FINLAND, Minn. — Recent national surveys by the Mellman Group and MSNBC, as well as polls conducted over the last two decades, indicate that 90 percent of U.S. consumers want to know whether or not the foods they eat and feed to their families have been genetically engineered.
Concern about the health and environmental effects of genetic engineering continue to grow. Yet the biotech industry, large food manufacturers and retailers have so far blocked efforts to require that any food containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled.
The European Union and 22 other nations have GMO labeling laws. More than a million Americans recently sent a petition to the Food and Drug Administration demanding mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
On May 2 a petition was filed by a million registered voters in California that will put mandatory GMO food labeling on the ballot Nov. 6. The law will also ban the routine industry practice of labeling or marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural.”
Why do the overwhelming majority of Americans want labeling on foods gene-spliced with bacteria, viruses, antibiotic-resistant marker genes and foreign DNA?
Because millions of us don’t believe they’re safe. Americans want labels because the FDA acknowledges they conduct no safety studies of GMOs before allowing them on the market, but rather rely on the word of biotech companies that these foods are safe.
Americans want labels because GMO health disasters, emergencies or near disasters have already occurred. In 1989, 39 people died and thousands were disabled from a disease called eosonophil myalgia syndrome, which was traced to a genetically engineered supplement commonly found in health food stores.
In 1996, the government banned dangerously allergenic soybeans that had been gene-spliced with Brazil nut DNA. In 2000, the FDA recalled billions of dollars worth of food products containing GMO corn that was linked to severe allergic reactions.
More than 100 peer-reviewed studies have shown that GMOs damage the vital organs, immune systems and reproductive functions of animals.
A recent study in Canada found that more than 90 percent of pregnant women had detectible levels of genetically engineered Bt pesticide circulating in their bloodstream, in effect turning their digestive tracts and their fetuses into miniature pesticide factories.
Most countries in the world, including the EU, banned genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone, injected into dairy cows to force them to produce more milk, after it was discovered that a potent cancer tumor promoter in BGH milk caused a higher risk of cancer in humans.
Americans want labels on foods with GMOs so we can avoid buying them. Polls indicate that 40 percent of U.S. consumers believe that GMO foods are dangerous. Another 40 percent are unsure. No wonder millions of consumers have switched to organic foods, the only foods in the marketplace guaranteed to be GMO-free.
Environmental-minded Americans are similarly skeptical of GMOs. After more than a decade of biotech industry propaganda, we now find out, that GMO seeds and crops do not increase yields; use more pesticides than conventional crops; do not result in crops that are more climate friendly, do not produce more nutritious foods and, in fact, have no benefits at all — only hazards — for the environment and human health.
Genetically engineered foods are less nutritious, more likely to trigger allergies, and contain higher levels of growth hormones and pesticides. Yet GMO foods aren’t required to be tested for food safety before they end up in grocery stores and restaurants.
Without labels, it’s almost impossible for public health officials and medical practitioners to track their allergenicity, toxicity and carcinogenicity. Americans want labels on genetically engineered foods and we want them now.
• Cummins is the national director of the Organic Consumers Association.