Tuesday, December 23, 2014

GMO labeling : The right to know what is in our food.

Sometimes biology intersects with political-charged topics that engage large-numbers of people. In the USA, there has been recent activity around the labeling of foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The following video epitomizes one viewpoint on the subject.


One of the major arguments presented in the video is that people have the right to know what is in our food. Because of this, GMO foods should be labeled.

I think this is a wonderful idea!

However… there's a big problem. People think they know what is in regular crops, while they think they don't know what is in GMO crops. Can you list the compounds found in the last organic heirloom tomato that you ate? Do you know what is in "natural" corn? How about the poisons found in the various types of beans that people eat? How about the poisons sprayed on any crops (even organic) that you might find in the store? The reality is that people, in general, have no idea what is in any of the food they eat.

A second problem I have is that the GMO-labeling ideas being pushed will do nothing to assist people in knowing what is in their food. If you're eating a tomato which included a gene from a fish and the label only says the tomato has been altered with a certain form of technology, then the label does nothing at all to inform you about what you're eating.

We do already have an established method for indicating the presence of small amounts of diverse substances in our food that can be utilized for labeling GMOs: the ingredients list. If your tomato product also includes some fish genes, then the ingredients list for the tomato should include the fish (and any bacterial) genes that are found in it. Finding an ingredients label on a single tomato will discourage those who aren't interested in purchasing GMOs, but will allow those who are interested in learning what is in their food to be able to easily educate themselves.

So far, no organization is pushing for such an educational labeling idea. The people pushing for GMO-labeling don't want honest and educational labeling. They're pushing for labels to inspire fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about GMOs.

I think such a labeling system should also be extended to indicate what chemicals were sprayed on the fruit and thus are likely to remain on the fruit. This issue doesn't involve GMOs, but these chemicals are something we do know with certainty are poisons...  and yet there is no push for this information on labels.

I am a biologist, so I realize my perceptions of this subject are likely to be distinct from those of most people.

I agree with the reasons stated for GMO labeling, but I am totally against every GMO-labeling proposal I have so far heard being discussed because they don't help attain the goal of the stated reasons.