Farmers, big shot companies, and cautious consumers alike all held their breaths as the ballots rolled in on November 4 of this year. A bill that could bring revolutionary changes to our Colorado food industry stood balanced on a very fine line. Finally, the results came in, and by a ratio of about 66% to 34%, Proposition 105 failed. The majority of the inhabitants of Colorado have decided that they do not care enough to know when their food contains GMOs.
One of the main underlying issues surrounding the topic of GMOs is a lack of public awareness. “GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism,” and yes, it is related to our food. GMOs can also be referred to as GM (genetically modified) or GE (genetically engineered) foods. So, what is all the fuss about GMOs? Why bother with modifying plants and animals in the first place? The answer is efficiency. Genetic engineering allows for crops to yield produce of increased size and quantity, or to gain a resistance to pests and herbicides, saving farmers money on pesticides and granting them a greater profit. Some speculate that GMOs could even be a solution to world hunger because of the increased harvest per smaller areas of land. Clearly, GM foods are not all bad.
Now here is the catch.
The United States is among those countries that have decided GMOs are safe. Until, that is, they are proven unsafe. According to the Library of Congress website, under “Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms: United States,” the regulation of GMOs is focused on the nature of the final product, not the process that produces the GE food. Because of the near certainty that GE foods could not possibly be harmful, corporations involved in GMO production are not required to label their products as containing genetically modified materials. So, yes, you could be consuming GMOs right now without even knowing it. Even worse, the truth behind how exactly our foods are modified is more disturbing than merely giving tomatoes the right genes to grow larger.
The genetic tampering of food poses a problem for some people with allergies, especially corn. According to Gina Munsey in her article “Corn-Allergy Sufferers Face Hidden Corn Everywhere,” corn is a typical ingredient in everything from “the citric acid used to rinse loose greens and baby carrots” to the vitamin D in fortified milk. Yet despite the threat posed to sufferers of corn and other allergy sufferers, manufacturers do not have to indicate its presence on the label (www.eatdrinkbetter.com). On the Santa Clara University web page, Margaret McLean wrote, “There is the potential that allergy-producing genes will be inserted into unrelated foodstuffs. Since GM foods are not labeled, a person could suffer a potentially fatal allergic reaction. [For example,] an allergenic Brazil nut gene was transferred to a soybean variety, but the resultant modified crop was never released to the public.” Then again, McLean later goes on to inform that genetic engineering also allows for the potential to remove allergy- inducing genes from foods.
Labeling GMOs is not a novel idea. According to the Center for Food Safety, 61 countries require mandatory labeling of GE foods. In addition, some American businesses have already chosen to voluntarily label GMOs in their food, including Chipotle. “Fundamentally, we believe that people have a right to know what’s in the food they eat. Consumers want this information, and we are already giving it to them. But well-funded opposition groups continue to fight labeling efforts, with opponents putting their own profits ahead of consumer preferences,” said Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO at Chipotle (“GMO Labeling Opposition Rooted in Protecting Profits, Not Consumers”). Those who oppose mandatory labels often argue that companies will suffer high costs to change their labels. However, production industries tend to change their labels frequently, so adding a label pertaining to the presence of GMOs in a product should not create significantly greater expenses for companies. If anything, these businesses are likely losing much more money through their extensive spending on anti- labeling campaigns.
GMOs pose a complicated issue. Such emerging technology could bring significant benefits to the food industry, and solve huge problems such as allergies or world hunger. However, we could find out too late that genes in organisms are not meant to be altered by humans. The only clear- cut way to solve the contradiction is to let people choose for themselves. If GE foods really are harmless, then what do companies have to fear? When it comes down to it, it does not matter if there are absolutely no health detriments in relation with GMOs, or if there are countless benefits. People have the right to know exactly what is in their food.