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Moscow Villager - Moscow, PA
  • Kathryn Rem: Label genetically engineered foods

  • In a 1992 policy statement, the FDA allowed GE foods to be marketed without labeling, saying they were not “materially” different from other foods.

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  • Want to know if there is corn syrup, trans fat or gluten in your food? Read the label.
    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires more than 3,000 ingredients, additives and processes to be labeled so consumers can know what they are eating.
    There’s a big omission, though, in the regulations: Consumers have no way of knowing if the products they buy are genetically modified.
    Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are created through gene-splicing techniques. This relatively new science allows DNA (genetic material) from one species to be transferred into another species, creating organisms with combinations of genes from plants, animals and bacteria.
    Plants that are altered in this way are called genetically engineered foods. It is impossible to create these transgenic organisms through traditional crossbreeding methods.
    In a 1992 policy statement, the FDA allowed GE foods to be marketed without labeling, saying they were not “materially” different from other foods.
    This policy is in sharp contrast to the rest of the world. Nearly 50 countries have mandatory labeling policies for GE foods. That includes South Korea, Japan, United Kingdom, Brazil, China, Australia and the entire European Union.
    Since 2011, 36 bills dealing with the labeling of GE foods have been introduced in state legislatures. In Illinois, the Genetically Engineered Food Label Act (HB 1249) was introduced last year, but it died in committee. It was reintroduced last month and now sits in the rules committee.
    Most U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as are high percentages of soybeans and sugar beets. About 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves contained genetically modified organisms. That includes everything from soup to soft drinks, crackers to condiments.
    According to the Center for Food Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, the government has not done any long-term health or environmental impact studies on GE foods or crops. The center says there is laboratory and field evidence that GE crops can harm beneficial insects and transfer GE genes through the environment –– contaminating neighboring crops and creating potentially uncontrollable herbicide-resistant weeds.
    Opponents to labeling say it will increase the cost of food and burden companies with more regulations. GE crops, they say, have been planted in the U.S. since 1996, and there has not been a single proven instance of illness or harm. In addition, GE products may be more profitable for farmers, requiring fewer chemicals, allowing faster plant growth and reducing stress on land and water.
    Most Americans support GE labeling, according to a survey done on behalf of Just Label It (http://justlabelit.org), a coalition of 500 organizations that support mandatory labeling. The research by The Mellman Group found 92 percent of the 1,000 Americans surveyed support labeling. That includes 93 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Independents surveyed.
    Page 2 of 2 - A legal petition calling for the mandatory labeling of GE foods, written by attorneys at the Center for Food Safety, was submitted in September to the FDA. The agency took public comments on the petition, and it took just 180 days for more than 1 million comments to be filed. Once the comment period closed, the FDA had until March 27 to respond.
    “As was expected, the FDA gave us an ‘interim response,’ which means they want more time to review the petition,” said Sue McGovern, spokeswoman for Just Label It. “Just Label feels the people have spoken and that the FDA needs to listen and act,” she added.
    Consumers need to make informed choices about the foods they eat. Instead of embracing barriers, the government should put its might behind providing information to citizens. As soon as possible.
    Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com. Follow her via twitter.com/KathrynRemSJR.
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