Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Dear Mrs. Obama: Just Label It, Please?

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gmo (Photo credit: decorat)

Almost all the corn and soybeans grown in the United States now contain DNA derived from bacteria. The foreign gene is from the bacteria called Bacillus thuringenesis  that makes the soybeans resistant to an herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide.  The hope here is that less pesticides will have to be used to protect the crops from insect damage, thus increasing crop yield.

In the United States, labeling of food products with ingredients from these crops are not required to be labeled as containing any GMO components.   But some food experts argue that food manufacturers have an obligation to label them as such.  Consumers “have a right to take genetic modification into consideration,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “And if the companies think consumer objections are stupid and irrational, they should explain the benefits of their products.”

Surveys indicate that Americans have little concern over GMO foods while many European countries have shown opposition and require these foods to be labeled.  Labeling bills have been proposed in more than a dozen states this past year and a campaign of more that than a million signatures of support was sent to the FDA.

The state of California has gotten the most attention lately with Proposition 37, requiring labeling on GMO food products.  Tens of millions of dollars will be spent ultimately by both sides: consumer groups, the organic food industry in support of the proposal and opponents such as Big Pharm and Big Food like Monsanto, Kellogg’s and Kraft in opposition.

There has been more concern over a lack of  labeling due to the current broadening of the GMO market to include alfalfa, wheat, apples, and potatoes as well the controversy over the proposed fast-growing salmon, the first genetically engineered animal in the food supply.  See my previous post HERE.

Some food companies have commented that they may ultimately switch to ingredients that are not genetically modified as Europe did.   Seems like a good idea, in my opinion. They are concerned that consumers will reject any food product labeled as having GMO ingredients, much as the food irradiation process was required to display warning label that that food had been radiated.

When asked if they wanted genetically engineered foods to be labeled, about 9 in 10 Americans said that they did, according to a 2010 Thomson Reuters-NPR poll.

So far, the F.D.A. has said only that it is studying the labeling petition; none of the state-level labeling bills proposed over the last year have passed due to big spending by labeling opponents.   It will be interesting to see what happens this fall in California with this issue.  To send you opinion to the Obama’s,  CLICK HERE.

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