The G.M.O. you didn't know

Consumer empowerment should be central in G.M.O. labeling debate

On February 23, 2014

The cornerstone of our capitalist market, for better or worse, is consumer choice. And choice is meaningless if consumers are not able to make informed decisions.

The debate over genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.'s) used in our foods has been long and controversial with those decrying "frankenfood" railing against those portraying the process as the savior from food shortages and high food prices.

The battle over labeling these foods has been gaining significant traction in recent weeks, with states like Colorado putting labeling initiatives on their ballots for the upcoming elections.

The process of genetically modifying food involves introducing new genes into foods for perceived benefits, such as drought-resistance, improved nutritional value and the ability to withstand herbicides.

While these are doubtlessly beneficial for consumers' pocketbooks and farmers' finances, there has been long-standing opposition to G.M.O.'s and questions regarding its impact on health.

The science has remained generally inconclusive, leading to claims that research doesn't demonstrate the safety of G.M.O.'s.

But a recent effort by Italian researchers who cataloged 1,783 studies of G.M.O. safety revealed "there is no credible evidence that G.M.O.'s pose any unique threat to the environment or the public's health," according to an article by Forbes.

Credible threat or not, given that genetic modification is a contentious issue, labeling should be required to respect the desires of those who wish to know what they are purchasing.

Currently, no federal requirement exists to label foods with G.M.O.'s in them.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims because there is "no significant difference between bioengineered foods and 'natural' food," labeling is not necessary.

Whether genetically modified food poses an imminent threat to the consumer's health, the process surely constitutes a significant change to the food in question.

Beyond these considerations, however, the role of consumer choice is central to why G.M.O. foods should be labeled.

Claims against labeling often cite the sense of false danger that would arise if foods were labeled. The thinking goes that consumers, falling back on preconceived anxieties regarding G.M.O.'s, will not purchase foods labeled as such.

Surely the role of misinformation and lack of understanding exists in regards to food production generally, and genetically modified foods particularly. This should not, however, impede efforts to provide information on whether G.M.O.'s are in a product.

Though we should all take greater time to understand our food and its ingredients, this begins with first having access to information regarding what is in the food we eat.

Regulation requiring labeling of genetically modified foods would empower consumers to make more informed decisions about the food they purchase, allowing for competition in the market that reveals actual consumer preferences.

Furthermore, labeling would encourage greater consumer understanding of G.M.O.'s in general, pushing the concept into public conversation on a broader scale.

Knowledge of what we consume is, fundamentally, a right that has gone largely overlooked in past decades. Whether the constituent parts of the food we eat are deemed healthy by federal regulators does not and should not determine if we know what goes into the food we eat.

Labeling of the presence of G.M.O.'s is a right for citizens and consumers.

The essence of our economic system lies in informed consumer choice. But first we have to know what we're choosing.



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