Why We Need GMO Labeling (and how to get it)

America: land of inalienable rights.

Except for your right to choose the most healthy food.

Sure, you can waltz into your local grocery store and buy organic lettuce. It’s easy because you can see the difference: it’s labeled “organic.”

Unfortunately, GMOs are not labeled. Which means you have no idea if you’re choosing food with genetically modified ingredients.

And believe me, you are. About 70% of the time.

If something is that prevalent in our food, why isn’t it on the label?

Walk down the next aisle in that same grocery store and put a six pack of soda in your cart. There’s nothing on the label telling you that each can is packed with roughly 13 teaspoons of genetically modified corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup. But you don’t drink that stuff, right?

Okay, head over to the energy bars — a healthy option for busy mornings when you don’t have time for breakfast and you know better than to subject your body to McBrekkie. Better, right? Wrong. The majority of those “healthy” energy bars are loaded with corn starch, fillers, protein powder, and sweeteners — all of which are genetically modified.

Whew. Let’s get some “all natural” yogurt. Sorry, that’s from cows injected with rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) and it’s flavored with high fructose corn syrup. But didn’t it say “all natural…?” (Yes it did, but “natural” is a labeling term that means absolutely nothing).

The same is true of non-organic infant formula, enriched flour, veggie burgers, hamburger, tofu, milk, bread, cereal, chips, ketchup, and far more routine food purchases than you ever imagined. If they’re not organic, they all contain GMOs.

But once again, you had no clue because… GMOs aren’t labeled.

In fact the latest survey records found that only 26% of Americans had any idea they were eating GMOs almost all of the time.

It’s time to wake up, America…

Currently, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn, 91 percent of soybeans and 88 percent of cotton (cottonseed oil is frequently used in food products) is genetically engineered. And we’re not talking genetic engineering that adds vitamins, nutrition value, increases crop yield or drought resistance (because after nearly 20 years of genetic engineering, none of those crops exist yet).

We’re talking herbicide genetically engineered into the plant seeds, so that it grows its own toxins from the inside out, in order to fight off insects by causing the insects’ stomachs to “explode” when they eat the plant.

We’re talking corn that’s now regulated by the EPA as a pesticide because it’s been genetically engineered to withstand repeated spraying with RoundUp.

If the FDA and biotech companies truly believed their genetically engineered products were vastly superior, wouldn’t they go out of their way to include that in their marketing, and emblazon it all over the food label? “Now made with powerful GMO ingredients!”

They don’t, because they know better. Just ask the president of a Monsanto subsidiary wayyy back in 1994:

“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” – Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, as quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994.

Oh and please don’t fall prey to the old PLU code myth (“the number 8 on your food code will help you avoid genetically engineered food”). While it’s true that the International Federation for Produce Standards *did* designate the number 8 on a PLU code / produce code / produce skew to be “the GMO number,” this code is voluntary and NONE of the GMO producers or manufacturers are using it.

Again, because they know better.

Members of European Parliament in Strasbourg France on March 9, 2010, protesting the European Commission’s stance to re-admit GMOs after ongoing pressure from the U.S. government

Why? Because labeling is the main reason why GMO products are either banned or restricted in most civilized countries (including all of the European Union, Greece, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru’s capital city of Lima, China, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Fiji, Sri Lanka, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu).

The minute the words “GMO” appeared on the label in these countries, sales of GMO-laced products plummeted. None of these countries would tolerate selling food that has never had a single long-term human study done to evaluate its safety.

Pity the same protection isn’t in place for selling non-tested GMO products here in the U.S…

The Food and Drug Administration has never declared that GMOs are entirely safe for human consumption — instead, they claim that if the food manufacturers / biotech companies who developed the products “believe they are safe” for human consumption, then it’s good enough.

And yet these manufacturers / biotech companies have never done a single scientifically unbiased, long-term human or animal study on the health and safety of GMOs in human consumption, while at the same time blocking all efforts to perform such studies (or worse, blocking the study results) unless they can oversee and/or underwrite the study.

(And we won’t even go into the primary purpose of corporations — to protect and improve profit margins — no shareholder wants to see a study result that says GMOs aren’t safe, it wouldn’t be in the company’s best interest.)

You might recognize one of the leading GMO companies: Monsanto — the manufacturer of DDT, Agent Orange, Aspartame, and Round Up — the very same Round Up being genetically engineered into seeds so the resulting crops can withstand heavy doses of pesticide and herbicide sprays — all of which they sell exclusively.

GMO crops now comprise the majority of crops grown in the U.S. (click the above image to enlarge)

Don’t you think you’ve got a right to see GMO ingredients labeled until we have some proof, one way or the other?

