by guest blogger Lisa Bronner, writer of the blog Going Green with a Bronner Mom
A battle is raging in the fresh section of your grocery store. Look around. Heavy artillery is hiding behind the apples. Troops are advancing on the corn and papaya. A bomb is buried in the salmon.
When we talk about labeling genetically modified (GMO) food, pretend we’re standing amidst the fresh meats and produce. Here is where GMO labeling will make the biggest difference. Here is where it matters right now. Elsewhere in the market, 80 percent of prepackaged food products in the U.S. already contain GMOs. But in the fresh section, we are at the cusp of seeing genetically modified foods introduced en masse. This GMO-free refuge will not last. Genetically modified fresh foods—most notably AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage transgenic salmon and the non-browning Arctic Apple—are lined up for imminent FDA approval. Unless we demand mandatory GMO labeling, these products will soon sit alongside their non-GMO counterparts, completely identical and indistinguishable on the surface. If we want to make a difference, now is the time to act.
There are two paramount reasons why we need to label GMOs: transparency and freedom of choice.
No one can declare biotechnology, and its subset genetic modification, categorically either good or bad; any more than there can be a blanket statement about chemistry or physics. Their respective “goodness” or “badness” lies in their application. GE technology, which is the ability to alter organisms on a genetic level, is a vast field with unimaginable possibility.
For example, in the face of the ebola crisis, many hopes for a cure are hanging on the experimental drug ZMapp, which is produced using genetically modified tobacco. A definite good, if it works out. On the downside, in agriculture, 99 percent of genetically modified crops in U.S. soil are engineered to be pesticide and herbicide tolerant, which has resulted in the skyrocketing use of such chemicals, an environmental catastrophe. Where one application may be lifesaving, another may be deadly. But before we can debate which are friend and which are foe, we must first know what has been engineered.
We must have oversight. We must have accountability. We must have transparency. Right now, we have none of these things when it comes to GMOs in our food.
This is where labeling comes in. Labeling aims to provide transparency between consumer and producer. It is a conversation starter. An icebreaker. It prompts the question, “Now that we know this is GMO, can you tell us why?”
If the reason is valid, let GMO producers take pride in their achievements and earn our trust by openly acknowledging the benefits of their GMOs. If it be flimsy, let us as consumers hold them accountable and make the conscious decision to participate or not in unsustainable agriculture practices and human experimentation.
My second reason for labeling: I choose what I eat.
There is a human health crisis in this country, which can be traced in large part to the fact that people have abandoned responsibility for knowing what they are eating. In the name of convenience and modernity, we have become far too trusting of strangers in far-off factories to prepare the majority our food. Because of this, we have an entirely unfounded assumption that we are in fact eating what we hope we are eating.
Current labels tell us a good deal—whether our juice is fresh or from concentrate, whether our grapes were grown domestically or abroad, whether our fish was wild-caught or farm raised. What we soon won’t know is if that “salmon” is really salmon or a transgenic, modified ocean pout–salmon combo—a genetic fusion that would never occur in nature. Labeling genetically modified organisms in our food supply is part of this knowledge that we must fight to regain.
Making responsible food choices should be one of our top priorities. This is where good health begins. In order to do this, we must know as much as possible about the food we eat. When foods contain novel components, such as altered genes, we should be informed. To believe otherwise is in essence to say, “No, I do not have the right to know nor do I want to know what I am eating.” This is the core point of GMO labeling.
These two considerations—the vast ramifications of unbridled GE technology and the fundamental right to know what we eat—justify the added information on our food labels. Otherwise, we are all like Alice in Wonderland, stumbling upon the bottle that says, “Drink Me” and unquestioningly swallowing every drop.
Lisa Bronner is the writer of the blog Going Green with a Bronner Mom, in connection with her family’s company Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. Through her writing and public speaking, Lisa guides consumers through the quagmire of the organic marketplace and simplifies the process of green living at home. Embracing the concept of stewardship, she recognizes individuals’ ability to make a world of difference by how they live their every day. A stay-at-home mom to three, she believes that regularly gathering with them around the family dinner table is the single most important parenting act in her day.