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I enjoyed your insights on allergies, especially food allergies. But what can we do to protect ourselves when our food supply is constantly being manipulated and food companies don’t even have to list whether their ingredients are genetically modified? – Travis R., Arizona
Excellent question. At the moment, there is not much consumers can do to ensure that the food they buy, especially processed food, has not been genetically modified. There is no federal law requiring explicit labeling of food made with genetically modified ingredients. Today in the United States, as much as 80 percent of packaged foods contain ingredients that have been genetically modified, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Your best bet is to buy organic products, which is exactly what many parents are doing, according to a report released by the Organic Trade Association. Avoiding genetically modified organisms both for themselves and for their children is increasingly becoming a primary reason parents are selecting organic foods for their families. In a survey of more than 1,200 households around the country, nearly one-quarter of parents who buy organic said they do so primarily to avoid GMOs. It is the largest number of families motivated to buy organic products explicitly to avoid GMOs in the four years the annual study has been conducted.
“Parents have become more informed about the benefits of organic,” says Organic Trade Association CEO Laura Batcha. “They have also become more aware of the questions surrounding GMOs. That heightened awareness is being reflected in their buying decisions.”
And demand for organic products is booming, with sales in the United States jumping to $35.1 billion in 2013, says the report. This marked a 12-percent increase from the previous year and a sales record.
But that hardly addresses the problem.
U.S. shoppers should be afforded the same opportunity that consumers in more than 60 countries have – to know exactly what food ingredients are contained in the food they buy. The European Union has required that genetically engineered foods be labeled since 1997. Labeling GMOs and teaching consumers concerned about genetically modified foods how to avoid them when shopping and eating out serves the public interest. It lets the market dictate which products and establishments succeed and which ones fail. Major food and agribusiness companies seem determined to use their power to see that doesn’t happen.
Public demand for transparency when it comes to GMOs is becoming louder, yet government approval advancing their use moves ever so quietly forward. For example, missed by media and with little corporate fanfare, the U.S. Department of Agriculture weeks ago gave its stamp of approval on a second-generation GMO soybean plant designed to resist a toxic herbicide called isoxaflutole, an agent that has been labeled by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “probable human carcinogen.”
Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, has been tracking the introduction of these second-generation GMO crops.
Says Freese: Some “biotech companies are now poised to introduce a host of ‘next-generation’ (genetically engineered) crops resistant to more toxic herbicides as a false ‘solution’ to massive weed resistance. But their effect will be to generate still more intractable weeds resistant to multiple herbicides.”
Almost all genetically engineered foods have been engineered for one purpose: to tolerate higher levels of herbicides. The problem is that weeds are constantly becoming more tolerant to weedkillers, creating a vicious cycle resulting in higher usage of more and more toxic herbicides, such as Dow AgroSciences’ 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange. This requires more modifications to genetically modified foods.
Making the effort to sidestep GMOs more difficult is the lack of fairly priced alternatives to genetically modified feed for livestock. Genetically modified corn and soybeans are so dominant today that just about everything in the meat case at your supermarket comes from animals that were fed genetically modified crops. Genetically modified foods have been sliding into our diets since 1995, when the EPA analyzed genetically engineered corn. Today many U.S. crops are grown with 90 percent genetically engineered seed. In Iowa, for example, 91 percent of the corn and 93 percent of the soybean acres were genetically modified last year.
Absent a uniform, nationwide law on the labeling of the use of GMOs, some states are passing their own laws. Vermont became the first state to require labeling for foods made with GMOs. That law is set to take effect in July 2016 if it can navigate its way through a challenge in the courts by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other groups. Oregon voters will decide on a labeling initiative in November, and more than two dozen other states are said to be considering mandatory labeling.
The issue certainly will not go away any time soon.
Meanwhile, some U.S. food companies are choosing to avoid genetically modified ingredients in their products and also choosing to market the fact.
Whole Foods plans to require labeling in all products sold in U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018.
General Mills plans to stop using bioengineered cornstarch and sugar cane for its original Cheerios and to prominently display the fact.
Ben & Jerry’s is in the process of switching to nongenetically modified ingredients in all of its ice cream. Maybe the company will throw in a new flavor. How about “We Hear Ya, Public”?
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.