Don’t you think your opinion about your health matters more than the opinion of the company selling the GMO seeds and weedkillers and pesticides?

GMOs Need to be Labeled

Ever-increasing evidence points to a host of alarming health risks associated with GMOs. Animal studies show everything from infant mortality and underweight birth, to deformities, infertility, and cancer. Click here and scroll down to ‘Documented Health Risks in Animal Studies’ to see just a few of the reports.

Human studies happening in other countries are finding herbicide and pesticide toxins directly related to GMO crops in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses (studies still aren’t happening in the United States; read why here and here).

So why doesn’t the U.S. require GMOs to be labeled? 

The GMO industry has four reasons:

  1. Labels aren’t necessary because the food falls under the “equivalent” catch-all;
  2. Labels aren’t wanted by consumers because it would cost more;
  3. Labels would be confusing (as if “natural” isn’t already?); and
  4. Consumers already know that “USDA Organic” = no GMOs (actually, most consumers don’t know this… but more on that topic here).

By contrast, a large number of consumer, policy and scientific groups say that the reason foods aren’t labeled as containing genetically modified ingredients is two-fold:

  • First, if Americans knew how much of their foods were genetically modified, they wouldn’t buy them. Just like what happened in Europe.
  • Second, big food and bio-agritech corporations know that. And they’re doing whatever they can to block labeling efforts… spending $1.4 million in lobbying in just the first three months of 2011, a combined $46 million to block California’s Labeling Proposition 37 in 2012, and over $400,000 to one state senator who repaid the favor  by writing the “Monsanto Protection Act” in 2013.

One such approach used by Big Farma (pun intended) is to infiltrate pro-labeling movements and organizations such as the Organic Trade Association (OTA). By joining the group under the name of the small organic divisions of their companies, they can work from the inside to keep efforts “under control.” Some policy groups claim this is the reason why the OTA has consistently worked for lowest-common-denominator organic standards.

Every one of these small organic divisions is owned by the very same corporations that have joined together to form the “Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law” — including General Mills (currently represented on the OTA board by Craig Weakly of Small Planet Foods), H.J. Heinz Co. (invested in the Hain-Celestial organics group), PepsiCo (Tropicana and Quaker produce a few organic products), and Kellogg’s (owns Kashi). Want to see the full list? click here >

Who else is a member of this anti-labeling Coalition? None other than chemical makers Monsanto and DuPont, agribusiness ConAgra, food processor Sara Lee, the pesticide lobbying group CropLife, and the lobbying group Grocery Manufacturers Association — representing a combined investment of more than $5.5 million to date to defeat mandatory GMO labels.

How to Demand GMO Labeling in the U.S.

Don’t let large corporations decide this critical issue for you. There are four ways you can join in the growing movement for GMO labeling: at a local government / state level, at a store level, at a manufacturer level, and at a federal government level:

Local States:
Currently more than half of the states in the U.S. have introduced legislation that would require labels on genetically engineered salmon, milk, or other GMO foods. To find out what’s going on in your state, click on this URL, and in the upper left corner, under the header “Get Local,” choose your state from the drop-down menu.

Photo by Alex Garcia of the Chicago Tribune

Grocery Stores:
Recently there’s been a lot of press about Non-GMO groups protesting at places like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joes. Since both of these national grocery chains are known for healthy, organic food choices, and both maintain their own branded line of foods that are GMO free and labeled GMO free, targeting these two national chains may seem a bit strange.

According to these non-GMO groups however, it was all about targeting a demographic with a two-fold message:

First, they wanted to let consumers know that just because these two national store chains focus on healthy food, not all of the products they sell are GMO free — a fact that not many consumers are aware of. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, “the majority [of shoppers] said they were surprised to find [the store] did [carry GMO food].”

Secondly, the GMO-free groups knew these stores are frequented by people who already want to “shop healthy” and thus are more likely to support GMO labeling. In essence, it was a great location to raise awareness among a willing demographic.

Huge food manufacturers can’t possibly grasp the depth of consumer opinion if we don’t take the time to tell them… whether by email or regular postal mail. Think it doesn’t matter? Think again…

Kraft, Campbell Foods, Nestle, Phillip Morris, Kellogg, Heinz, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola — are already making (and labeling) GMO free foods. They just sell it in Europe, not here. McDonald’s is starting to use sustainable fish in every fish sandwich sold in Europe (but not in the U.S.) Why? Because Europeans made their opinions heard!  And clearly their letters (and purchase choices) did not fall on deaf ears.

