Are you eating GMO (genetically modified) foods? Would you rather not? That will take some effort on your part. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing? There’s a reason for that.
GMO foods are not required to be labeled as such in the United States. Consumers in the European Union, Australia and Japan get a choice as to whether they want to risk eating these foods, because these nations all require GMO labeling.
But powerful lobbies in the biotech industry that creates GMO foods (Monsanto, most notably) have managed to convince US regulatory agencies that it is better for Americans to be kept in the dark about what they are eating.
This is a battle that has been going on under our noses for a long time, though few of us realize it. When surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 87 percent of Americans thought that we ought to be told when we’re buying GMO food.
After the blog you are reading now came out, MSNBC asked their online visitors the very question we ask in our headline here, should GMO foods be labeled? The result: 38,479 votes, 95.9% said, "Yes. It's an ethical issue -- consumers should be informed so they can make a choice."
Can we avoid GMO foods?
While the government decided we were better off being ignorant, advocates of natural and organic foods formed the Non-GMO Project, which sets standards such as third-party testing of foods to determine if they are non-GMO. More than 400 companies, including Whole Foods Markets,Seeds of Change, Nature’s Way and WhiteWave support the campaign financially and by labeling their own non-GMO-proven products with the Non-GMO seal.
In the wake of the recent USDA decisions to allow the unregulated planting of GMO alfalfa, sugar beets and a particular GMO breed of corn, Wellwise spoke with Kelly Shea, WhiteWave’s person in charge of government and industry relations. WhiteWave produces Silk organic soymilk and Horizon organic dairy products.
WellWise: How do the recent USDA decisions on GMOs affect WhiteWave or its products?
Kelly Shea: Already 75 percent of WhiteWave’s products are produced without GMO ingredients, and all of our Silk and Horizon products are. We have many testing protocols through various stages in our processes to verify this. Our soybeans go through a minimum of four tests for this.
But the more GMO crops are released into the environment, the harder it becomes to keep organic crops free of GMO contamination.
WW: The USDA decision to allow unrestricted planting of GMO alfalfa is a rather strange one, isn’t it?
KS: Yes, the sad thing about the alfalfa decision is it is one of the largest crops grown in the US, and right now 93 percent of the crop is grown without herbicides. So why was this decision necessary?
WW: Yes, why the push for GMO crops?
KS: Many of the arguments by advocates of these crops are that they are needed to feed the growing population in the world, that they will produce food with higher nutrition, and so on. But so far we’ve not seen this. Instead, everything is about making it easier for the farmer to combat weeds (by using the herbicide RoundUp with the crop that is genetically modified to not be killed by it).
Even this justification becomes suspect, however, because what’s happening with the weeds that RoundUp is supposed to kill. Over time they have become tolerant to the RoundUp, and are becoming what some are calling “superweeds.”
In general, every time a new GMO is released, it is just foisted upon consumers and farmers, even if they haven’t asked for it. These crops just get approved and launched. Take sugar beets, for example. Farmers now have almost no choice because plantings for non-GMO sugar beets can hardly be found. How did we get to the place where farmers are limited in their ability to buy non-GMO seeds?
WW: What about health or environmental considerations?
KS: This is one of the things that needs to be fixed. When these crops are introduced, they typically have to be accompanied by an environmental impact statement. But there is no requirement to assess its impact on human health – no allergy studies, the effect of more herbicides on human health, and so on. These are serious questions. When you take the DNA of one species and insert it into another, you create novel proteins. What are the health effects? One UK minister of the environment named Meacher admitted that we simply don’t know because we haven’t done the testing.
WW: So, is there anything to be done?
KS: We believe GMO foods should be labeled as such. At the very least, people should have a choice. They should be made aware of where their food comes from. People will form their own opinions about it if they are informed.