Soon all food packages sold in the U.S. will have to have the proper labeling if the product has been made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. This bill was signed into law by President Obama late last week and will requires most food packages to carry a text label, a symbol or an electronic code readable by a smartphone to indicate whether the food contains GMOs.
The Agriculture Department has two years to write the final rules, which will pre-empt a Vermont law that kicked in last month.
Advocates for labeling and the food industry, which has fought Vermont’s law, have wanted to find a national solution to avoid a state-by-state patchwork of laws, a recent article explains. While the food industry ended up supporting the final bill, many of the advocates did not, arguing that some consumers won’t be able to read electronic labels, and that there is not enough penalties for companies that don’t comply.
The article explains that genetically modified foods are plants or animals that have had genes copied from other plants or animals inserted into their DNA. The bulk of the nation’s genetically engineered crops are corn and soybeans that are eaten by livestock or made into popular processed food ingredients such as cornstarch, soybean oil or high-fructose corn syrup.
Currently, GMOs are estimated to be in the majority of our food, somewhere between 75% and 80%. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that they are safe for consumption, citing that there is little to no scientific proof that shows GMOs on the market today are dangerous for human consumption.
Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported finding “no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health” from GMO crops, another article states. There was no evidence that GMOs in North America, where such items have been part of the diet since 1996, had contributed to a higher incidence of cancer, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, autism, celiac disease or food allergies, in comparison with Western Europe, where GMOs are rarely eaten, the organization said.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to engineer a plant or animal that would be bad for you. It has been done at least once, with a soybean that was not released for commercial use because its allergenic property was discovered in a routine screening. The risks of every genetically engineered crop, the 420-page National Academies report emphasized, should be evaluated individually.
Regardless, many consumers argue that, safe or not, they have the right to know exactly what is in their food. Furthermore, many American companies say that it’s too expensive to add GMO labeling to their packaging and that forcing consumers to scan a code or make a call to get more information is not the best way to provide consumers with what they are looking for. Some are also arguing that this discriminates against low-income consumers who lack the technology to access off-label info.
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