Did you know that you have been enrolled in the largest research study ever conducted in the United States but you never signed a consent form or agreed to participate? That's because since 1996 you -- and basically everyone you know -- have been eating genetically modified foods.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also known as genetically modified or engineered foods, are created by forcing a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as bacteria or viruses, into the DNA of a plant or animal. For example, genetically engineered soybeans have DNA from bacteria and viruses spliced into their DNA to help them tolerate weed killers such as Roundup.
This genetic feat creates a whole new species of plant that would have never occurred in nature. Most soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini and yellow squash, and alfalfa are genetically modified. Products such as oil, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar are created from these crops and added to processed foods. This explains why nearly 80 percent of processed and most fast foods contain GMOs.
The question is, are GMOs safe for us and the environment? Actually, the answers are not clear. There are no long-term studies demonstrating that GMOs are safe for humans and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not do its own safety testing of GMOs. Instead, the biotech companies that are tying to commercialize these crops do their own safety assessments, which the FDA only reviews. However, there are animal studies with negative findings, including organ damage, infertility, and immune system changes. It is clear we need more research in this area.
The environment is another issue. What are the implications when a genetically modified plant crossbreeds with other plants? The monarch butterflies are declining due to the destruction of milkweed. What other consequences are possible? Super bugs and super weeds are already showing up. Do we really want to irreversibly change the face of plant life with unknown consequences for the monetary benefit of a few large corporations and their investors?
The bottom line is that we have a product in our food supply with unknown health and environmental implications. At the very least, we should have these foods labeled. However, try as we might, we cannot make that happen in the U.S. Even though 9 out of 10 people want them labeled, the biotech companies and food manufacturers do not. If their products are beneficial and safe, why not label them? Why not be proud of your product? Over 60 countries, including China, label GMOs and some countries ban them. Why can't we have transparency in our food supply?
Washington's Initiative 522 to label genetically engineered foods, on the November ballot, will help us get the transparency we desire. But companies such as Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (a trade group) will pay millions to create misleading and factually incorrect ads telling Washingtonites that labeling will cost money, hurt farmers, and isn't necessary because GMOs are safe. However, we know if a food has high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, or is irradiated. Why can't we know if it's genetically engineered? The biggest fear of these companies is that once GMOs are labeled, we won't want to eat them anymore. And that may happen, just like it did when we found out there was pink slime in our hamburgers!
Our country is based on a free market economy. If you are supplying a product and we don't want it, then the market dictates it will go away. This is why the biotech companies and food manufacturers will probably spend over 25 million dollars to prevent the labeling of GMOs.
I don't know about you, but I always loved a good David and Goliath story. If Washington's Initiative 522 passes and genetically modified foods are labeled, that is exactly what we will have. And, it just might change the face of American agriculture forever.
This post was adapted from an article originally published in LA Progressive.