Labels for Genetically Modified Foods

I came across a very interesting commentary in the Ottawa Citizen recently written by Robert Wager, a biology professor at Malaspina University-College entitled "No Label Required." The commentary answers a significant question that has been raised about genetically modified foods since the products were first introduced commercially ten years ago: Should special labels be required for GM Crops? The answer the author suggests is simple: No.

The author writes that in North America, all food products are subject to a product-based labeling system. All food labels must show the product’s nutritional information, including its protein, carbohydrate, and fat content. All known allergenic content must also be listed on the label to help those who may be allergic to certain products or proteins. Product-based labeling, therefore, is objective, verifiable, and enforceable.

The article also points out that all food products of agricultural biotechnology (GMOs) are examined extensively long before the product reaches the market. If the biotech product is the same as the parental variety, the author states, then the product is said to be substantially equivalent. Substantial equivalence is the safety evaluation process that has been endorsed by the majority of scientific organizations around the world such as the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association.

Despite this, different interest groups and individuals are calling for a new food labeling system based on how the crop was generated, especially whether the food was genetically modified or not. So, if genetically modified foods and crops are nutritionally the same as their counterparts, why should a special label be required?

Professor Wager writes that, for the sake of argument, if a product was going to be labeled based on the process used to make it rather than its content, there are a few questions that must be answered.

First, what is genetically modified (GM) food? Is anything that has its DNA manipulated a genetically modified product? If this is the basis for defining what a GM food is then almost every food on the commercial market, including organic foods, are GM foods.

Second, are highly processed foods genetically modified? Since most highly processed foods contain virtually no DNA or proteins, it would be impossible to verify its label.

Finally, what do we do about the detection of GM food products? Professor Wager points out that the average biotechnology crop has genetically engineered proteins accounting for .00004 percent of the total protein of the crop. If anything over.9 percent must be labeled (according to European Union regulations), then it would mean labeling for a GM content that is far below the levels of other common contaminants seen in different products, including grain.

Then, what should happen, since such labels on GM foods would not be verifiable and therefore would become unenforceable? The author says these are problems that have been seen in parts of the world that have adopted specific labeling systems for genetically modified foods.

The author also states there are new regulations that now permit a "GM-free" label to be placed on products. However, a company must pay for tests to prove their claim. It’s also been estimated that a GM-specific labeling system would increase food prices for the consumer. Since there is absolutely no evidence of any harm coming to anyone from consuming GM products, the author contends, there should not be a financial penalty put on the average consumer for the scientifically unjustifiable labeling demands of the few.

I completely agree with Professor Wager’s assertions about the unnecessary need for a specific label for genetically modified foods. I believe that placing such a label on these foods would be a pointless effort, just to appease a small group of individuals that have been driven by misinformation. Consumers have been eating foods with genetically modified ingredients for many years and there has not been one single illness that has been attributed to biotech foods. There have also been countless studies and reports over the years, including the 2005 World Health Organization report, have shown that genetically modified foods are safe.

I firmly believe that changing the product-based labeling system to an unreliable system based on how a crop was generated in the first place is not in the public’s best interest. The safety and the benefits of genetically modified foods cannot be ignored by the average consumer. The proof certainly speaks for itself.

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About The Author, Alis
Alisa Baumer is a life sciences grant researcher and has first-hand knowledge of the latest trends in genetically modified food. To read more about Alisa go to http://www.gmofoodforthought.com