How Do You Know Which Foods Are Genetically Modified?

September 12, 2010

Q: As far as I know, genetically modified foods are not required to be labeled so. Why is this? Don’t we have a right to know what our food is made of?

Unbeknownst to most Americans, a majority of the processed foods available in grocery stores today are derived from genetically modified (GM) sources, whereby genes have been taken from one species and insert into another to obtain specific traits or characteristics. Given how new GM technology is, scientists first began tinkering with it in the 1970s but only recently began utilizing it on a wide scale across the food sector, the jury is still out as to whether such products can cause health or environmental problems.

In light of such uncertainties the European Union and dozens of other regions around the world, including Australia and Japan, now require food producers to label GM products clearly so consumers can decide for themselves whether or not to take the risk. Neither the U.S. nor Canada has any such requirements.

GM’s critics say that food companies have lobbied hard to ensure that U.S. regulators don’t require producers to distinguish GM from traditional foods: if a GM crop looks like its non-GM equivalent and grows like it, then it is assumed to be the same, and no safety testing is needed before people eat it,reports the blog, Food Democracy. Corn, for example may contain antibiotic-resistant genes or a built-in insecticide but to the U.S. government it looks and grows like maize, so it is safe to eat.

The result, says Food Democracy, is widespread ignorance among consumers about what kinds of strange genes may have been inserted into the otherwise mundane foods they are purchasing and eating. Keeping consumers in the dark has prevented them from making real choices about the food they eat, says Food Democracy. Without labels the principles of supply and demand are no longer in effect as consumers can’t send a message to farmers and manufacturers about what they do, and don’t, want to eat.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 53 percent of Americans would not eat GM foods if given the choice, while 87 percent believe GM foods should be labeled as such regardless. But since the federal government has no plans to require any such labeling, consumers must take matters into their own hands. To wit, the non-profit Institute for Responsible Technology recently released a free iPhone app called ShopNoGMO which provides consumers with a handy resource they can access right from the grocery aisle for identifying non-GM brand choices across 22 grocery categories.

In addition, leading natural food retailers launched the Non-GMO Project in 2005 to develop an independent certification system to help consumers identify non-GM foods where they shop. Whole Foods, Seeds of Change, Nature’s Way and 400 other U.S. and Canadian firms now support the campaign, and today several thousand grocery products sport the easy-to-recognize Non-GMO seal. The project also has an ingredient database to help food producers find non-GM ingredients to use in their processed foods. Project leaders hope their work can help prevent new GM crops from gaining a foothold and build a strong non-GM food sector across the country, despite like of federal intervention.

CONTACTS: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, www.people-press.org; Food Democracy Blog, fooddemocracy.wordpress.com; Institute for Responsible Technology, www.responsibletechnology.org; Non-GMO Project, www.nongmoproject.org.

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Comments (7)

  1. nan says:

    THE reason to shop local and organic. You have no idea what’s in your food unless you can talk to your farmer. Or unless you are your own farmer! Grow your own!

  2. mnwintercritter says:

    Even buying local or organic is no guarantee. Most farmers unless they are certified organic bother to make sure the seeds they are buying are not modified. Most of the seedlings, seeds and plants you can buy from local nurseries are grown from modified and hybred seeds.

  3. nan says:

    You have to ask questions and develop relationships with nurseries and farmers you know. If they need to be educated on these matters, then that becomes your job. It’s work, but if you care about what you put in your mouth and body, you’ll do it.

  4. This is vital since within the niche of modified foods there is a general misinformation among people that these foods are beneficial for everybody…this is not a rule…in fact, the GM variety of brinjals introduced in Asia have been found to raise health problems for many people.

  5. This is vital since within the niche of modified foods there is a general misinformation among people that these foods are beneficial for everybody…this is not a rule…in fact, the GM variety of brinjals introduced in Asia have been found to raise health problems for many people.

  6. david says:

    Take it up with E Magazine, it’s syndicated content. In the meantime, 2 things:

    1. It is sourced at the bottom of the article.
    2. You mentioned that it was wrong, and you are right. Where is your source?

  7. John McGregor says:

    Before writing and/or referencing information on a scientific topic, please document with information that is supported with peer-reviewed, empirical, replicated data. Otherwise your posts are just commentary and are not valid arguments for one side of the topic, or the other. It just adds to the clutter of misinformation that is supplied to a public with little understanding of the subject.

    The quote in your post “if a GM crop looks like its non-GM equivalent and grows like it, then it is assumed to be the same, and no safety testing is needed before people eat it,” reports the blog, Food Democracy.” is a completely false statement. Please refer to both US and EU regulations that are readily available. A “Blog” is not a reliable source of information.