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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Food and environmental safety

What is actually safe to eat?

A couple of weeks ago, it seemed that in every class I was hearing about a new foodborne illness outbreak. Every teacher warned me of a different exposure route, but the majority of them were with contaminated seafood.  If you look towards the news, you would see that every couple months over the past few years there has been a new outbreak. A website known as “Food Safety News” is constantly posting new stories pertaining to foodborne illness outbreaks.

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Formaldehyde Found in Seafood (Source: Food Safety News)

If you look at the majority of these stories on the “Food Safety News” website, you can see a pattern. Almost every foodborne illness story is related to the importation of specific foods or spices from other countries. This made me wonder who has control over inspecting and ensuring the safety of our imported foods. I found that the Food and Drug Administration was given the authority to ensure the safety of our food by the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This act states “importers of food products intended for introduction into U.S. interstate commerce are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe, sanitary, and labeled according to U.S. requirements. (All imported food is considered to be interstate commerce.)”

The FDA’s website goes on further to say, “FDA is not authorized under the law to approve, certify, license, or otherwise sanction individual food importers, products, labels, or shipments. Importers can import foods into the United States without prior sanction by FDA, as long as the facilities that produce, store, or otherwise handle the products are registered with FDA, and prior notice of incoming shipments is provided to FDA.

Imported food products are subject to FDA inspection when offered for import at U.S. ports of entry. FDA may detain shipments of products offered for import if the shipments are found not to be in compliance with U.S. requirements. Both imported and domestically-produced foods must meet the same legal requirements in the United States.”

Further investigation into the FDA shows that there are many different programs and fail safes in place to ensure the quality of the food being imported, but still things slip past. It is impossible for the FDA and the port authority to search and test every shipment that enters the U.S., which makes it very difficult to ensure the quality of food that U.S. citizens are accustomed to.

A recent article by NPR,  “Fish and Spices top list of imported foods that make us sick”  tells of a different cause to the spread of foodborne illnesses. This article says, “Since the late 1990s the amount of food that’s imported has doubled and the number of outbreaks has mirrored that”. It goes on to explain that it is not the food coming in, but the quantities in which they are being consumed. Approximately 15% of all food on U.S. tables is imported from other countries, which makes it very difficult for the FDA to inspect all of it. In turn a new act was implemented in 2011, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which focuses on preventing contamination instead of responding to it. This is a completely new approach at tackling the problem of foodborne illness.

As consumers in the U.S. market do you feel safer with all these new regulations and programs? Do you believe it is advantageous to think foodborne illness is mainly caused by consumer practices? ( e.g. food preparation safety) What foods won’t you eat after hearing about how they have caused food borne illness? After hearing about so many different food borne illnesses, do you think you will change your eating habits? If not, why? Do you think the FDA should try a new approach at ensuring our safety or are they current doing all they can?

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