By State Senator Daylin Leach
Recently, I introduced legislation that would require food manufacturers to disclose on the labels of their products if those products contained organisms that had been genetically modified. I did so because the American people have repeatedly demonstrated that they are keenly interested in information about what they put in their bodies. Over the years, consumers have fought for, and won, ingredient labels, nutritional information and calorie counts on the food that they buy.
However, in the wake of these victories for consumer choice, food purchasers still have no way of knowing whether the can of soup or box of cereal they buy contains genetically modified ingredients despite polling that clearly shows this information is relevant to shoppers who want to make fully informed choices.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants or animals that have been subjected to genetic engineering techniques that change their DNA. It can make salmon grow bigger or corn grow faster. It can make certain plants resistant to harmful diseases and add nutrients to others. There is certainly a great deal of good and potential good which can be attributed to genetic modification. The manufacturers of GMOs and others say that GMOs are not only beneficial, but perfectly safe.
However, a quick Google search shows that there are many reputable scientific publications that raise concerns about the medical and environmental safety of GMOs. These articles say that since we don’t know what foods contain GMOs, it is impossible to study large populations sufficiently to truly test for medical safety. They say that a number of problems, including increased cancer risk and reproductive problems have been noticed in mice, and that these problems take decades to show up in humans, so we haven’t had time to know the true medical consequences of massive consumption of GMOs.
Further, there have been studies showing harm to insects that eat GMOs and which raise concerns about the impact of genetic modification on genetic diversity and the environment in general. Eight European Union countries have banned GMO cultivation and/or sale, and a number of American companies (most recently Whole Foods) have said they will no longer sell any GMO products.
I am not a scientist. I have done no independent research on the safety of GMOs. Whatever choices I may make in the supermarket, I take no public position on whether genetically modified food is safe. But I do think it’s reasonable to conclude that people who are, in some measure, concerned about consuming GMOs are not irrational.
In fact, there are some people who have read the science and are convinced that GMOs are bad and harmful. Others don’t know, but want to wait until more scientific evidence is revealed. Still others don’t care about the science, but object to GMOs for what they view to be moral or religious reasons. Certainly, whichever category one is in, they at least have the right to know what foods do and do not contain genetically engineered ingredients.
It is important to remember that what I am proposing is not a warning label. It contains no alarmist language or editorialization of any kind. It simply requires that the presence of GMOs be noted the way the presence of tomatoes, celery or chicken broth would be noted. Further, my bill does not ban or in any way limit the cultivation, manufacture, or distribution of GMOs. All it requires is information.
Sadly, and predictably, the food manufacturing industry has reacted with knee-jerk opposition to providing consumers with this accurate, factual information. In California, the industry spent millions of dollars opposing a referendum on a proposal similar to mine. In response to my bill here, their arguments are the same.
Essentially the industry’s position boils down to “consumers shouldn’t be told what products have GMOs in them because they won’t be able to understand or intelligently process the information.” To me, this grossly underestimates the intelligence of the average consumer, and it arrogates to the food industry the right to decide what’s good for you to know and what isn’t, which is a terrible precedent.
The fact that the industry is deliberately and aggressively fighting for the ability to keep relevant information from consumers about what they are feeding their families boggles the mind and should offend everyone.
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17