First, let me say that I have friends on both sides of the GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling issue and they all make good points. My family has voted and we based our decision on what we felt was best for our family and the state of Colorado, which goes hand-in-hand.
Whichever way voters decide, it won’t change the way we’ve always shopped for our food. We feel good about our choices because they are informed choices. And that is the purpose of this post – to give others resources by which they can also inform themselves about the food they eat, GMO or non-GMO.
Even if you don’t live in a state with a GMO labeling bill or law now, you may soon. There are at least 25 states with bills waiting to be voted on in the near future. My goal isn’t to persuade you one way or another on whether labeling GMO foods is necessary, but to prepare you with reliable resources on GMOs, where you can find fact-based science and first-hand knowledge from the people who grow our food and utilize the latest technology.
It’s easy to be misled by all the opinions and junk science about GMOs on the internet. Do a simple Google search on the topic and you’ll be overwhelmed with information. Wading through it all, trying to decipher what’s reliable and not reliable can leave one feeling powerless. I hope this post will empower you instead. Because while a label may be able to tell you whether a food contains GMOs or not, it won’t tell you what that means and whether or not you need to be concerned about it.
GMO Labeling Bills in Colorado and Oregon
In just a few days, both Colorado and Oregon will be voting on whether to join Connecticut and Vermont in passing laws requiring foods sold in those states that contain GMOs to label them with the wording, “produced with genetic engineering.”
Connecticut has yet to enact its measure because of an additional requirement that four more states must pass a similar measure first. Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy explained, “This bill strikes an important balance by ensuring the consumers’ right to know what is in their food while shielding our small businesses from liability that could leave them at a competitive disadvantage.”
To put it simply, GMOs are crops whose DNA has been tweaked to help farmers reap a better harvest. This process originated in the fields with farmers who have been tinkering with crops for centuries. These types of GMOs are known as outdoor or field-grown GMOs and the process is called selective breeding.
Another process for creating GMO foods (the kind that has become controversial) began in the mid-90’s. It takes place in a lab and is done through genetic engineering using biotechnology. There, scientists can be more selective about the genes they are cross-breeding, allowing to insert only one or a few genes versus mixing large sets of genes as would happen in the field. Genetic engineering also allows for genes from differing plants to be introduced, whereas selective breeding must be done between closely related species. Thus, genetic engineering allows for increased precision and variety.
The purpose of both methods is to create crops with one or more of the following characteristics:
- Pest resistance
- Herbicide resistance
- Delayed ripening
- Increased nutrients
To delve more into the topic of selective breeding versus genetic engineering, and whether the differences matter, I highly suggest the investigative series at Grist.com: Panic-Free GMOs.
The 8 Most Common GMO Crops Grown in the U.S.
- soy beans
- sugar beets
Currently, 95% of U.S. soybean and 90% of U.S. corn is genetically modified.
Facts on the Safety of GMOs
- The World Health Organization vouches for GMO safety, as does virtually every other relevant national and international group including the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association and the European Commission.
- Since the technology of genetic engineering began about 20 years ago, people have eaten trillions of GMO meals without a single documented illness. Numerous scientific studies (2,000+) have found that GM crops are as safe and nutritious as conventional counterparts.
- Three separate federal agencies regulate genetically modified foods on a case-by-case basis in the US, before they are approved for human consumption: the FDA, USDA and EPA.
How to Identify Non-GMO Foods
The USDA offers a certified organic label to producers whose food, among other qualifications, does not contain GMOs. The nonprofit, Non-GMO Project has its own label with more than 20,000 certified products. Most of these products are available at organic markets, but as the organic movement grows, you can also find many of them in your local supermarket.
I was fortunate to be introduced to a brand new non-profit organization that had formed in our state at the exact same time I was wanting answers to my own questions about GMOs, organic vs non-organic, antibiotics and hormone use in cows, pesticide use and more. That organization is called CommonGround and is made up of volunteer farm women forming chapters all over the US with the goal of starting conversations between the women who grow food and the women who buy it. It had become apparent to these women that consumers have become too far removed from the farm and “weren’t getting the real story about American agriculture and all that goes into growing and raising their food.”
Since meeting the incredible women of the CommonGround Colorado chapter, I’ve been blown away by their passion for farming and the amount of knowledge they possess. I admit, prior to meeting them, I had met very few farmers outside of farmers markets. Now I’ve been able to attend several influencer dinners held by the group and meet women who farm everything from sugar beets to Red Angus beef, and ask any question that comes to mind. No topic is left off the table.
Besides informational/Q&A dinners, CommonGround Colorado also arranges farm tours, such as one I participated in where we visited the Cleland Dairy Farm in Eerie, CO. Besides meeting the cows and their calves, we learned how conventional dairy farmers bring milk to market. We also learned about the use of naturally occurring hormones in cows to stimulate their milk production and how the milk is regulated to be 100% free of antibiotics. It is information such as this that has helped me to make informed choices when shopping for food for my family.
You can find out if CommonGround has a chapter in your state to connect with here. And, even if one hasn’t formed in your state yet, you can still connect with any of the volunteer farm women through the site or their Facebook page. Ask questions and get answers from the people who know first-hand what goes into the food we eat. They are such a valuable resource and I highly recommend you take advantage of their willingness to share their knowledge.
GMOAnswers.com is another invaluable resource for asking questions and getting answers from people who know GMOs and biotechnology, because they’re the people who use it. GMO Answers is funded by the members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta.
At this site you’ll find archives of questions asked by people just like you and the answers provided by members who know biotech firsthand. For those who may say, “how can we trust answers provided by the companies who stand to profit from GMOs,” I would challenge them to poke around the site and see for themselves if the information provided can be backed up by science and research, or where the site may fall short. In terms of information, I’ve found none that can match it.
With GMO labeling gaining traction nationwide, it seems inevitable that all our foods will soon be labeled GMO and non-GMO. This can be a step forward in the “people’s right to know,” what’s in their food, but only if people become educated on what these labels mean. For just as high fructose corn syrup (which is no different from regular sugar) became one of the most misunderstood products in the food supply, GMOs may already be even more misunderstood and stigmatized. I hope the next step after labeling will be educating consumers about what it is they now need to know, after they’ve voted for the right to know.