At Best Food Facts, we frequently receive questions about foods grown using genetically modified organisms. That's why we have several posts focusing on the many angles of concern around the topic. We took those inquiries from consumers like you and developed a five-part video series to tackle the issues. Included in our series are videos on general information, food safety, nutrition, labeling and environmental impacts.
This video explores the topic of putting labels on food products indicating whether they're made from genetically modified foods like corn, soybeans, canola and cotton. Those in favor of labeling say it's a matter of "right-to-know." Those opposed to labeling say it could invoke fear in consumers and offers no additional nutritional information. Dr. Ruth MacDonald, chair and professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University and Chicago mom Joelen Tan of What's Cookin', Chicago? discuss the possibility. What do you think?
We’re interested in understanding what additional questions you have for Dr. MacDonald. Feel free to submit comments or questions below or at http://www.bestfoodfacts.org/food-experts/ask-an-expert.
What did other experts have to say about labeling?
Dr. Patrick Byrne, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Colorado State University
Best Food Facts: Consumers are becoming increasingly more interested in where their food comes from, and they have a right to know what they’re eating. Should foods containing GMOs be labeled so that consumers are aware of whether their foods contain them, and so they can have the choice to purchase them or not?
Dr. Byrne: "In an ideal world, consumers would be well informed about the pros and cons of GMOs and would make rational decisions about whether to purchase or avoid them. In my experience, the general public, as well as groups that one would expect to be better informed (such as high school science teachers) are very poorly informed. The anti-GMO groups have been so diligent in spreading fearful messages about GMOs that I expect a label would be interpreted as a warning that there is something dangerous about GMOs in food."
Best Food Facts: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified GMOs as Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS), so do we really need to label food products containing GMOs?
Dr. Byrne: "The FDA does require labels in cases where a GMO food has altered allergenic, toxic, or nutritional properties compared to the conventional counterpart. GMOs, like any new technology, have potential risks that should be carefully evaluated before they are de-regulated. The risks will vary depending on the crop, the trait and the specific transgene involved. Therefore, it is important to have a regulatory system that carefully evaluates risks and benefits and acts to ensure public safety."
Best Food Facts: Are there currently any GMO labeling requirements?
Dr. Byrne: "In addition to what’s mentioned above, FDA has published guidelines on voluntary labeling of GMO-containing foods or foods without GMO ingredients."
Best Food Facts: Are there benefits for labeling GMO food products?
Dr. Byrne: "If a consumer chooses to avoid GMO-containing foods for whatever reason, he/she would be able to do so by paying attention to labels. Labeling could open up markets for non-GMO foods."
Best Food Facts: Are there any disadvantages for labeling GMO food products?
Dr. Byrne: "Although there are many uncertainties about the cost of labeling, there would certainly be some increased costs involved, due to the need for testing and segregation of products. The costs would be imposed on the whole food system, not just those concerned about the issue. The US food system infrastructure is currently not capable of segregating GMO and non-GMO ingredients and products. The restriction on GMOs in the form of labeling would likely discourage investment in future development of GMO crop varieties. This would be unfortunate, because for certain traits and crops GMO technology might be the most environmentally beneficial and cost-effective solution to a problem such as drought stress or insect damage."
A spokeswoman for California Right to Know, the group that filed the petition for the state-wide vote, said, "Polls show that nine out of ten California voters agree that they want labeling." Sixty-seven percent of respondents to the Best Food Facts poll agreed, but for varying reasons.
Per a previous inquiry, we learned that the FDA believes GM labeling is unnecessary because of the rigorous safety tests that GM foods undergo prior to being released for public consumption. FDA maintains that genetically modified food is essentially the same as other food and poses no safety risk. Dr. Lemaux, who has done extensive reviews of the scientific literature on GM foods, agrees with the FDA. Per the NPR report,
"This [labeling measure] is not going to offer any additional safety to people; it's really not a food safety issue because there's no real evidence this stuff is unsafe," says Lemaux. "The GM and natural labels may scare less savvy consumers away from affordable, healthful foods. And, as we've reported before, Americans really don't understand what genetically engineered food is all about."
If you'd like to read the entire NPR story, click here.
Do you think GM food should be labeled?