Consumers deserve to know they’re consuming GMO food
November 10, 2012 Honolulu Star Advertiser
On Tuesday, California voters rejected Proposition 37, which would have required labels on all products that contain genetically modified ingredients.
Why wouldn’t people want to know?
Labeling is already required for sugar and fat content. According to the Huffington Post: “Companies like Monsanto and The Hershey Co. contributed to what was eventually a $44 million windfall for ‘No on Prop 37,’ while proponents were only able to raise $7.3 million.” Despite being outspent 6-to-1, proponents of Prop 37, those in favor of labeling, garnered 47 percent of the vote.
Those against the bill argued that it was confusing and poorly written. They complained that labeling would add unnecessary costs to businesses, especially small farms and retail shops, and that those costs would be passed on to consumers. Yet it is large agribusiness that has made out and managed to avert mandatory labeling to date — at the federal level and in every state. In contrast, China, Russia, India, the European Union and other nations worldwide have chosen to inform consumers of GMO contents on the label.
Previously, this column covered the fight to require labeling for genetically modified salmon. The Food and Drug Administration decided against it. The truth is we have no idea how a genetically modified salmon, with a pout gene that makes it grow twice as fast, will affect human health or the environment. At a minimum, consumers should be informed and have the opportunity to independently determine whether they wish to take the risk of eating GMO salmon.
In any case, we should first more clearly evaluate the risk of eating GMO plants. In the November edition of Food and Toxicology, French researchers reported the results of feeding rats Roundup-resistant corn. This corn is genetically modified so that Roundup, which is a powerful herbicide, will not kill the crop when it is sprayed on the surrounding weeds. They found that the rats that ate the GMO corn died sooner and more frequently. Previous studies on rats and GMO food have been for 90 days. This study went on for two years and is far more comprehensive.
The females exposed to Roundup-resistant corn tended to die from tumors, while the male rats tended to die from liver and kidney problems. There was no substantial difference in death rates of rats that were fed GMO corn that was also sprayed with Roundup versus those that ate corn that was not sprayed. This indicates that the rats died from the GMO corn, not from the herbicide itself.
Certainly there is a global need for more food. Even though obesity is one of the most vexing public health problems in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization, global hunger is still the single greatest threat to public health, affecting more than 1 billion people, or 1 in 6 on the planet.
Still, anyone who has taken a basic science course in middle school can tell you about natural selection, the balance of nature and how little it takes to upset an ecosystem. Indeed, as a society, we need to do all we can to ensure an adequate supply of nutritious and healthy food that is reasonably priced and broadly accessible. The impacts of genetically modified food to human health and to the ecosystem are still unknown. At the very least, consumers should be the ones to determine whether or not they eat it. To do so, products containing GMO foods must be labeled.
Ira Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit your questions firstname.lastname@example.org.