Should GMOs Be Labeled?

Nothing spells D-R-A-M-A like a mother going up against academics and former scientists in a public blogging forum. That’s just what happened this month to Michelle Maisto, a food-blogging mother writing at Forbes.com after she wrote a post calling for the labeling of GMO foods. Granted, Michelle is not a biochemical engineer, nor is she a trained physician. However, she wasn’t writing about the health or safety of GMO foods. She was just asking a logical question.

How can we know the effects of GMOs on the health of the population without food labeling to add traceability?

Imagine her surprise when the science writer for Forbes.com, Henry Miller, chimed in, writing a scathing blog post labeling her as a “radical food activist” promoting “groundless fear” in her readers and advocating “junk science”.

Not one to be backed into a corner, Michelle wrote back. And I love what she wrote. It will go down as one of the most readable anti-GMO blog posts I’ve ever encountered.

Here’s perhaps my favorite excerpt from her article:

Miller also calls the safety record of GMO foods “extraordinary,” writing that there hasn’t “been a single ecosystem disrupted or a single confirmed adverse reaction.” Which, of course, is ridiculous to say — short of being omnipresent, he can hardly be aware of all changes occurring in all ecosystems. Additionally, it’s just not true, as the beginnings of such changes are occurring.

In addition to GM crops being found growing in the wild, calling into question their potential long-term effects on wildlife in those ecosystems, genes from GM crops, as The Guardian reported in 2005, have “transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant ‘superweed’.” These superweeds — at least one of which, pigweed, can grow three inches in a day — are causing farmers to use even more herbicide (though Miller asserts that farmers planting GM seeds “spray millions fewer gallons of chemical pesticides”).

Fast Company reported that herbicide resistance has grown beyond what weed scientists have ever seen before and is leading to the development of alternative chemical solutions — one of which, an expert told The New York Times, is expected to be responsible for a “large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more.”

Dr. Ron Epstein, at San Francisco State University, warned as early as 1996 in a research paper that genetically engineered organisms released into the environment “can disrupt the functioning of ecosystems, reduce biological diversity, alter the composition of species, and even threaten the extinction of various species and change climactic patterns. In addition, genetic engineering can aid in the creation of new pathogens against which the biosphere cannot develop natural defense systems.”

As for “adverse reactions” in humans, that, too, is hard to prove or know — particularly since sufficient testing of GM foods wasn’t completed when the first GM food, StarLink corn from Aventis, entered the food supply in a major way.

As Marion Nestle describes in her fascinating “Safe Foods: The Politics of Food Safety,” the EPA approved StarLink corn in 1998, but only for use as animal feed, since testing wasn’t sufficient and a “key protein in StarLink corn appeared similar to other proteins known to cause allergic reactions.”

In 2000, however, the StarLink corn was found in Taco Bell taco shells, leading to a recall of 2.5 million boxes and recalls of 298 Mission Foods products. But it hardly stopped there. The farmers who’d bought the StarLink seeds filed a class-action suit, saying they’d never been told that the corn was for animal feed only — they hadn’t been separating it at all. Subsequently, Japan found 28,000 tons of StarLink corn in its food supply, the Canadian government spent $1 million trying to keep it out of theirs, and two years later Australia still found StarLink corn in one-third of its test food samples.

Following the taco shell discovery, the EPA asked its Scientific Advisory Panel to advise it regarding the “allergenicity of the StarLink protein,” Nestle writes. The panel ultimately responded that they were “uncomfortable with the available data.” Not a perfect recommendation for a product that had so weaseled its way into the global food supply that Aventis asked the EPA to set a “tolerance” limit for StarLink that was higher than zero, since it was impossible to get rid of it completely.

With GM foods both so prolific and unlabeled, it’s impossible to know what health trends might be tied to them.

SHAZAAM!

I often get belittled in the comments of controversial posts for using my blog as a platform for unscientifically justified fear mongering. I get verbally abused for simply being a concerned mother rather than a trained dietician or medical professional. Who am I to have an opinion on something so obviously beyond my head? Who are you? You bunch of radical food activists. You bunch of soccer moms with inflated egos, thinking that you know what’s best for your children. That you can research a topic and draw your own conclusions about it. That you can feed your babies egg yolks and butter and liver and raw milk without it being tantamount to child abuse. Who are you?

Who are we?

We’re Food Renegades. And we’re not going away.

I applaud Michelle Maisto for not backing down, but instead responding with a cogent and reasonable defense. I may not agree with all of Michelle’s food choices, but I’m all for her right as an informed parent to have an opinion and voice it in the public sphere. Go read her full response here.


(photos by MillionsAgainstMonsanto)

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m a Food Renegade and a Momma AND a professional home economist AND a master of science in human ecology. Monsanto – keep your crap out of my food, away from my family, and out of my land.

  2. Terri B says

    Label them! Ignorance is only bliss if it doesn’t make you sick.

    We’re not asking for a “WARNING: CONTAINS HARMFUL GENETICALLY MODIFIED SUBSTANCES” label in big red letters (although that would be nice!), we’re just asking for some way to tell if a product contains GM ingredients in whole or part – similarly to the way in which food items now indicate the presence of certain ingredients that are possible allergans or health hazards, like peanuts, almonds and aspartame. That way we can make an educated selection as to what food items or brands we might wish to buy.

