The Controversy About Labeling Genetically Modified Foods

Understanding the debate surrounding keeping American consumers fully informed about GMO's in their diet.


Food labels are important. They tell us what's in our food: from calorie and nutritional information, to ingredients and allergens. 90% of Americans support labeling (Acres 2012) but despite this, genetically modified (GM) foods are not labeled as such.


This means that, without our consent, we may be consuming and exposing ourselves to GM foods whose long term effects we have yet to fully understand. Many consumers feel that we are genetically adapted to foods in their natural state, but, that by modifying our food's genetics, we may be ingesting Allergens that are not suited to our long term good health. There have been no conclusive studies into these foods and the majority of studies that support their safety have been generated by the manufacturers, themselves. (Domingo and Bordonaba 2011).


Although genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are labeled in Europe, there are only three states in the U.S. where labeling laws are in place: Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont (Caldwell 2013). This is because lobbying by major corporations has impacted political policy, hindering the consumer's right to full disclosure.


Do you know what you are eating?*

GMO foods contain genes and proteins that have been transferred from one food species to another, meaning they are not found to exist in the recipient food species in its natural state . There have been long-term tests conducted using rodents but, they are few, flawed and difficult to interpret. Additionally, the short-terms toxicity tests that have been carried out have not provided consistent results. Clinical toxicology tests in humans have not been conducted (Snell et al. 2012; Domingo and Bordonaba 2011; Dona and Arvanitoyannis 2009). With this in mind, GMO foods should be labeled because there is no way of knowing the effects that these foods will have on humans, either in the short or long term.


Why Keeping Consumers Informed about GMO's Matters.

Consumers have a right to know what they are buying, especially when it comes to the foods that they intend to consume. Whether folks are health conscious or not, when it comes to the products we place in our bodies, transparency should always be first and foremost. Labels should specify whether foods are genetically modified or not, otherwise consumers are placed in the position of making their food choices blindly.


Food allergens and additives are clearly labeled due to the increasing numbers of food-related health problems in our society. These facts allow people to make informed decisions about what they eat (Armenakas and A.-

Armenakas 2013). Some are foods we actively dislike, others are known to create allergic reactions and some we choose not to eat due to ethical or religious reasons. For example, someone allergic to peanuts may need to be vigilant about avoiding foods that not only contain peanuts but that may have been manufactured in a plant where other peanut containing foods may have been processed. A vegan will choose to avoid any ingredient derived from an animal source. Food labeling helps people to make choice based selections and these options should be available to those wishing to avoid GMO's.


The Potential For a New Array of Food Related Health Problems.

Altered foods can cause allergies in people who have never been exposed to the allergen before. GMOs can fall into this category because their newer proteins may be cross reactive with known allergens (Nordlee et al. 1996; Borchers et al. 2010; Fernandez et al. 2013; Goodman et al. 2013).


Food-related diseases have hit an all time high in America. The number of adults with diagnosed type 2 diabetes has nearly doubled during the last15 years (CDC 2012). The amount of children with food allergies has increased by 50% in 14 years, and the percentage of asthmatics in the general population has increased by 15% in nine years (Jackson et al. 2013; Welsh et al. 2013; Dabelea et al. 2014; Akinbami et al. 2012). Celiac disease has increased four fold in 50 years, gluten sensitivity has increased from negligible numbers to as much as 6% of the population over the last 10 years (Ludvigsson et al. 2013; Mansueto et al. 2014; Leung et al. 2014). Some may argue that an increased knowledge and understanding of nutrition, intolerances and other related ailments is the reason that more problems are being diagnosed. However, if GM foods aren't labeled, how can we tell whether they are a factor in the equation or not?


Why Independently Funded GMO Research Could Be Good News For All Concerned.

Organizers of a recent American Chemical Society symposium stated: 'The safety of transgenic crops, effects on human and animal health, and impact on the environment (such as changes in weed communities, gene flow, and evolution of resistance to pests) remain concerns. Long-term effects of using transgenic crops are still not entirely clear, although no scientifically documented health problems have arisen after almost 20 years of consumption of transgenic products' (Rimando and Duke 2013).


Although the above statement is true with respect to the seeming lack of newly documented health problems, if GMOs are not labeled, then how are we to know whether specific medical issues in humans are caused by them or not? Without concise labels, we cannot state that GM foods are indisputably safe for human consumption. Their impact remains ambiguous. Independent research should be encouraged, allowing researchers to compare and contrast health issues that have surfaced, anew, in the last 20 years and their potential relationship to the introduction of GMO's in the mid 1990s. If GMO's are completely safe, then independent verification of this fact will be good news for everyone.

*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club