QWhy are many of the founding members of this website against Prop 37? Don't you believe the public has a right to know where their food comes from and how it was created?

Why are many of the founding members of this website against Prop 37? Don't you believe the public has a right to know where their food comes from and how it was created?

AExpert Answer

This seems to be a fair and reasonable request―to know how our food was created.  Food is already labeled with its ingredients when it has been processed, and warnings are sometimes included on labels.  So why not let the consumer know if any of the components of the food were GMOs? 


The reason food is not labeled as containing GMOs is that mandatory food labeling is used only to provide information that may be important for consumers to make food choices regarding ingredients known to affect their health.  Many studies and years of experience with people's consumption of GMOs indicate there is no credible evidence that there is a health risk associated with eating GMOs.


The most consistent association between health and consumption of GM food is a beneficial one that comes from GM maize with Bt protein, which has significantly reduced levels of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by fungi that are known to cause serious health problems when consumed.  GM maize modified to contain Bt protein has much lower amounts of mycotoxins than do non-GM maize plants, since the Bt protein reduces insect wounding of maize; the wounds provide entry points into plants for invasion of the fungi that produce the mycotoxins. 


GMOs are created by taking specific genes from one organism and moving them into another.  Most often a naturally occurring gene transfer system is used under carefully controlled conditions to move a desirable gene into a new organism.  We know exactly what is transferred and where it is within the genome of the new GMO.  This is in contrast with traditional breeding techniques, where genes of two different individuals are mixed together and result in a cacophony of new individuals that, like a GMO, are new to nature. A major difference between the two methods used to create these new individuals is that we know much less about the genetics of the organism created using traditional breeding methods than we do about the one created using modern gene transfer methods.  The mixing of gene variants by breeding can result in major changes, as we have learned from the breeding of dogs.  We have benefited enormously from traditional breeding methods to create the diversity of foods on our tables.  But we can never predict how mixing these gene variants together may affect our health when they are eaten — something that is much easier to predict for the individuals created using modern gene transfer methods.  Furthermore, new GMOs are specifically tested for their effect on our health, while no such testing of new individuals created by traditional breeding methods is done. 


Is it then fair and reasonable to require mandatory labeling to warn consumers that food contains GMOs, when this labeling system is used only when health-risk choices must be made by consumers?  We should not compromise the integrity or credibility of our food-labeling system by requiring a warning, when there is no credible scientific evidence of adverse health effects associated with the consumption of GMOs.


Foods can be and are labeled to help consumers make choices, but such labeling is voluntary.  Common examples are kosher and halal labels, which help consumers select or avoid foods based on their belief systems. 

Posted on August 15, 2017
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Here is a set of slides prepared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that discusses the sketch approval process. As the slides indicate, there are four categories of labels that require prior sketch approval: temporary labels, religious exemption, exports with labeling deviations, and special statements and claims. In the situation raised by your question, it is the last category (special statements and claims) that would... Read More

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