Unless you live a very secluded life, you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of the controversy surrounding the labeling of GMOs. Let’s delve deeper into this contentious issue, and find out why proponents are so adamant that labeling GMOs is the right thing to do.
In order to understand why so many are up in arms about labeling them, it’s important to understand what GMOs are, exactly. GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” The term refers to food with genes that have been tampered with in a laboratory.
The stated intentions of this tinkering seem innocuous enough, at least on the surface. For example, plants can be engineered to be more resistant to cold, or less susceptible to certain types of pests. Proponents claim that GMO crops are just the next step in an agricultural process that has been going on for thousands of years, citing the selective breeding of corn and wheat as examples.
However, critics are quick to point out that we’ve never gone so far as to transfer genes from one species to another, which is fairly common practice with GMO foods. There is much concern that producing and consuming GMO foods may have dire consequences.
Case in point, B.T. Corn is a product engineered to produce a toxin that kills the corn rootworm, a voracious pest capable of decimating corn crops. Because the worms were such a widespread and vexing nuisance, B.T. Corn now accounts for about 75% of US corn crops.
Here’s the problem: corn rootworms have recently evolved the ability to eat B.T. Corn without ill effect. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for monarch butterflies. The toxins found in B.T. Corn have been spreading to milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s chief dietary staple.
It’s clear from this situation and others like it that GMO crops can have unintended and far-reaching consequences. When the numbers of one species plummet, predators that feed on that species are affected. Then, animals that feed on that predator are affected, and so on throughout the food chain.
There’s also concern about the potential ill effects of consuming GMO foods. Animal studies have indicated that GMO foods may cause organ damage, reproductive harm, gastrointestinal and immunological disorders, and accelerated aging.
Then, there’s the issue of patent infringement. Legally, biotech companies can patent their “products,” and can claim patent infringement if growers are found to be using them without permission. Biotech giant Monsanto is known for being particularly aggressive on this front, having sued more than 150 family farms for infringing on its patents, many of whom insisted that they had not intentionally planted the firm’s seeds, and that any GMO crops found in their fields must have gotten there due to unwanted genetic contamination from nearby GMO crops.
To conclude, it’s easy to see why so many concerned consumers are eager to eliminate GMO foods from their kitchens, but its become increasingly difficult to do so. It’s estimated that 70% of processed foods found in US grocery stores contain GMO ingredients.
Every consumer should have the right to make informed decisions about GMO foods. That’s what The Oregon Right to Know initiative is all about. It’s not a ban on GMO food, nor is it part of the scientific debate. It’s based on the simple idea that we should all be able to know what we’re eating, and choose the type of future that we’d like to support with our food purchases.
[Photo Credit: drbronner]