Petitions Launched to Label GM Foods
The Center for Food Safety announced today that they have, together with several environmental, farming and health organizations, filed a legal petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that demands the agency require food produced through genetic engineering be labeled.
This falls on the heels of a new voter initiative that was begun by a group called LabelGMOs, along with other health organizations such as the Organic Consumers Association, to put the question of GMO food labeling on the 2012 California ballot for voters to decide. Bands of volunteers are now acquiring signatures from consumers that, if they accumulate 504,760 signatures, will put the issue on the California ballot.
Other states, such as Vermont, have been considering initiates as well.
Many believe that putting the issue on the California ballot will surely result in a successful vote to require GMO labels. Consumer polls have shown that between 85% and 96% of consumers would like to see mandatory labels for GMO foods. A recent MSNBC poll of over 45,000 people found that 96% answered: “Yes. It’s an ethical issue – consumers should be informed so they can make a choice.”
A genetically modified food is one where the genes have been manipulated to change the nature of the plant. A multitude of genetic manipulations have been done in order to make the plant able to resist the spraying of more herbicides or pesticides onto the plant. This herbicide/pesticide-resistant plant can sustain more chemicals, producing more chemical residues on the food. “Bt-Corn,” for example, allows growers to spray more Bt pesticide onto the plant without the plant dying. “Roundup-Ready soybeans” allow for more roundup to be sprayed onto soy crops.
Most genetic modification also prevents the plant from germinating, requiring growers to buy their seeds from the GM seed companies, instead of being able to propagate their own seeds from plants. This has become a devastating problem in India, where most growers have traditionally produced their own seeds.
GM proponents claim that GM seeds increase crop yields – and some studies have indeed shown yield increases. Yet several studies have also shown little or no yield increases. For example, a 1999 study headed by Dr. Charles Benbrook of the Organic Center, reviewed 8,200 university trials during the 1998 growing season. Roundup ready soybeans yielded an average of 5.3% less than other soybeans among all varieties. The study also found that growers using Roundup ready soybeans used from two to five times more herbicides onto their crops.
More recently, in 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded in an extensive study of GM crops that:
“1. Genetic engineering has not increased intrinsic yield.
2. Genetic engineering has delivered only minimal gains in operational yield.
3. Most yield gains are attributable to non-genetic engineering approaches.
4. Experimental high-yield genetically engineered crops have not succeeded.”
Consuming genetically modified foods has been the subject of several animal studies, some that have caused concern (Smith 2003). Human and epidemiological studies have been preliminary, and have not provided conclusive evidence of harm, however. Most experts agree that the jury is still out on whether GM foods – or which ones – could be harmful to our health.
This raises the concern for many consumers, who do not want to be test subjects for GM foods. Many foods containing soy, corn and others on grocery shelves are now genetically modified – especially among conventional food brands. Most consumers cannot tell which foods are made with genetically modified ingredients, although organic food producers avoid all genetically modified ingredients.
Legislation seems to be headed towards more GM labeling requirements. This past May, California passed AB88, a bill that required labeling of genetically-modified fish. The bill was authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, and responded to the FDA’s review of approval for genetically modified salmon. This bill was co-sponsored by the Center for Food Safety.
When the issue of food labeling went before European voters, voters overwhelmingly approved, and GM labeling is required among most European countries today.
To get involved:
Several organizations are asking for donations for their voter initiatives, including the Organic Consumers Association: http://www.organicconsumers.org/donations.cfm.
Press Release: October 4, 2011. Groups File Legal Petition With FDA Demanding Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods.
Cummins R. Monsanto National: Taking Down Goliath. Acc. Oct 5, 2011.
Jeffrey S. Seeds of Deception. Yes! Books, 2003.
Carpenter JE. Peer-reviewed surveys indicate positive impact of commercialized GM crops. Nature Biotechnology. 2010 28 (4): 319–21.
Benbrook C. Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998. Mindfully Green, 13 July 1999.
Gurian-Sherman D. Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009.