Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why aren't GMO products labeled?

On Thursday I wrote about a documentary my wife and I had watched that opened our eyes to the radical changes happening in agriculture with the proliferation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The companies driving these changes (Monsanto being one of them that gets particular attention in the film, but they are not the only one) claim that they have the best interest of consumers in mind. They want to improve agricultural production and increase food supply. I remain skeptical.

As I shared on Thursday, the potential impact of GMOs on other organisms, most particularly on humans, remains largely untested. The corporations that own the patents on GMOs and which are developing new ones resist any attempts to conduct unbiased testing or to introduce government oversight. This alone should deeply trouble us. What are they afraid of? These corporations do provide funding to scientists, but only those who will provide sympathetic and supportive results. Scientists who dare to challenge the proclaimed benefits of GMOs face pressure, funding cut-offs and even damage to their reputations and careers as a result. 

At the same time, these corporations resist all efforts to require labeling of products containing GMOs. The European Union has required such labeling, as has Japan and other countries. But any effort to introduce such requirements in the United States is met with an overwhelming campaign very well-funded by these corporations to ward off such regulations. They claim that these modified products are completely safe (despite not allowing independent testing to determine this) and therefore don't need to be labeled. But what they really don't want is for consumers to have any way to hold them accountable for the effects of their products. If we know that a product contains GMOs and those who eat that product then develop any negative effects, doctors and researchers would be alerted by the labeling to consider the GMO as a possible source of the problem. This can then be documented and tracked and the companies producing the GMOs could be held accountable for the effects of their products. Without the labels, the consumer has no way of knowing that what he or she eats contains a GMO and therefore has no way to track whether the GMO has affected his or her health. If the corporations behind these products have nothing to fear, they should not be so resistant to the simple act of requiring labeling. We already require labels to contain a wealth of other information. Shouldn't we require that it inform us when our food contains a radically new biological substance?

Unfortunately our government is not defending the interests of the consumer in this area. The collusion between large corporations such as Monsanto and key government agencies such as the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the FDA is astounding. Frankly I think it is morally and ethically wrong. Individuals work for or serve on corporate boards while either simultaneously or in alternating cycles working in key government positions. Can we trust someone to police a corporation with which they have an intimate connection? If there are not laws against such influence there should be. I would like to think that corruption exists only in poor, developing countries. But when I hear about arrangements such as those between large agricultural and food producers and the government bodies that should be regulating them, I realize how corrupt our own system has become. We cannot trust or expect that the agencies that should be seeking to protect our food supply are actually doing that. They often seem to be more concerned about protecting the corporate interests of the producers. 

The corporations driving GMO development and implementation claim in their defense that the changes they are introducing will significantly help reduce global hunger. In my next post we will examine that claim. 


  1. The connection between regulators and the firms they regulate is a common theme in American politics. Look at Wall Street.

  2. This makes me wonder about the future of our republic as much as the increasing polarization of factions.