In the constant evolution of food labeling, non-GMO labels have now come front and center in a hotly-contested debate.
Genetically modified organisms are living organisms whose genetic material have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory for specific purposes. For example, tomatoes have been developed to resist frost using antifreeze genes from a cold-water fish, and the FDA recently approved potatoes that don’t bruise and apples that don’t brown due to a reduced level of enzymes.
Large-scale agriculture has adopted GMO technology to grow GMO soy, cotton, canola, corn, and sugar beets that are insect resistant and theoretically reduce the need for wide-scale spraying of synthetic pesticides.
Why GMOs Receive a Bad Reputation
The scientists who support GMOs and the anti-activists who oppose them have very different viewpoints on their safety.
Those against GMOs have dubbed them “Frankenfoods” and argue that they cause environmental and health problems, especially given that there are no long-term studies to test their side effects. According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, “Genetically modified foods have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals.”
GMO proponents indicate the benefits achieved with sturdier crops, including improved crop yields, reduced reliance on natural resources like fossil fuels, and nutritional benefits.
Details of the Labeling Debate
Those against GMOs feel that the FDA should require additional labeling information if there is a meaningful difference in the safety, composition, and nutrition of the crop from which the ingredients are derived. In November 201, the FDA issued guidance for voluntary labeling of foods derived from Genetically Engineered Plants, but stated that that there is not enough scientific justification for required special labeling of GMO food.
The anti-GMO activists are not ready to let this issue rest, leaving food companies in an uncertain no man’s land, wondering whether to reformulate products altogether, halt sales to states that will create their own mandatory labeling laws, or create new packaging.