I’ve read an awful lot about genetically modified (“GM”) food. It provokes a fierce reaction, particularly in Europe and Asia, and even among opposition groups in the United States. Yet rarely do I find any evidence that there’s anything at all harmful about GM crops.
So what’s wrong with them?
To me, there are three major issues. First, and most importantly, is that they’ve never been tested. The FDA doesn’t test GM foods before approving them for public consumption. Manufacturers of GM food often don’t allow third party researchers to test them either, citing intellectual property laws. As a result, the only tests we have on most GM crops prior to their distribution to the public as food, or as feed for the animals we then eat as food, are those run by the very makers of the GM food. And those tests are not published or peer reviewed.
So, though there’s little scientific evidence out there that GM foods are harmful for us, we also haven’t tested these foods in a meaningful way to being with. So it would be tough for us to have scientific evidence. As far as we know, GM foods may, in the long run, be a disaster for the human race, or else a giant blessing. We simply don’t know yet.
And that’s why my second problem with GM foods is a big one: They’re not labeled.
The federal government does not require the makers of foods that include genetically modified ingredients to label those ingredients as genetically modified. Because 88% of the corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified, and much of that corn is fed to our food cows and food pigs and food chickens, and mixed into our processed foods in the form of corn starch and corn syrup, most of the meat and processed foods we eat may very well include genetically modified components.
This means that testing of these GM crops is indeed being carried out on humans: us. All of us, all at the same time. Does this sound like an intelligent testing program?
And when 90% of Americans say they’d like to see GM foods labeled, does it further make sense not to label them? A new group of 300 organizations and doctors has just petitioned the FDA to require labeling of GM foods. Let’s hope they succeed.
Finally, GM foods are a problem because they have a powerful tendency to cross-contamination non-GM crops. This is a problem for organic farmers, who cannot sell their products as “organic” if they are cross-contaminated with GM crops (the U.S. organic food regulations require that organic food not include genetically modified ingredients).
And it’s a problem for all of us if, say, the 80% of corn that’s already GM cross-contaminates the remaining 20% that isn’t, and all we’re left with is GM corn. That way, if our grand human experiment of feeding us all GM food turns out badly, we won’t be able to return to non-GM food.
So, it may be something of a red herring when you hear a pro-GM industry spokesperson says that GM foods have been proven to be safe. They’ve only been “proven” to be safe, in their own manufacturers’ unpublished, unreviewed, unconfirmed proprietary tests. Does that make you feel safe?