Avoiding Genetically Modified Organisms

I intend this to be the final commentary about Generically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Of course I reserve the right to do more if I feel new information warrants.

Activists who want GMOs to be excluded from human foods are quite upset that the US Department of Agriculture has approved them for human consumption and are protesting and campaigning in several states to require foods derived from GMOs to be clearly labeled. In the interim, people can take the simple step of buying foods labeled as organic. The US and Canadian governments do not allow manufacturers to label something 100% organic if it has been genetically modified or is from an animal that has been fed genetically modified feeds. There is a web site that provides a discussion about the foods most likely to be GMOs. It also says that foods labeled with a four digit PLU number are conventionally produced, those with five digits beginning with 8 are GMOs, and those with a five digit number beginning with 9 are organic.

There was a recent editorial by Vincent Carroll, titled “Time to embrace GMO label.” The editorial says in part that money from “…the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, and other agribusiness interests…” resulted in the defeat of an initiative in Washington State that would have required labeling GMOs.” The editorial also mentions that extensive scientific research conducted so far “…has not detected any significant hazards directly connected…” with GMOs.  “Americans have been eating GMO foods since 1996, without strange side effects.” Mr. Carroll suggests that the food industry should accept GMO labeling and “…trust the maturity of the average consumer.”

Mr. Carroll’s suggestion would be a good approach for those who have excess disposable income and are willing to pay the additional costs for the labeling that would allow them to exclude GMOs from their diet. The legitimate argument can be made that people should be able to make their own choices about what foods they want to buy and consume. However, does that mean we are willing to require people living from paycheck to paycheck to pay more for identifying foods that haven’t been shown to create a risk? That doesn’t seem to be good policy. Either the foods are safe or they are not.

I’ve decided to give a personal opinion after doing considerable thinking about GMOs, and I admit I’m a bit uncomfortable with my conclusion. There is definitely a “creepy factor” about grains that have genes spliced from bacteria, and I have concerns about unintended consequences. However, I believe world hunger trumps those concerns. I expect a starving mother would gladly accept the risks, whether perceived or real, if offered a meal for her and her family that had been made from GMOs. .I’ll change my conclusion if the safety of GMOs is questioned with scientific data and not just emotional rhetoric.

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