Tuesday, March 6, 2012

GMOs in Our Food: Call to Action

Maize Growing in Pea Pod
Photo © Yulan
We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog post for a word about GMOs and genetic engineering, and a call to action. Genetically engineered (GE) products, commonly called genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are in all sorts of processed foods in the US. Consumers don’t know which ones because the FDA has dismissed consumer requests to label GMO-containing products. However, within the next 40 hours, certain US Congresspeople (from both House and Senate) will send a statement to the FDA calling for labeling of genetically engineered food products. Contact your Senators and Representatives now to ask them to sign onto the Boxer-DeFazio “Dear Colleague” letter to the FDA about labeling GE foods.

A word about terminology. Genetically engineered (GE) organisms have been gene-spliced in a laboratory. Although commonly considered the same as GMOs, the USDA defines GMO as any organism that has been genetically modified, including both gene-spliced laboratory-born species and traditional plant hybrids made by cross-pollinating related species. These terms are commonly used interchangeably. However, genetic engineering, the adding of different-species DNA to food crops, is what we really want the FDA to label. Let’s clean up our vocabulary so that we can ask for what we want, and educate our politicians to do the same. Thanks to Renee Shepherd, from Renee’s Garden seeds, for defining this distinction her latest newsletter.

Are genetically engineered foods dangerous? Does gene-splicing result in health problems? Since testing is not required on these products, we really don’t know. The modified proteins become part of our bodies. Will we know the long-term effects in time to save lives or quality of lives? The Institute for Responsible Technology has compiled a list of GMO dangers, including environmental degradation and crop gene pool contamination as well as potential health issues.

In the interim, it seems prudent to label GE foods, so that we can decide for ourselves how much GE food to eat, if any. I urge you to call your Senators and Representative now. European Union countries, China, Russia, Japan, Australia, and many other countries require labeling of genetically altered foods.

What’s a GE-wary person to do until we see labels on these foods? Start by checking out the Non-GMO Shopping Guide. You might have seen an email last week about a list of food companies owned by Monsanto, the world’s leader in making GE products. Monsanto does not in fact own those companies. However, the companies listed do use products made by Monsanto, including agricultural products derived from genetically engineered seeds. Until these companies label genetically engineered components, it’s best to avoid their products. Peruse these lists and plan your shopping accordingly. 

Better yet, plant a garden this year. Renee tells us that there are no GE seeds available to the general public at this time (subscribe to her newletter for more). So seed-shopping will require much less vigilance than food-shopping. If you’re not much of a gardener, eating local organic foods in season is another way to avoid GE foods.

Do remember to call your Congresspeople.

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