    The reluctance of the food industry (and others) to identify GM ingredients makes me wonder just how many of them are already in our foods…

    • KristenM says

      “The reluctance of the food industry (and others) to identify GM ingredients makes me wonder just how many of them are already in our foods…”

      Me too. Considering how many GMO crops are grown (86% of all corn and 90% of all soybeans), I think it’s fair to say it’s in just about everything.

  3. says

    GMO’s have bothered me for a long time. I recently got my husband on board with heirloom variety plants, and he is beginning to see why I like them so much. They taste great, and you never have to buy new seeds! He won’t allow anything that is GM, or any harsh chemicals in our garden anymore! Most people just don’t realise the difference that organic truly natural food makes! We’re hoping to plant an even bigger garden this year with more variety so that I don’t have to buy things like veggies from the store during the spring, summer, and fall. I’ve been a highly mocked Food Renegade all my life, and I am finally watching my dear friends wake up to the dangers of GM foods, and the chemicals in our food chain. WAY TO GO RENEGADES!!! :-)

  4. Jamie says

    Thank you so much for this article and all you do. I very much appreciate your information and resources!
    I don’t know how those Monsanto folks sleep at night. Don’t their care about their children’s health? Boggles the mind. I hope folks wake up before it is too late. Thanks again.

  5. Shannon says

    It seems that the ones doing the belittling and the verbal abusing are the ones who AREN’T researching, who AREN’T learning and who AREN’T standing up for themselves and their children. They are the ones that believe everything they see on t.v. and hear on the radio. The don’t question anything and are more than happy to take yet another pill, even though it’s causing other issues that require a different pill. They feed their kids McD’s and then file a lawsuit when the kids are overweight.

    Moms like us, the ones that think for ourselves and protect our family & kids, scare the hell outta them!! And they should be scared, we aren’t going away, we are going to continue to learn, to grow our food, to raise our food, to drink raw milk and shop at the local farmers market.

    Your blog is awesome, keep it up!!

  6. Wanda says

    You scare-mongering dickens, you! I’ve been terrified ever since I signed onto this blog, when I might have gone merrily on my blind way not caring.

    Please observe my tongue in my cheek.

  7. HollymMead says

    While I respect the training and expertise of scientists, they are neither infallible, nor without bias both economic and political. I deeply respect the fundamental desire of parents to do what is best for their children and of individuals to exercise their itellects in researching what are the most healthful and beneficial choices for maintianing the health of their own bodies. More and accurate information can only facilitate people making the best decisions; what does the food industry have to hide? Maybe they worry that it will be immediately obvious to the most casual soccer mom that their products are neither healthful, nor brought to market in good faith?

  8. says

    What’s inevitable, but worse, is that GMO seed has been widely distributed in Africa- the guinea pig continent- and that Africa’s food exports go mainly to Europe, India, China, Brazil and Russia.

    GMO plants and seeds have no, or few, natural enemies and so inter-pollinate and corrup natural seed, causing wholly undocumented crop failure and other equally undocumented problems

    A solution for the super-pigweed and other weeds: UTILISE THEM! Turn them into non-fossil fuels, thereby making them a cash crop for farmers. Part of the problem solved.

  9. says

    Also, I have started my own 3-door size veggie garden and am very happy with my natural seed green beans, tomatoes, zuccini, patty pans, pumpkin, lettuce, cabbage and corn!

    I’ve also got 14 tins with 2-3 tomato plants in them, planted at the same time as the ones in the bed- an experiment to see whether the ‘captive’ tomatoes will bear similarly to their same-seed brethren in the ground.

    In a world where food prices are escalating it’s worth experimenting a little to see what will grow in limited space. Some veggies can be, not just things like spring onions and parsley- so people in apartments can grow on windowsills- fresh, non-GMO and readily accessible.

  10. skippy says

    Hi Food Renegade and Readers,

    There’s an informative report on the latest GMO developments and the California GMO labeling initiative for interested readers at the Humboldt Sentinel website.

    The increase of engineered food crops on U.S. and global farms in the past year– and the new biotechnology developments on the horizon– may surprise some:

    http://humboldtsentinel.com/2012/02/11/a-bumper-year-for-genetically-modified-crops/

    or,
    http://humboldtsentinel.com/2012/02/11/a-bumper-year-for-genetically-modified-crops/

    You may use/reprint/link/pass on the article as you like.

    Keep up the good work and very truly yours,

    skippy massey
    (Humboldt County, California)

    ps: Excuse me, but I need to go. Now. I’d like to write more but we just had a fairly large earthquake and the house is shaking in moderately large waves. I think it’s time to leave right away before it all comes down into a pile of splinters.

  11. says

    No matter what the scientists say, we should have an informed choice- informed by labeling. Let the consumer choice dictate sales, not force and manipulation and secrecy.

  12. Maggie Guess via Facebook says

    I think it should be labeled…definitely! Of course, I also think GMO should be done away with and maybe we can negate further impact on our health and environment. On a different note, I also want labels required on chickens and chicken products (not that one eating paleo would use them) that will soon be coming from China.

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