By Marlena Norwood
Last week, I outlined the basics of genetically modified organisms. Now I want to go over how GMO’s are regulated and who the major stakeholders are regarding GMO policy making.
At the national level, the FDA regulates the safety of GMO’s. They have a team of investigators from diverse scientific backgrounds to make sure the GMO’s sold in stores and restaurants won’t harm our health.
The only problem with FDA regulation is that often times the FDA has conflict of interest. In the case of Monsanto, a major proponent of genetically engineered seeds, fifteen very influential people in the US government (therefore influencing the FDA) hold very high positions at Monsanto. In this way, Monsanto – and other major pro-GMO corporations – are able to push for their own agenda in federal decision-making.
Many states are adopting laws that require food producers and processors to label genetically modified organisms as such. Connecticut was the first to enact this policy with Maine shortly after. Washington has stepped up to the plate with initiative 522 to be voted on in November requiring the labeling of GMO’s.
A lot of controversy surrounds GMO labeling. The main drivers behind the initiatives are the people. Consumers want to know what is in their food, and rightly so. Parents want to know what they are feeding their children and know that its ingredients will not cause harm in the long run. Labeling GMO’s also could potentially boost sales for food producers that do not genetically engineer their products.
On the flip side, since not all GMO’s are bad, labeling can be very detrimental. Labeling GMO’s will hit businesses hard. It costs a lot of money to change packaging and label all the products since GMO’s are so widespread.
Labeling GMO’s will also most likely result in a decline in sales for businesses, some of which may produce perfectly healthy and safe GMO’s. The worry is that as soon as a consumer sees that “GMO” label on a food item, they will immediately turn it down. If states are going to choose to label their GMO’s, some form of community education about GMO’s must be available.
Beyond just the producers and consumers of GMO’s, the fate of our planet is dependent on GMO policies regulating the production of GMO’s
The Economist has an interesting viewpoint – that using more genetically engineered seeds has the potential to revitalize endangered species and protect the environment:
Habitat loss is the biggest threat to biodiversity. Mankind already cultivates around 40% of Earth’s land surface, and the demand for food is expected to double by 2050.
If that demand is to be met without much more land being ploughed, yields will have to increase sharply. That means more fertilizer, pesticide and genetically modified (GM) seeds.
Speaking of animals – they are also stakeholders. The definition of a GMO is not confined to plants; it also includes living, breathing beings. Livestock are often genetically engineered to be leaner, to have more meat, to not feel pain – a whole host of options. Allowing food producers to alter animals’ DNA for human consumption at the animals’ expense brings up many ethical issues.
All in all, there are many pros and cons to GMO policy decisions that are very specific to the organism being modified. It is crucial to be aware of the costs and benefits, and to make up your own opinion based on facts rather than preconceived notions.
Next week, we will end our GMO discussion with some case studies. I will cite some GMO’s that have had positive impacts on our planet and its inhabitants, and others that have not.
For now, here’s what to keep in mind:
- Research what your state is doing with GMO labeling, and read the arguments for both sides
- Look up some of your favorite foods or staple foods and investigate their GMO content, if any
- Share the pros and cons of GMO labeling with your friends and family and find out their opinion