One of the most controversial issues in food politics today is the question of genetically modified organisms. Many consumers dispute whether such products are safe at all. But while the evidence regarding the safety of GMOs continues to be debated within the scientific community, another debate has arisen, specifically regarding the need to label products which contain GMOs within them. Because of the ubiquitous nature of GMOs in agriculture, GMO-containing products can span from everything from foods to pesticides. Producers oppose such labeling requirements, arguing that there is no evidence that GMOs cause consumers any harm. Proponents argue in favor of consumer choice.
In Favor Of Labeling GMOs
Perhaps the most obvious argument in favor of labeling GMO-containing products is that of consumer choice. Even if the products have not been found to cause harm, according to current scientific evidence, this does not mean that consumers do not have a personal right to evaluate what products are placed on their dining room tables. In fact, scientist Arthur Caplan notes that some scientists who defend the safety and benefits of GMOs still believe that labeling them would show the public that the industry has nothing to hide: â€œIf the industry really believes that GMO food is fine â€” and I am in that camp â€” then slap a smiley-faced DNA helix on the package and promote the hell out of the fact that high-tech GMOâ€ is already in most of Americansâ€™ food products (Caplan). There has already been a drive to inform the public of the nutritional content of their foods through calorie and ingredient labeling. If a member of the public desires to be empowered to consume lower-calorie food or avoid high-fructose corn syrup, based upon his or her own decision-making, why not GMOs (Kiszko, et al.)?
Regarding the contention that there are risks that consumers will avoid a potentially safe and beneficial product, proponents of labeling also point out that on a macro, population-based level, including information about calories has not substantially altered consumer buying habits (Kiszko, et al.). Consumers have demanded the right to know what is in their foods, but knowledge does not automatically mean that major food producers will see a substantial decline in revenue. Although some consumers have shifted their purchasing toward organic products in some areas, which by definition means an absence of GMOs, this has not resulted in the complete domination of organic foods in the marketplace. Regardless, even if consumer choices are not rational, consumers have a right to make such choices. Vermont has already passed a law requires labeling of GMOs, and if other states follow suit, it would behoove many organizations to avoid the need for double labeling, anyway (Caplan).
Against Labeling GMOs
Industry proponents of GMOs such as Monsanto, which produces seeds which frequently contain genetic modification, argue that the demand to label foods as GMO-containing is fear-mongering (Lipton). Monsanto, and other companies which make use of GMOs, have long alleged that it enables them to grow crops faster, that are more desirable in appearance and taste for the consumer, but which are still safe (Lipton). They also allege that pressure from the anti-GMO lobby has led to companies such as General Mills and Chipotle to advertise that they have eliminated GMOs from their product lines as marketing techniques, but without real evidence that the products cause harm to either the consumer or the environment (Lipton). Although labeling ingredients (such as whether a product is free of nuts or high in calories) has shown some demonstrable health benefits to consumers with allergies or who are cutting calories, GMO proponents argue that labeling foods as containing GMOs functions as a kind of black box or hazard label, without an scientific evidence that this is the case.
While anti-GMO activists argue that the industry has a financial interest in promoting scientific studies which argue that GMOs are safe, opponents to labeling note that the organic foods industry likewise has its own financial interests â€œto raise consumer concerns, because federal law requires that any product labeled organic in the United States be free of ingredients produced from genetically modified seeds. So if consumers move away from G.M.O.-based sources, they sometimes switch to organic alternativesâ€ (Lipton). Promoting GMOs as something scary rather than beneficial to consumers merely communicates the message that consumers need to purchase more expensive, but not necessarily healthier products. In fact, there is no evidence that organic foods are healthier than non-organic foods. According to a Stanford University School of Medicine of 200 studies of organic versus non-organic foods, organic foods are no healthier than organic foods, and, in fact, the perceived need for consumers to consume solely organic or non-GMO foods can make them reluctant to purchase produce in the first place, which ultimately does not result in a healthier diet (â€œWhy Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For Youâ€).
The idea of labeling foods as containing GMOs to empower consumers and enhance choice is problematic, given that consumers already have access to foods which meet federal organic standards and do not contain GMOs, or simply foods that have already eliminated GMOs and label themselves as such. Ultimately, what is needed is higher-quality, objective science to determine if GMOs are safe as they are currently being used by food companies. At present, unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that the debate on both sides has been tainted by the financial interests of food companies rather than real science. But labeling will not solve the issue or even necessarily alter consumer consumption habits.
Caplan, A. â€œGMO Foods Should Be Labeled, But Not For Safety.â€ NBC. 2016. WebÂ 16 Jul 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/why-gmo-foods-should-be-Â Â Â labeled-n423451
Kiszko, Kamila M. et al. â€œThe Influence of Calorie Labeling on Food Orders and Consumption:Â A Review of the Literature.â€ Journal of community health 39.6 (2014): 1248â€“1269.Â PMC. Web. 17 July 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209007/
Lipton, E. â€œFood industry enlisted academics in GMO lobbying war.â€ The New York Times.Â 6 Sept 2015. Web. 16 Jul 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/food-industry-enlisted-Â Â Â academics-in-gmo-Â Â Â lobbying-war-emails-show.html?_r=0
â€œWhy Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You.â€ NPR. 4 Sept 2012. Web. 16 Jul 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/09/04/160395259/why-organic-food-may-not-be-healthier-for-you
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