GE Foods and the Need for Labeling
News Since 1996, when the first genetically engineered crops were approved for commercial use, they have been extraordinarily successful in penetrating the marketplace.
Today, because of their dominance in corn and soy products, more than 70 percent of the processed foods we eat contain genetically engineered material. Yet many Americans are not aware of their presence in the marketplace.
As someone who has spent my entire adult life advocating for reduced use of toxic chemicals in our food, agriculture and environment, the proliferation of agrichemical usage associated with GE crops deeply concern me. This is why I decided to step down from my role as Stonyfield Farm’s CEO to advocate for mandatory federal labeling of GE foods and ingredients.
Despite assurances to Congress and regulators over the last two decades that GE crops would lead to less chemical usage, the opposite has happened. Between 1996 and 2011, herbicide use skyrocketed by 527 million pounds, because of the proliferation of crops engineered to be herbicide tolerant. This technology is a real moneymaker for the chemical companies who own the GE crop patents—they charge much more for the GE seeds, and then sell more herbicide to the farmers planting the seeds.
"Sixty-four other nations around the world, including all of the EU, Russia and China, require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Independent polling in the U.S. shows that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling."
According to the FDA, as long as these crops are “substantially equivalent” to non-GE crops, they are presumably safe, and do not necessitate labels. However, the approval of these crops has been almost exclusively based on studies conducted or funded by the chemical companies who own these patented crops, with no independent analysis of their long-term impacts.
It is worth noting that 64 other nations around the world, including all of the EU, Russia and China, require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Independent polling here in the U.S. shows that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling. Since last year’s narrow defeat of California Prop 37 GE labeling initiative, 26 states are considering legislation this year and both Connecticut and Maine have already passed labeling laws.
Many more GE crops are in the approval pipeline. Some of them may very well turn out to offer yield or nutritional benefits, but for now, consumers need to have a choice of whether or not to buy these foods and indirectly support this cycle of increased overall chemical usage.
The FDA can label GE foods. And the vast majority of consumers want them to be labeled. So why not just label it?
What is GMO?
GMOs, or “Genetically Modified Organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called Genetic Engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.
High-risk crops (in commercial production; ingredients derived from these must be tested every time prior to use in Non-GMO Project Verified products (as of December 2011):
- Alfalfa (first planting 2011)
- Canola (approx. 90 percent of U.S. crop)
- Corn (approx. 88 percent of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Cotton (approx. 90 percent of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop; approximately 988 acres)
- Soy (approx. 94 percent of U.S. crop in 2011)
- Sugar beets (approx. 95 percent of U.S. crop in 2010)
- Zucchini and yellow summer squash (approx. 25,000 acres)
Monitored crops (those for which suspected or known incidents of contamination have occurred, and those crops which have genetically modified relatives in commercial production with which cross-pollination is possible; we test regularly to assess risk, and move to “High-Risk” category for ongoing testing if we see contamination):
- Beta vulgaris (e.g., chard, table beets)
- Brassica napa (e.g., rutabaga, Siberian kale)
- Brassica rapa (e.g., bok choy, mizuna,
- Chinese cabbage, turnip, rapini, tatsoi)
- Curcubita (acorn squash, delicata squash, patty pan)
You may also be wondering about…
Tomatoes: In 1994, genetically modified Flavr Savr tomatoes became the first commercially produced GMOs. They were brought out of production just a few years later, in 1997, due to problems with flavor and ability to hold up in shipping. There are no genetically engineered tomatoes in commercial production, and tomatoes are now considered “low-risk”.
Potatoes: Genetically modified NewLeaf potatoes were introduced by Monsanto in 1996. Due to consumer rejection by several fast-food chains and chip makers, the product was never successful and was discontinued in the spring of 2001. There are no genetically engineered potatoes in commercial production, and potatoes are now considered “low-risk”.
Pigs: A genetically engineered variety of pig, called Enviropig was developed by scientists at the University of Guelph, with research starting in 1995 and government approval sought beginning in 2009. In 2012 the University announced an end to the Enviropig program, and the pigs themselves were euthanized in June 2012.