The beginning of November was a rather interesting beginning for the supporters of genetically engineered food labels. Even if victory was not on their side, as the Californian ballot proposing the labelling of genetically modified ingredients in food products was rejected, the movement was still considered important. Why? Because of the increased awareness that GE food labels have started to receive lately.

The polls showed 47% voted in favour and 53% against. Monsanto and food companies such as PepsiCo and Nestle spent $45m on advertising and lobbying for the “no” campaign, while the “yes campaign” only spent around $8m, which was mainly funded by organic food companies.

The “yes” campaign has attracted several celebrity supporters, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and rap star Pharrell Williams who tweeted : “vote yes on Prop 37 if you believe you have the right to know what’s in your food.”

If until recently, the main concern has been the amount of saturated fats and sugars, the latest movement in food labelling shows how really concerned consumers are regarding the foods they intake. Targeted at people’s right to know which foods are genetically modified and which aren’t, the movement triggered the following reaction on behalf of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), “These efforts [to label] are not driven by evidence that GM foods are actually dangerous. Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”

The reality is that almost 90% of US-grown corn and soybean is GM.

What Exactly Does Genetically Modified Food Mean?

Genetically modified food  have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. These techniques are much more precise  than mutagenesis (mutation breeding) where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change.

genetically modified

A popular fruit that has been genetically modified is Papya. The reason? To resist the ringspot virus. The New York Times stated that “in the early 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya industry was facing disaster because of the deadly papaya ringspot virus. Without the introduction of the genetically modified breed, the state’s papaya industry would have collapsed. Today, 80% of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered, and there is still no conventional or organic method to control ringspot virus.

As expected, the technique has both strong supporters and strong opponents. And while the debates around safety and whether this is ethical or not seem to be endless, the labelling industry is getting ready for what seems to be the next natural step in informing the general public. Product labelling should be as accurate as possible.  Anyway, the choice will always be the consumers’.

Resources: The Guardian, Wikipedia

Advertisements