gallery GMOs, Consumer Reports

From Consumer Reports:

Why the labeling debate?

GMO labeling is mandatory in more than 60 countries but not in the U.S. Opponents to mandatory labeling here often say that it unfairly implies that foods with genetically engineered ingredients are unsafe. Those in favor of mandatory labels—including Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports—argue that even if the jury is still out on the health impact of GMOs, shoppers have a right to know what’s in their food. “Producers already must label foods that are frozen, from concentrate, homogenized, or irradiated,” says Jean Halloran, director of food-policy initiatives at Consumers Union. “GMO labeling is one more piece of helpful information.”

It’s not surprising that much of the opposition to GMO labeling comes from GMO seed manufacturers and the food industry, who have spent a lot of money to get their position out to the public. Among those contributing the most to oppose the Colorado measure were Coca-Cola, DuPont, Kraft Foods, Monsanto (which produces seeds for GMO crops), and PepsiCo. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers have filed a lawsuit to overturn Vermont’s labeling law.

Which foods contain GMOs?

The vast majority of corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets grown in the U.S. are now genetically engineered, and they are often used as ingredients in processed foods.

The food industry is also pushing to further expand the use of genetic engineering. A new form of salmon that is genetically altered to grow to maturity twice as fast as wild salmon is currently undergoing a safety review by the Food and Drug Administration. If approved, it would be the first genetically engineered animal to be marketed.

The Department of Agriculture recently approved a potato that is genetically engineered to resist bruising and to have potentially lower levels of acrylamide, a suspected human carcinogen that the vegetable can produce when it is cooked at the high temperatures used to make potato chips and french fries. The FDA hasn’t completed a voluntary safety review for the new GMO potato yet, but McDonald’s has stated that it is sticking to its current policy of using only non-GMO potatoes for its fries.

Do GMOs harm the environment?

One main selling point for crops containing GMOs has been that they reduce the use of pesticides. The use of insecticides (which kill bugs) has declined since these crops were introduced in the mid-1990s, but the use of herbicides (which kill weeds) has soared.

The majority of corn, soybeans, and other GMO crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, a weed killer better known as Roundup. Roundup is made by Monsanto, which also produces the seeds that enable crops to survive being doused with the herbicide. Since that technology was introduced in 1996, there has been almost a tenfold increase in the use of the herbicide, as illustrated in this graph from the U.S. Geological Survey.

That in turn created an epidemic of super-weeds, which have quickly evolved to become immune to glyphosate. A survey conducted by Stratus Agri-Marketing in 2012 found that almost half of farmers throughout the U.S. are now battling the crop-choking plants.

The solution proposed by the biotech industry? Creating a new generation of crops that are genetically altered to be immune to glyphosate and to other herbicides that are capable of killing the glyphosate-resistant super-weeds. Dow AgroSciences recently got the green light from federal officials to sell its new Enlist brand of GMO corn and soybeans, which are both engineered to be resistant to glyphosate as well as to an herbicide known as 2,4-D.

The USDA has estimated that Dow’s new GMO corn and soybean crops would at least triple the use of 2,4-D and could lead to an almost sevenfold increase over the next five years. “Since this is likely to make even more weeds immune to both Roundup and 2,4-D, this ‘solution’ to the super-weed problem makes about as much sense as pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out,” says Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., a research professor at Washington State University who also serves on a USDA advisory committee on agricultural biotechnology.

Significant increases in the use of these herbicides could potentially affect consumers’ health as well, because residue from the chemicals can end up in food crops. In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency raising concerns about increased exposure to 2,4-D that would result from approval of Dow’s new GMO corn and soy, a group of 70 scientists, doctors, and other health professionals pointed out that studies in humans have reported associations between exposure to the herbicide and increased risks of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, birth defects, and other reproductive problems.

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