Genetically modified foods can be a mystery for consumers who aren't as conscious of the origin of our food. When you do a side-by-side comparison of an organic, conventional or genetically engineered (GE) green pepper, for example, you won't be able to tell by looking at it.
Labeling fresh produce and packaged foods would be a great service to us. The information will allow us to make an informed decision on what we spend our money on and in consequence, what we put in our bodies.
It's important to label GMOs because there are conflicting studies that show it is harmful to eat and others conclude that it's just as nutritious as the other options in our grocery aisles.
Since GMOs do not naturally occur in nature -- crops like corn and soybeans, have been genetically altered to withstand herbicide and combat insects -- our bodies may not be able to break it down to something it can understand. When that happens, our immune system is activated thus increasing the likelihood of allergic reactions, food sensitivities, autoimmune disease, inflammation, leaky gut or cancer to name a few.
Being that these plants have been engineered with an insecticide gene to “prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate a pest,” it is considered as a pesticide (Federal Register, November 23, 1994). The FDA is tasked to ensure the safety of the genetically engineered crops for human consumption. Besides the FDA, the USDA and EPA makeup the government agencies that regulate this food technology.
After perusing through Institute for Responsible Technology's website, I serendipitously came across Consumers Union's call to action to encourage members of my state Senators to pass a GMO bill that better informs us of our food choices.
It's great that they are willing to pass this GMO labeling bill but the fact that companies can redirect us to a website or scan a QR code -- who uses that these days? -- still obfuscates the information. So what's the point of labeling it?
I definitely feel disenfranchised, so on July 12, 2016 I decided to write a letter. I wrote to Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and the majority and minority leaders of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to express my right to know and choose what I'd like to feed myself, important people in my life and the rest of Americans. Here's a copy:
Dear Senator Schumer,
I am Joyce Manalo, a daughter of a mother who has type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Nutrition and lifestyle play an important role in my life because I want to ease her suffering. I have been so motivated to help her that I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to be a certified health coach. This way I can also help others be educated in nutrition and lifestyle.
I write to you because I want my mom and the nation to be well-informed about the ingredients in food so they (myself included) can buy food that nature intended, not man. Specifically, I'm talking about the right to know which foods are genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
I realize that we're moving in the direction of labeling our foods that are genetically engineered (GE) into a law. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R.1599 — 114th Congress) has passed the House of Representatives. This is great, however, there needs to be further clarity on the differences between GMO and non-GMO foods. I believe that companies need to be transparent about pointing out the differences so that consumers are well-informed.
The USDA tracked genetically engineered crops with two main genetic traits: a herbicide (organism is bred to be resistant to Roundup's active ingredient glyphosate) and an insecticide (bacillusthuringiensis) from 1996 to 2015 (see source 1). The adoption of GMOs since then grew from less than 20% to over 80%. With that much more GMOs in the food system, doesn't it make sense that there should be heightened awareness of what exactly makes up these crops?
There are studies on both sides that claim GMOs are just as healthy or better than non-GMOs and the opposite, that GMOs are more harmful than non-GMOs. I'm not going to list them at all. Whatever the studies show doesn't matter because we still can not come to one conclusion. This causes confusion for consumers. And, this is exactly why we need to be better informed through at-a-glance labeling; printing the genetic traits aforementioned on the package will at the very least move the consumers to assess and assume their own risk.
Currently, the bill is at the mercy of the Senate. I ask you to deeply consider whether the following are healthy choices and in the best interest of the public: blocking all state labeling laws; replacing straightforward labels with QR codes or 1-800 numbers; and stalling labeling by two years while the USDA figures out labeling requirements.Thank you so much for taking the time to read my letter.
To our family's happiness and health,
Sad to say, my letters didn't make much of an impact. On July 17, 2016 nothing changed Senate's mind to include more transparent labeling. So what can we do? We need to empower ourselves by knowing which foods are likely to be GMOs and substitute it. Check out Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen" checklist and get a head start. Please note that corn and papayas are on there the Clean 15 list, choose wisely. Happy shopping, eating and living!