Environment / Regulation / Technology

Lamenting More Labeling

Nutrition labels have got it all: the trans fats, calories, sodium and vitamins. It seems that much of our food has labels that list just about every aspect of the product. However, it turns out that there are still parts of our food that don’t make the label. Labels on food products list only a small portion of what makes up the product and how it is produced. This has led some Americans to lament their inability to know what is in their food. This is especially true when it comes to GMOs, genetically modified organisms. Many foods contain products that have been genetically engineered in some way, and many voters are demanding that they know about these changes to their foods.

In Oregon, Measure 92 would address this exact issue, and if it passes, would require products that contain GMOs to be appropriately labeled. However, it does not require products such as meat and dairy to have labels if they were produced from an animal that was fed GMO food. Inconsistencies such as these have led to adamant opponents.

In recent years, California and Washington both pushed for initiatives that required GMO labeling, but both lost by very close margins on voting day. Vermont legislation was passed that would go into effect in 2016 but has been threatened by those who oppose GMO labeling and will most likely have to deal with legal issues before it can be fully implemented.

Those who oppose Oregon’s Measure 92 argue that it would complicate the food process, creating higher costs for farmers and ultimately resulting in higher prices for Oregon shoppers. By requiring food with GMOs in it to be specifically labeled, it creates the need for major change in the process of getting foods to the Oregon markets. Non-GMO food to be sold in Oregon would have to be kept separate from food that has GMOs throughout the process–that means from the farm all the way to the aisle there would have to be a differentiation. It would also require foods that contain GMOs to go through additional labeling, increasing production time and costs for farmers. In addition, the bill does not require for the label to specify which foods of the product contain GMOs or what percentage of the product has been modified.

The FDA has implemented a voluntary labeling policy that encourages manufacturers to label foods when they do not contain genetically engineered foods. This Non-GMO labeling has allowed some consumers to buy foods that they know do not contain GMOs. However, the FDA has stated that all foods, modified or not, must meet safety and other regulatory measures that ensure the health of citizens. Although there have been no significant scientific findings that suggest that genetically engineered foods have negative effects on human health, some remain skeptical.

While some see no harm in GMOs, others find this massive exposure concerning and support action such as Measure 92 or Proposition 105 in Colorado, hoping it will bolster their ability to decide what is in the food they are consuming. This is the main argument that supporters of Measure 92 are taking, pushing the idea that it is their right to know what is in their food. Due to the lack of studies done by the FDA, many question the safety of genetically modified food with some arguing that it may create increases in toxins and allergens in food that could be detrimental to human health. This point is highlighted in the proposed bill and used to back the argument that people should have access to information about the foods they are consuming in order to curb such risks.

In comparison to the California and Washington bills that faced opposition from farming communities, there is much greater rural support for the bill in Oregon. Two counties have already banned the farming of GMO crops and there has been recent outrage from farmers about contaminations. Many look to this wide support group as an indicator that the bill may pass.

Support for the Oregon measure may be strong at the moment, but there appears to be no significant government interest in the bill raising the question of how great the benefits are if the bill were to be passed. There are GMOs in our food products and there appear to be no major side effects. If passed, the sole benefit of the bill will be that those who are extremely interested in GMOs in their food will have slightly more knowledge regarding certain products they consume. While there should be careful observance of the effects of these genetically modified products, requiring the prescribed labels will not help this effort in any significant manner. Regardless, the proposed measure does not ensure that all foods consumed will be absolutely free of GMOs, excluding the labeling of meats, dairy products and many other items that may utilize GMOs in the production process. If a consumer is honestly concerned, they can seek out products from companies that voluntarily label their foods as non-GMO products, thereby ensuring the purity of their food to an even greater extent than is proposed by the bill without forcing excess costs on other consumers, farmers and the state.