the known and unknown of GMOs

I’ve written about GMOs before and explained why I subscribe to the “harmful until proven safe” mentality as opposed to “safe until proven harmful” when it comes to my foods. This is one reason why I support mandatory labeling of GMO products. An interesting study was released recently which sheds more light on problematic GMOs.

Headlines appeared everywhere, calling the new study “alarming” and “groundbreaking.” The basic conclusion of the study? Pigs fed a diet of GMO grains were more likely to suffer from stomach inflammation and had heavier uteri, which is a sign of conditions that could affect their fertility. Anti-GMO groups hailed this as one of the studies they’d been waiting for that showed an adverse health effect on animals that we consume and not just animals in laboratories like rats. Industry leaders were quick to denounce the study and its research methodology. So who’s right?

Well, both. First of all, the scientific journal that reported the study is called the Journal of Organic Systems. One of their sponsors is the Organic Federation of Australia. Organic producers are often looked at as the “good guys” in agriculture, and I definitely am grateful for their contributions, as our family eats as organic as possible. However, organic producers are often corporations whose primary motivation is profit, not the health of consumers. So it’s in the best interest of organic food producers to have studies that show that GMOs are harmful. Since no GMO ingredients are allowed to be in any product labeled certified organic, they have a vested monetary interest in supporting labeling efforts and fighting GMOs. Because of this, research they sponsor is as tainted by suspicions of bias as the research that Monsanto backs saying GMOs are truly safe. The editorial boards of scientific journals are often made up of individuals who have a corporate interest on one side or the other.

The fact remains that there are very few studies (and virtually no long-term studies) on the health effects of GMOs at all, let alone truly independent, third-party studies. Why? Because the producers of these GMO seeds (ahem, Monsanto) have such strict patents on the technology that they are unobtainable for outside research. Growers are made to sign contracts stating that they won’t perform any research on seeds. So when someone wants to do a study, they have to buy retail products made from GMO plants and can’t directly grow their own.

Because companies like Monsanto have those intellectual property rights and are only required to do voluntary safety consultations on their products, there is currently no real or independent safety testing on GMOs. And there’s where the problem is. We need independent safety testing and we need long-term studies to begin. Because right now, when you eat a product that contains GMO ingredients, the safety testing is being performed on you as a consumer without your informed consent.

And this is why labeling is so vitally important. Let Monsanto grow all the GMO products it wants. Let the consumers be informed and make decisions about what they eat. Tell consumers the truth. Right now, we don’t know if GMOs are truly dangerous or unsafe. And until Monsanto stops hiding behind intellectual property laws and opens up their seeds for independent testing, we won’t know.

I’ve even thought that a label similar to the one that appears on dairy products would be appropriate. If a company wants to label their milk rBGH-free, they also run a disclaimer saying that the government has found no difference between milk from cows treated with rBGH and those that weren’t. I appreciate the information, and choose as a consumer to not consume dairy with rBGH in it anyway. Because it’s my right.

GMO labeling initiatives are starting to make headway in America as many states have bills up for consideration in their legislatures. Here in Pennsylvania, a bill was introduced in the Pa. Senate in March called “An Act Requiring the Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food” (SB653). It is now in the Agricultural & Rural Affairs Committee. Surprisingly enough, PA is third in the nation for organic agriculture production, so I’m hoping that enough of a push exists to protect that industry that this bill will make it for full consideration. I plan on contacting my senators again on this one.

Here are some resources on the fight for mandatory GMO labeling:

GMO Free PA: Resources on the fight in Pennsylvania
Twitter @GMOFreePA

Right to Know GMO: Resources for each state
Twitter @RighttoKnowGMO

Just Label It: National campaign for GMO labeling
Twitter @Justlabelit