Has your food been genetically modified?

On October 11, 2011; an important food movement took place, the submission of GMO labeling Petition docket #FDA 2011-P-0723-001/CP.  This very important Petition urged Congress to require the labeling of genetically modified foods.  In 180 days the Petition had a record number of signatures, 1,149,967  to be exact!  The overwhelming amount of support the movement received clearly demonstrated a collective desire for the labeling of genetically modified foods.

According to the World Health Organization genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are, “organisms in which genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.” Plant breeding has been going on for centuries, but the difference between regular plant breeding and GMOs is the ability for GMOs to transfer specific genes from one plant to another and in some cases one species to another.

The concern is, without proper labeling the American public cannot determine which foods have been genetically engineered.  Without the ability to identify GMOs the public lacks the ability to choose not to eat them.

The FDA is in charge of GMO regulation and stands by the fact that all GMOs in the market place are safe.  However, because the “FDA determined that bioengineered foods should be regulated like their conventional counterparts, FDA has not to date established any regulations specific to bioengineered food.” Many people feel that without labeling, there is no way to track who is eating GMOs and if adverse reactions are being seen.

In the eyes of some, the benefits to GMOs are significant and include characteristics like greater disease resistance and decreased production cost.  For others the focus is the risks associated with the unknowns, like the potential for allergy implications, unpredicted gene transfer and the possible contribution to the problem of antibiotic resistance.  Some even fear the consequences of out-crossing, which refers to the ability of an organism’s genes to mix with those of conventional crops.

The common thread for those individuals who signed the petition is the desire to choose what they want to eat and what they want to feed their families.  Currently, the only way to assure a food is not genetically modified in any way is to choose to eat organic.  By law, all food labeled organic is free of bioengineering, and considering the huge increase in organic food sales, many people are concerned about the quality of their food despite increased cost.

The topic of bioengineering is controversial and has many players.  There are the concerns of the public and their desire for information to make informed food choices.  There is also the side of food industry and lobbyists who feel GMOs are safe and should not be required to withstand additional regulation or market place discrimination.  In the center is the government and its multiple regulation agencies that have to function across several departments including the FDA and USDA to regulate, monitor and enforce legislation for food safety.

My personal opinion falls on the side of the petitioners. I do not feel that the federal government has the right to force me to eat potentially dangerous food just because a governmental agency or lobbyist says that it is safe.  I feel competent to determine what is safe for my family based on their individual health and I feel it is my individual right to make informed decisions regarding their food.  I feel it is as important to consider the safety of the food we ingest as it is for the air that we breathe or the habitat of an endangered species. We have more stringent regulations for spotted owls than we have for foods that contain weed-killing chemicals.

The way I see it, the good old fashion rule of supply and demand could settle the issue fair and square.  If no one wants to eat something then I’d say the demand doesn’t warrant the need to supply and maybe a return to something people actually want to eat would be more beneficial.

What are your thoughts on GMOs and labeling?

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This guest post is from Leah Blinstrub, a registered dietitian and health coach with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan who enjoys cooking, being outdoors with her dog Oscar and spending time with her 1 year-old son and husband.

 

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