised at just how much GE foods we already consume and are dependent on.
    You mentioned that 91-92% of Americans are for labeling GM foods. I feel like this is a substantial amount of people. As I mentioned before, I have never heard of the issue of the movement resulting from it. I think Just Label It needs to make a larger presence and educate more of America.
    Source: http://justlabelit.org/

  5. Before this blog post, I did not realize how prevalent genetically engineered foods were in our daily diets. There were 69 million hectares of GE foods produced in the US last year, which makes it very difficult to avoid them in your daily diet. As a consumer, I find them troubling because I know I eat a lot of GE foods, but I have no idea what kind of consequences that means for me. I could potentially be eating foods that are detrimental to my health, but there is no evidence to prove this. On the flip side there is also no evidence to prove they are safe for consumption. I think this is the main problem with GE foods. I believe that further research must be done on them to determine if they will have harmful effects on our society. Currently, there is not enough evidence to say whether they are safe or not, which I believe makes the case for labeling all GE foods. The decision whether to eat GE foods should be the consumers and the only way to make this decision is if GE foods are labeled. This is where the FDA needs to step in and stop being so lackadaisical about labeling. The idea that consumers would be afraid and not understand the labeling is understandable, but as a company it is your task to provide a healthy and safe product for your consumers. If we side with the company and are scared of it going bankrupt, then we have forgotten why that company is even in business. They are there to serve the people and not just make money with whatever they thing will sell, no matter the consequences. As for Georgia, I think labeling these foods is the best step for the current situation. Consumers can not be so ignorant anymore and not pay attention to what they are eating, but instead must be active in the conversation and understand what is truly in the foods they give their families.

  6. kvsims says:

    I did know about GE foods previously but was not aware of the large percentage of the market they make up. I heard of the Just Label It Campaign around the time that I found out that I was allergic to many preservatives, and pesticides used on food. I would think that if 91% of America wants to their food labeled, that the government would oblige. I guess not. I think Americans deserve the right to know what’s in their food from GMO to preservatives to imported foods. “15 million Americans have food allergy, a potentially life-threatening disease. Almost 6 million of them are children. Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department.” Instead of being influenced by corporations and grocery retailers, the government should take a stand to protect American’s health. In a country that struggle’s with obesity, new food labels may help pursued Americans to eat healthier.
    I am surprised that the FDA hasn’t changed the regulations but Georgia should take a stand and pass the GE food labeling bill. I don’t believe we can return to non-GMO foods, but I do believe people should have the right to choose.

  7. I was actually aware that genetically engineered (GE) foods are indeed present in our foods; however, I was a little shocked that GE foods accounted for 80% of packaged foods. Furthermore, GE foods was one of those things where I assumed that they are monitored proficiently by the FDA before they were distributed to the public. Thus, I did not really think about any adverse effects that could come from eating them. A positive that I have always heard about them is to help increase the food supply, and even that GE foods were necessary for us to sustain our food supply for the future. Pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, and drought/cold tolerance are just a few of the advantages for GE plants in comparison to “natural” plants. I don’t really see an issue with GE foods. Likewise, I don’t see where there should be an issue with putting them on labels for the consumers. As a matter of fact, I think food companies should be required. After all, the consumers deserve to know.
    With all of this being said, there is indeed some downfalls that I am concerned with. Allergies and unknown harm to humans is my biggest concern with GE foods. Allergies should be reason enough for food companies to made to put them on their labels. Wouldn’t the food companies be legally liable if someone was seriously harmed via an allergic reaction if a GE ingredient was not on the label? Thus, as of right now, I guess I am cautiously for GE foods, but I think they should definitely labeled on food products. After all, if GE foods and ingredients are proven to be completely safe supposedly by these food companies, what do they have to hide?

  8. GE foods are interesting. In general, I think each would need to be looked at case-by-case. In general though, the engineering part is typically for the farmer and the business, and not for the consumer. Essentially, all of the risk is put onto the consumer, as we don’t know the full consequences of GMOs. A big problem with this is that researching would be the answer, but the only companies that can do GMOs are the ones big enough to leap over the financial and legal obstacles to be allowed to use GMOs. Therefore, we leave a lot of the GMO advancement to the big companies that could profit the most from it and who don’t have a whole lot of competition. This creates somewhat of a lack of urgency when we are in a critical point in how we are to deal with agriculture in the future.
    Personally, it doesn’t surprise me that FDA doesn’t have a bill passed. In general, it’s hard to tell good GMOs versus bad ones and to determine which ones would have a harmful effect. Again, this is all putting the risk on the consumer rather than the producer. Because we’ve essentially been genetically engineering since we first started using agriculture by trying to use the seeds of the crops who grow bigger and other good traits, it’s hard for me to go against GMOs, especially for our future. At the present time, I’m not super happy about GMOs, but as challenges arise such as population and phosphorus depletion, GMOs will be one tool to ensure humanities survival in the coming age.

  9. shreyasvangala says:

    I’m definitely a proponent of case-by-case regulation of genetically engineered foods, where concerns over the effects of immediate human consumption are concerned. People have been domesticating animals as early as 40,000 years ago, and plants since, at least, the rise of agriculture between 7,500 and 10,000 years ago. This leaves much to be answered on the deeper question of whether not such selective selection is also, in fact, a form of genetic engineering. It also raises questions about whether or not genetic engineering is something that should be looked at with a negative eye. The “green revolution” of the 1960s created a variety of new crop species capable of greatly reducing the famine seen across of a number of highly populated developing nations, particularly in China and India. In some cases it has been seen that the use of GMOs requires farmers to tend more closely to their crops and increase their usage of fertilizers. In other cases, it has been the case that the crops are resistant to certain pests, consequently allow the farmer to yield a larger crop. I think that while labeling GMOs for the consumers personal health concerns, I think it is equally, if not more pressing to pursue a method of labeling that is in someway telling of the amount of pesticide and fertilizer used to create such a product.

  10. kevin1254 says:

    I previously knew and still know very little about genetically engineered foods. I was not aware of the labeling controversy, but I am not surprised to hear that there controversy. If I look at it from both sides of the argument, I can relate to each. On one hand, if people want to know how their food is prepared and made, they should be able to have that. In this aspect, it seems that the labels should simply be put there. On the other hand, it does make sense that food manufacturers are worried than sales will go down because people do not understand what they are reading and will just not buy the food. The reality is that many people probably don’t understand what they currently read on food labels. Many probably do not understand what ingredients are in their food after reading the labels. Also, with so many different diets recommending decreasing or increasing different portions of foods based on labels, it’s really hard to tell if people really understand the information that is already available. Anyone who eats seedless grapes, tangerines, or watermelons must wonder how that was achieved.

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