At least 21 countries and the European Union have established some form of mandatory labeling, but the food industry in the EU and US are two different beasts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently requires labeling of GMO foods if the food has a significantly different nutritional property; if a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present (e.g., a peanut protein in a soybean product); or if a food contains a toxicant beyond acceptable limits.
Even though it does exist, the generally accepted science of GMO foods does not clearly distinguish between its nutritional properties and those of non-GMO foods. Allergens are also known to be present in GMO foods, but this is largely ignored by the FDA. Also, now that the EPA has allowed Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide at levels 60 times above toxic exposure for canola, soy, sunflower, flax and peanuts, it's a free pass to chemically spray most GMO foods beyond acceptable limits.
To government scientists, it's all the same and they don't see a difference, not because one doesn't exist, but because they refuse to acknowledge it.
Monsanto writes “There is no need to test the safety of GM foods”. So long as the engineered protein is safe, foods from GM crops are substantially equivalent and they cannot pose any health risks.” The US Food and Drug Administration waived all levels of safety testing in 1996 before approving the commercialization of these crops. Nothing more than voluntary research is necessary, and the FDA does not even want to see the results. And there is certainly no need to publish any of it. If you remember 1996, the year that the first crops were commercialized, the research scientists of the US FDA all predicted that transgenic crops would have unpredictable hard to detect side effects, allergens, toxins, nutritional effects, new diseases.
Unless you are geographically located in a dozen or so countries in the world who have declared GMO (genetically modified organism) bans, then you're likely eating GMO. It's almost impossible to avoid all GMO foods, however educating yourself can make a big difference in the percentage of GMO foods you purchase as a consumer.
Although consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, especially concerning products for which health and environmental concerns have been raised, there are 7 reasons why they are unlikely to be be identified on any labeled food products:
1. Mandatory labeling would allow consumers to identify and steer clear of food products that cause them problems. This would cause a ripple effect on the entire food industry causing information campaigns on some of the largest and most successful brands in the world, effectively removing their popularity through incremental education.
2. For religious or ethical reasons, many people want to avoid eating animal products, including animal DNA. More GMO foods are now being engineered with insect DNA and more experiments are taking place with animal DNA. If consumers were more informed through labeling initiatives, it would cause a massive backlash on well known brands of processed foods by these groups. Transgenic animals and crops would also come under fire.
3. Labels on GMO foods would imply a warning about detrimental health effects, which would stir controversy among millions who strive daily to maintain or advance their levels of health and wellness through dietary strategies. There are significant differences between GMO and conventional foods in terms of side effects, allergens, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases. Although no nutritional or allergenic differences are acknowledged by the FDA, labeling foods as GMO would immediately place the decision making process back into the hands of the consumer by-passing the regulatory agency's control.
4. Labeling of GMO foods to fulfill the desires of health conscious consumers would come at a consequence to all food manufacturers who use GMO ingredients. Experience with mandatory labeling in the European Union, Japan, and New Zealand has not resulted in consumer choice. Rather, retailers have eliminated GMO products from their shelves due to perceived consumer aversion to GMO products. Can you imagine what the effect would be in the US?
5. Consumers who want to buy non-GMO foods currently have an option to purchase certified organic foods, which by definition cannot be produced with GMO ingredients. Labeling GMO ingredients would also affect the entire organic foods industry now generating hundreds of millions in revenue. Many consumers would revert back to conventional foods if they learned they did not contain GMO ingredients. This would cause a loss in profits to some large food manufacturers who have organic divisions within their brands.
6. If GMO foods were segregated from non-GMO foods, the food system infrastructure (storage, processing, and transportation facilities) would need to change drastically in a short period of time to accommodate the need for this change. The cost of labeling involves far more than the paper and ink to print the actual label. Accurate labeling requires an extensive identity preservation system from farmer to elevator to grain processor to food manufacturer to retailer. Either testing or detailed record-keeping needs to be done at various steps along the food supply chain. It would be very chaotic and the expense would go down the tubes if the majority of consumers avoided foods labeled as containing GMO ingredients. It's a process the food industry knows would be extremely painful if it were to ever materialize.
7. If anti-GMO activists won the fight to pass GMO labeling legislation, it would set a precedent to every other highly controversial health topic in the hands of regulatory agencies. What next? Public health agencies would then be at risk at losing their credibility on other hot topics of debate such as fluoride in drinking water or vaccination. If populations were to win one huge battle that would free them from being incrementally poisoned, all government policy would be then be scrutinized and consumer advocate groups would stop at nothing to ensure all toxic public health policy would be dumped. It's a loss of control and that's something the cartels of the world are not interested in.
What's The Solution and What Does The Future Hold?
If you haven't figured out yet that our governments are not our best health and safety advocates, you haven't been paying attention. We need to take the control away from the government and put it back into the hands of the people.
Content-based verification requires testing foods for the physical presence of foreign DNA or protein. A current application of this type of procedure is the analysis and labeling of vitamin content of foods. Methods for detecting the presence of GMO components in crops and processed foods are being discussed all over the world.
As the number of transgenes in commercialized crops increases, the techniques for detecting an array of different transgenes are becoming more sophisticated and even portable.
In the not too distant future, consumers will be able to run on-the-spot tests for environmental toxins, GMOs, pesticides, food safety and more with their smartphones and other hand-held devices.
"Modern biological research is also allowing an extension of laboratory devices on to small computer chips to detect biological information within DNA sequences," said biotech specialist Dr. Marek Banaszewski. "Bioinformatic algorithms within programs will aid the identification of transgenes, promoters, and other functional elements of DNA, making detection of genetically modified foods on-the-spot and real-time without transportation to a laboratory."
In a paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip, the team demonstrated sensing of an immune system protein, but the slide could be primed for any type of biological molecule or cell type. The researchers are working to improve the manufacturing process for the iPhone cradle and are working on a cradle for Android phones as well. They hope to begin making the cradles available next year.
Other handheld devices currently in development are portable chemiluminescence detectors, but based on enzyme-catalyzed reactions emitting light. The detection devices for nucleic acids, biotin associated with the target DNA provides the handle for the chemiluminescent detection. The non-radioactive DNA detection chemistry will be able to readily identify single-copy genes in transgenic plants making them suitable for GMO detection.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.