So don’t worry, you won’t be asking these manufacturers to incur all new expense to completely refit their manufacturing plants or come up with new labeling schemes. It’s already been done. So why did all of those same food manufacturers contribute millions of dollars to defeat California’s GMO Labeling Proposition in 2012?

Why won’t they do what we ask them and simply label our food too?

Federal Government:
GMO Labeling is not a new issue. Bills have been initiated as far back as 1999, just three years after GMO crops began being planted in this country. But the lobbying power of Monsanto and other big ag-industry corporations continues to block the effort. As a result, the issue has never been voted on in Congress.

Despite his early campaign promise to label GMOs, President Obama has passed countless laws permitting GMO alfalfa, GMO sugar beets, GMO sweetcorn for your dinner table, and a GMO corn seed for the production of ethanol (a process that requires far more energy than it produces). Is GMO Salmon next on the approval list>

If you’d like to express your opinion about these matters, you can contact him by writing an online letter, or your own letter.

Additional efforts to voice your opinion at a federal government level include writing letters to your state senator and state representative, signing national pro-labeling petitions, anti-GMO petitions (there are quite a few in every demographic), as well as various petitions on related GMO issues, and/or getting involved with a local chapter of a national food safety, environmental, or consumer advocacy group such as Earthjustice, Food Democracy Now, or the Center for Food Safety.

Wanna go totally grass roots? Start your own petition drive. Every statistic shows that Americans want GMOs to be labeled. Even the publishers of Consumers Report magazine have demanded it!

A word of warning: if you do your own research like I did, you’re going to find a few blogs and websites that appear to represent concerned consumer and industry organizations  claiming that labeling is difficult, or at best their favorite catch phrase: “isn’t so black and white” (apparently neither is organic farming, the dangers of pesticides, and the veracity of research done outside of Monsanto’s control).

I’ll agree. Labeling is never black and white. Just look at the words “all natural.” But if organics can get labeled, so can GMOs. If Europe can do it, so can America. If Kraft and Nestle and other major U.S. food manufacturers are already doing it, they can do it for us.

Start simple. Pick one thing that you can do. If you’ve got the time, pick another.

It’s time we take our health (not to mention the health of our family and the environment) into our own hands.

Update as of July 2011:

While it’s only a first step, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, made up of the world’s food safety regulatory agencies, has finally agreed on a guidance document regarding the labelling of genetically modified food, as reported during the recent annual Codex summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

What does this mean? There is now no legal opposition to the labeling of GMO-laced foods. Any country wishing to adopt GM food labeling will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO), because national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade.

What took so long? The United States delegation was the largest opposition to the GM labelling guidance document. Without their sanction, the guidance document could not be adopted. Once the US delegation dropped its opposition, the document was at last able to become an official Codex text.

Update as of November 2013:

To date, two statewide efforts for the labeling of GMOs have been narrowly defeated—California’s Proposition 37 in November 2012, and Washington state’s Initiative 522 in November 2013—but only after the opposition spent nearly $70 million (combined) in a media onslaught of misinformation (to find out who the opposition was, click here for California, and here for Washington… the consistent players include Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and leading food manufacturers including General Mills, Coca Cola, Kelloggs, Nestle and Kraft).

Other states are making slow but steady progress, and a national “Coalition of States for Mandatory GMO labeling” is being developed, as described on this website.

Additional Reading:

Why we need labeling:

Efforts already underway:

And ongoing efforts abroad…

© GMO-Awareness.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to GMO-Awareness.com with appropriate and specific links back to the original content.

6 thoughts on “Why We Need GMO Labeling (and how to get it)

    • Consider it done… thanks very much!
      Update: this weekend I found your product on the shelves of my local coop grocery store… bought the cheddar flavor. It’s a great package label, however I didn’t find “non-GMO” anywhere… did I just not look close enough?

  1. Just a quick point of clarification, at the very beginning of the article you mention Organic produce, the label Organic is a marketing term and has many different legal meanings depending on the context. It isn’t quite as simple as choosing the food labeled Organic. Check what organic actually means in your area and with regards to what produce you are selecting.
    I totally understand what you mean when you use this as an example but, like most things, it isn’t quite as straightforward as many people think. Just sayin’

    • Thanks Paul… do you have a suggestion for how I might make this more clear? I almost felt like I went into too much detail in the article (and included a link that goes into it in even more depth), but I’m guessing that’s not evident at the very beginning…

  2. Since GMO’s according to Monsanto are wonderful, let’s encourage them to publicize their inclusion wherever they are used.

  3. Pingback: Monsanto’s Dirty Dozen «

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