Te good news: Nationally required
GMO labels will soon be coming to a
store near you. In July 2016, President
Obama signed into law a bill that requires
food companies across the nation to
disclose the presence of genetically
engineered ingredients, a move that
some natural advocates, such as the
Organic Trade Association, lauded.
“Tis legislation includes provisions that
are excellent for organic farmers and
food makers—and for the millions of
consumers who choose organic every
day—because they recognize, unequivocally, that USDA Certifed Organic
products qualify for non-GMO claims
in the marketplace,” the association said
in a statement.
At frst glance, the federal law, which
says a national mandatory bioengineered
food disclosure standard must be crafted
in two years, sounds stellar. Isn’t this the
exact legislation GMO labeling
advocates have worked for years to
achieve? Well, not exactly.
Importantly, the law sufers gaping
loopholes that can obscure the presence
of genetically engineered ingredients.
Although champions of GMO labeling
have always rooted for greater food
transparency, under the new law, food
brands aren’t required to include a
straightforward indication that GMOs
are present, such as one that simply reads
“Partially Produced with Genetic
Engineering” on the package. Rather, the
new law allows brands to disclose GMO
ingredients via veiled tactics, such as
through a QR code, phone number or
website listed on the package—all
methods that demand a smartphone or
cell phone to decipher.
To date, third-party certifer the Non-GMO
most recognized seals on store shelves.
Tis is bad for a number of reasons,
the least of which is that it would be
plain annoying to pull out your
smartphone, track down your grocery
store’s Wi-Fi password, download the
QR code app, scan the code and wait
for the information to upload onto your
phone—all just to fnd out whether a
product was made with genetically
engineered ingredients. “Let’s say [a
shopper] has 50 products in his basket,”
said Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California,
who avidly opposed the bill. “Does he
have to make 50 phone calls? Can you
imagine looking up 50 websites?
Scanning 50 diferent QR codes with
a confusing cell phone app?”
Some say the law discriminates
against Americans who cannot aford
a smartphone, who live in rural areas
where cell service or Wi-Fi is spotty, or
who are senior citizens. Just 30 percent
of people older than 65 even own a
smartphone, says Pew Research Center.
Such obstacles in this recent legislation
indicate that steps to responsibly create,
use and sell genetically engineered
ingredients are not over.
But as we move into an era of greater
understanding about this still-fedgling
technology, it behooves shoppers to
understand the reasons why it’s important
to shop for non-GMO foods, of course,
as well as the arguments against them.
Safe to eat
You’ve likely heard someone—your
friends, family or even some news
organizations—say that ingesting
genetically engineered ingredients is
harmful to human health. But although
isolated (and potentially fawed) animal
studies suggest that pigs fed GMOs
experienced stomach infammation,
and that rats fed GMO corn developed
tumors, the overwhelming scientifc
consensus is that GMOs are safe to
ingest. Te World Health Organization
( WHO), the American Medical
Association, the FDA and the National
Academy of Sciences (NAS) all say so.
But there are still strong reasons
to purchase products that feature the
Non-GMO Project Verifed label or
USDA Organic seal (which is non-GMO by default, but you already knew
One big reason: environmental
impact—a scientifcally stronger impetus
to avoid foods made with this technology.
As Eric Pierce—director of strategy and
insights at New Hope Network, Delicious
Living’s parent company that organizes
trade shows for the natural products
industry—recently wrote, “We need to
discuss, in a lot more detail, agricultural
practices, water quality, soil quality and
the risks of direct and indirect exposure
to agricultural chemicals.”
So, let’s discuss ...
GMO proponents argue that we can’t
feed the world without this technology.
But most of the solutions biotech
promises—including solving world
hunger and reducing agrochemical use,
are not yet realized. Instead of easing
environmental issues associated with
conventional crops, GMO technology
has in many cases exacerbated them.
Let’s start with agricultural chemicals.
Te vast majority of GMO crops are
developed to resist a specifc herbicide
called glyphosate, which Monsanto sells
under the brand name Roundup. When
a feld is sprayed with glyphosate, the
weeds die but the crops survive. It’s an
admittedly smart system that allows
Monsanto and other ag companies to
reap both seed and herbicide sales from
farmers. But herbicide-resistant crops
have only heightened glyphosate use.
Between the years of 1996 and 2011,
such crop technology has led to increased
Te main reason: what some plant
biologists call “superweeds.”