In an effort to provide further transparency for their consumers, companies such as Campbell Soup, Panera Bread and Walmart Stores Inc. are initiating developments and supporting legislation that will label food products possessing GMO ingredients, according to an article published last week in The Wall Street Journal.
GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are commonly used by U.S. farmers in the production of their crops because they help “produce toxins capable of repelling destructive bugs, or survive weed killing sprays, making it easier for farmers to defend their fields.” 90% of corn and soybean acres consist of genetically modified crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As the article additionally states, various health agencies agree that genetically modified crops are just as safe to eat as those produced more conventionally, but food companies and politicians are insisting for labels as a response to public scrutiny spawned by numerous organizations. Some consumers are concerned about the potential environmental and health impact that GMOs and their associated herbicides can cause, despite arguments – made by Cambell Soup Co. and others – that the process can assist with “providing food to a growing global population.” President Barack Obama signed a GMO bill over the summer that requires food companies to identify GMO ingredients by some method of communication in two to three years. All organic products can be labeled non-GMO under this bill.
With increased attention on GMO labeling by the general public, more information about the history of GMOs is being reported, including its impact on corporate farming models used by large conglomerates like Monsanto. Farmers have genetically modified crops for hundreds of years, selecting the most efficient hybrid plants that are proven to grow in the face of environmental issues. Only recently have consumers shown concern for GMOs due to the associated herbicides and pesticides that are approved to make them. Also, because corn and soy crops are versatile in their utilization (i.e. production of ethanol for our transportation vehicles, blended in numerous food products, fed to our livestock), most of the revenue made by Monsanto stems from their corn and soy crops (in other words, crops that are frequently genetically modified). However, Monsanto’s business is hurting small farmers, ruining their crops, and impacting their health due to a cancer causing chemical found in the pesticides the company uses for their crops, as reported by Isobel Yeung on VICE on HBO.
What does this mean for the restaurant industry?
At this point, it’s difficult to gauge the economic impact these developments can have. Anti-GMO label lobbyists from some major food companies argue that putting labels on products will give consumers the impression that the food is not safe to eat, despite Ms. Yeung mentioning there is no definitive study that says so. Due to the molecular manipulation involved in cultivating GMOs, funded independent studies must be conducted in order to understand which specific DNA strains are harmful to humans. Ms. Yeung’s story discusses a new World Health Organization study that found glyphosate – an active ingredient found in Monsanto’s weed-killing pesticide Roundup – to be strongly linked to causing cancer. It forces the public to question if other pesticides that are used on corn and soy crops by Monsanto are known carcinogens.
News related to GMOs and food are not all bad however. As VICE editor Joe Langford, who worked on the GMO piece with Isobel Yeung, notes in an interview about the topic, there are so many other aspects to this story, including the “scientists trying to make genetically modified fruits and vegetables with real benefits for consumers.”
Most rational people will agree that GMOs that use carcinogenic pesticides is wrong and they deserve the right to know as a consumer. But simply denying the opportunities in food made from technological and scientific advances is also stubborn and compromises should be made accordingly. Our resources depend upon such actions. One thing is clear, when it comes to food, people will act swiftly and passionately.