Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are fast becoming a topic you might want to avoid mentioning at dinner parties in mixed company. If you are on the pro-side, you'll start an argument over how they save lives and that they will “feed the coming 9 billion.” On the anti-side, disagreement abounds over whether or not they threaten human and environmental health and allow corporations to patent and own too many of our food strains. Or perhaps you take a nihilistic approach and claim that GMOs are not a priority either way ... and they distract us from other more pressing issues plaguing our food system. Regardless of your beliefs, there is alway a raging sea of opinions about GMOs.
In a sizeable win for those in the anti-GMO camp, a Federal Court in Oregon recently upheld one county’s ban on GMOs. Last year, Jackson County voters banned GMO crop cultivation—with a 66% majority. Some farmers, who wanted the right to plant their GMOs, challenged this vote in court. It seems they had motivation: they received hefty support from Monsanto and other Big Agribusiness companies, according to Center for Food Safety.
The Federal court decision wasn't based so much on human safety as the need to protect non-GMO farmers' crops from GMO pollen cross-contamination. The Center for Food Safety press release sums up why this is a win, quoting their counsel in the case, George Kimbrell:
Today's decision is a resounding affirmation of the right of farmers to protect themselves from GE contamination. This important decision protects the farmers of Jackson County, but also will stand as a precedent for the rights of farmers and communities across the United States to create GMO-free zones to protect the future of our food."
Yet this was not necessarily a win for everyone. The media backlash that Chipotle received after it announced that it was ridding its supply chain of GMOs was a bit surprising, and driven by people who believe that GMOs are perfectly safe. In a recent New York Times article Jane Brody upheld this argument:
As for safety, GMOs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Developers must test the product for toxicity and allergenicity as well as assure that its nutrient content is at least as good as its non-GMO counterpart."
Brody puts her faith in the FDA approval process, which is based entirely on data given voluntarily to the FDA by the agribusiness firms developing GMOs. Some might argue that this system is, perhaps, a little too tilted in favor of the agribusiness firms. In addition, the FDA has said that they believe that GMOs are perfectly safe for consumption, even though there are also competing studies out showing otherwise.
A separate issue with GMOs involves labeling. Regardless of the safety (or not) of GMOs, most people (one study found it was 92%) prefer to have GMOs labeled. In a recent Eco Watch article, Rose Marcario from Patagonia, sums up:
Sometimes a new technology puts us up against an edge that’s hard to see, feel, or even define. New technologies, like genetically engineered food, should be labeled, so you can decide whether you want to risk ingesting them.
That seems like common sense to us—so it’s not clear why there is so much resistance to labeling GMOs. Among other arguments, large corporations pushing against labeling say the cost of new labels will be great and passed along to the consumer. But an independent study has shown this is unlikely as manufacturers routinely update labels for marketing reasons."
Despite seeing the various sides of the issues, we tend to agree with writer Marcario. We have the right to know. A bill now in Congress, Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) “Safe and Accurate 5 Food Labeling Act of 2014’’ (cheekily dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” (DARK) Act, would significantly limit the ability for "we the eaters" to have our foods labeled with any efficacy. Opposition to this bill is mounting, and there are petitions to be signed, but the bill is moving forward. According to Politico’s Morning Ag team, Pompeo’s bill is undergoing some edits and will be presented at a hearing next week.
Whatever your position in the GMO debate, we encourage you to learn as much as you can and gain a clear understanding of the differences between wanting to ban GMOs outright versus wanting food to be labeled when it contains GMOs. Let’s stay informed, Warriors!
Image via Flickr
Judge Upholds Jackson County’s Ban on Genetically Engineered Crops! via Center for Food Safety
Fears, Not Facts, Support G.M.O.-Free Food via The New York Times
GMO bill intensifies federal food fight via The Hill