Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become a staple since the 1990s, when the first genetically modified foods came out. Since its advent at this time, GMO products have exploded in grocery stores nationwide, bringing about various concerns in many advocacy groups. In fact, nearly 80% of foods today found in grocery stores contain GMOs, thus spurring many debates as to whether such additions are necessary or, more importantly, if they are healthy and safe for consumers.
GMOs are used widely in crop production, as they require less pesticide levels and less water, thus keeping costs at a minimum. Regardless of the advantages of GMOs, consumer advocacy and environmental groups have much to say about GMOs, specifically about its safety when ingested by consumers. However, despite an overwhelming and increasing body of evidence and data worldwide that attests to its safety and actual risks, such groups, and many consumers, have yet to be convinced of their safety. Consequently, this has spurred many debates as to whether products containing GMOs should be labeled for the consumers’ benefit.
The GMOs that are so frequently utilized in today’s food culture have come under much scrutiny. The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of such products in the consumers’ market, and has still contended that these products are indeed safe and no more risky than products that have been altered by more conventional means. Additionally, the FDA is responsible for overseeing the labeling of such foods, and hence possesses the legal authority to prevent labels on products that may be false or misleading. However, the FDA has hesitated to change any labeling that would indicate the presence of GMOs, as it would imply to consumers that labeled GMO products are somehow inferior or unsafe.
The debate surrounding the labels of GMO products seems to stem from the lack of knowledge or awareness surrounding genetically modified foods. Many consumers, as shown by this article, are easily swayed one way or another, as a result of how questions are posed or labels are worded. For example, GMOs have been frequently advertised as “unsafe” or “harmful,” thus evoking inaccurate stereotypes amongst consumers. If consumers were more educated about the advantages of GMOs, one would think that there would be less confusion overall about these products, as they have been deemed to be just as risky as products that have been modified through alternate means.
In several states such as Vermont, there has been a movement amongst consumers advocating for GMO labeled products, despite their low risk. Perceptions seem to be, overall, quite misguided and based on fear, rather than reality. While perhaps labels should tell the full truth, there should also be a call for more education on this issue for consumers. For instance, on labels, instead of including just the fact that the product has been genetically engineered, why not include a small explanation or website that can further detail what GMOs do, and how they benefit consumers overall? Many consumers do not seem to realize the higher costs that would be associated with producing GMO-free food; hence, there must be more education on the issue at the state and national levels.
In summary, genetically modified foods are safe and advantageous, as they keep food prices reasonably low, and present no more risk than other types of altered foods. Instead of fighting consumer groups who advocate for the right to know about food ingredients and GMOs, law and policymakers should instead focus on educating consumers about the low risks of such products, and its associated low costs for consumers. Hopefully in time, consumers will gain a more accurate knowledge of GMOs, as mandatory GMO food labeling will result in prolonged, expensive results for all consumers.
- Hemphill, T. A., & Banerjee, S. (2014). Mandatory Food Labeling for GMOs. Retrieved February 29, 2016, from http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2014/12/regulation-v37n4-9_1.pdf#page=4