If the adage is true that you are what you eat, then what might you be if you’re eating a lot of genetically modified organisms?
GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. According to the nonprofit organization the Non-GMO Project, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.
According to the Grocery Manufacturing Association, 70 percent of the items in American food stores contain GMOs, which have only been on the market for about 20 years. Corn, rice, canola oil and soybeans were among the first GMO foods to receive FDA-approval in the mid 1990s, Forbes magazine recently reported. Companies such as Monsanto, Nestle, General Mills and PepsiCo saw cost benefits by adding these ingredients to their products. Other parts of the food industry quickly followed suit.
Proponents of genetically modified crops say they can be made resistant to viruses, fungi and bacterial growth; can be engineered to grow more quickly; may be made to be naturally pest-resistant; can tolerate extremes in weather temperature; and may be enhanced to include vitamins and mineral.
So what are the downsides?
Some say we need the FDA to be a watchdog to ensure food companies using GMOs will act in the public’s interest. Long-term effects of eating genetically modified foods are not known.
Labeling requirements or other restrictions on GMOs are in place in many other countries, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, but not in the U.S.
On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., proposed an amendment to a farm bill that would allow Vermont and other states to require labels on food or beverages that contain ingredients that have been genetically modified. See related story on page 1C.
"I believe that when a mother goes to the store and purchases food for her child, she has the right to know what she is feeding her child," Sanders said in a press release. "Vermont and other states must be allowed to label GMO foods. My provision would protect states from threatened lawsuits."
The Vermont House on May 9 approved the GMO labeling bill by a 107-37 vote. The legislation calls for labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms. The bill would exempt food from animals, including meat and dairy products.
The state Senate did not vote on the bill before the 2013 legislative session ended. Senators are expected to consider the bill next year.
If it does pass the Senate and is signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin, Vermont would be the first state to mandate GMO labeling. California voters rejected mandatory GMO-labeling in 2012.
Opponents of the Vermont legislation argue that the state will be sued by biotech or food industries should the government find that there is no difference between genetically modified and traditional food.
Sanders’ proposed amendment would require the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the U.S. that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Agribusiness giant Monsanto has lobbied against the bill, and has even threatened to sue the state of Vermont if the bill passes.
Sanders’ proposal has made way for concerns about costly legal battles against companies like Monsanto with deep pockets. Sanders has said his amendment would protect states from such lawsuits.
Fear of litigation should not keep from doing more research on how GMOs effect us and paying more attention to which foods we eat contain them. Labeling foods with GMO indgredients would help.