Labeling: Our Right to Know about GMOs, Potential Allergens & Possible Harm
Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food; Our Right to Know, Written by Neil Scheibelhut as originally seen on Scribd
It is no secret that genetically engineered food is being produced in the United States, and, for that matter, has been for some time. Any man or woman who was sent off as a teenager by their parents for a summer to detassle corn can tell you that. However, there is a debate raging over whether genetically engineered food should be labeled to tell the consumer of thatfact. Although there are many pros and cons to such labeling, the fact remains that consumers have the right to know what they are consuming.
To completely understand the need for labeling on genetically engineered food, we must first understand what the term ‘genetically engineered´ actually means. The fact is, the term ‘genetically engineered´ isn’t used very often. The more common nomenclature is to refer to these foods as genetically modified foods, or GM foods, or as GMOs, which stands for genetically modified organisms.
GM foods refer to foods made for human or animal consumption that have been genetically altered to enhance desired traits. These traits can be anything from the color of the food, to its chemical resistance to pesticides. Scientists used to enhance desired traits by breeding plants that displayed desired traits together so they will be more prevalent in future generations. This takes many years, of course, so to expedite the process, scientists started altering the plants on a molecular level. For instance, a gene that controls the color of the food could be isolated in a plant with the desired color, and subsequently transferred to other plants to ensure the color of the new plant will be the desired one.
Most people would agree that GM foods have revolutionized the agriculture industry and they are the future of agriculture. Producing crops that are more resistant to pests and chemicals, less dependent on water and fertilizer, and that grow bigger than their un-modified counterparts are great for farmers’ bottom lines. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want to bite into a bigger, juicier form of their favorite food?
But, at what cost? What are the disadvantages to genetically modifying foods? The number one problem facing GM foods is that there is little to no knowledge on the effects of these foods on human health. Evidence exists that GM foods could be harmful. In 2000, there was an article in Nature magazine that indicated that genetically modified corn pollen could kill the larvae of monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies are famous for their bright colors and extreme migration patterns, travelling about 3000 miles. Their migration takes them through the heart of the Midwest, America’s corn belt.´ It was speculated that if the pollen from GM corn was in fact harmful to monarch larvae, approximately 50% of the monarch population could be in danger.
After a USDA workshop in which multiple scientists did multiple studies, it was found that only one variety of the corn was harmful to the monarch: Event 176. Fortunately, Event 176 was not a good seller and was not widely planted. It was a lucky break for the monarch butterfly. If Event 176 was a hot seller, the results may have been different. This example may not prove risk to humans, but it does prove that the government agencies tasked with protecting the environment did not do their job, and cannot be counted on to protect the safety of a butterfly, let alone a human.
In another study, Hungarian born researcher Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a world authority on lectins, a plant protein, called into question the safety of genetically modified potatoes. In his research, Dr. Pusztai fed a constant diet of GM potatoes to laboratory rats. He was particularly interested in a lectin called GNA, which acts as a natural pesticide. The rats were fed raw, baked, or boiled potatoes over a ten day period, then over a 100 day period. To supplement the poor nutrition an exclusively potato diet provides, Dr. Pusztai occasionally provided the rats with a protein supplement. What he found in a particular 10 day test was rats fed with GM potatoes had a significantly lower body weight than those rats who were given un-altered potatoes.
This suggests that the nutritional absorption rate of the GM potatoes was retarded in comparison with their pure counterparts. The study also showed the immune systems of the rats being fed GM potatoes were suppressed. If GM potatoes altered nutritional absorption and immune systems in rats, could it be possible in humans as well?
Scientists can argue the pros and cons of GM foods all they want.
The evidence remains, however, that these foods can possibly do harm. If the possibility is there, shouldn’t people be aware that their food is genetically altered. Surveys show the majority of Americans want tohave mandatory labeling for genetically modified food. Furthermore, consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, especially if health and environmental concerns have been raised. Mandatory labeling will allow consumers to recognize and stay away from foods they think could be potentially harmful, or just plain don’t want; possibly for religious or ethical reasons.
The bottom line is, we simply have a right to know. Just like eaters in other countries already do.