1. What Are GMOs?
Genetic modification (also called genetic engineering or GE) is biotechnology used to create transgenic species of plants and animals that exhibit traits found in completely unrelated species, such as bacteria and viruses. In a laboratory, scientists extract the DNA (gene) coding for a desirable trait from one organism (e.g., a bacterium) and randomly insert it into the DNA of an unrelated organism (e.g., a corn plant). The genetically modified organism (GMO) exhibits the desirable trait (e.g., pest resistance or herbicide tolerance). For example: Some corn plants have been genetically modified to produce a bacterial toxin (Bt toxin) that makes them poisonous to the corn borer, a pest that attacks corn plants. GMO genomes have inter-species DNA combinations that are never found in nature and could never come into existence through conventional breeding techniques. It is impossible for bacteria to breed with corn plants.
2. GMOs in the U.S. Food System
GMO crops were introduced commercially in the U.S. in 1996. Since then GMOs have dominated the agricultural landscape. USDA data from 2011 shows that GMO varieties are being grown on 88% of corn acres, 90% of cotton and sugar beet acres, and 94% of soybean acres. GMO canola, alfalfa, squash, and Hawaiian papaya are also dominant. Furthermore, livestock feed is comprised mostly of GMO corn and soybean. ~80% of bagged, bottled, boxed, or canned foods in the U.S. are estimated to contain GMO ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and xanthan gum. We say estimated because without labeled GMO ingredients, it’s impossible to calculate this with any degree of accuracy. We DO know that Americans have been eating GMO ingredients without their knowledge or consent since 1996.
3. Lax Federal Regulation of GMOs
USDA ensures that GMO crops are safe to grow. EPA ensures that GMOs are safe for human and environmental exposure. FDA ensures that GMOs are safe to eat. But…the reality of federal regulation is:
Federal regulators have strong ties to the biotech industry, which is a blatant conflict of interest
There are documented incidences of cross-contamination with the non-GMO food supply
Safety studies are financed and performed by GMO producers themselves, who obviously have a strong financial interest in claiming GMO safety
- Animal feeding studies are too short to be meaningful
GMO producers are not required to consult with the FDA on safety tests for new food GMOs so they don’t bother, but the FDA rubberstamps approval for their commercial sale anyway
- Once GMO food products reach the marketplace, the FDA has no oversight
4. Jury's Still Out on GMO Safety
The biotech industry and the FDA both claim that GMOs are the same as their conventional food counterparts – they are “substantially equivalent” (aka GRAS -- generally recognized as safe) and thus safe for us to eat. However, genetic engineering is unpredictable – it can have unintended consequences:
- Gene gun insertion of DNA is imprecise and random
- Overproduction of naturally occurring toxins
- Adverse changes in nutritional composition
- Creation of new allergens
- Known allergens produced in unexpected places
Yet despite these known risks, the federal government does not mandate human consumption clinical trials or long-term testing on animals or tests for carcinogenicity and allergenicity or independent third-party studies, leaving the burden of “proof of safety” in the hands of those who have the most to gain by the commercial sale of GMOs.
5. Exhibit 1: Human Health Risks
Despite the lack of federally mandated studies, there is scientific, medical, and anecdotal evidence amassing about the risks to human health from consuming GMOs. A few examples:
Bt toxin – a bacterial insecticide produced in some GMO corn – has been found in the bloodstream of 93% of pregnant women and 80% of their fetuses. This indicates that Bt toxin can survive digestion and enter the bloodstream despite industry claims to the contrary.
In the 1990s, a GMO soybean genetically modified to contain a Brazil nut gene was found to cause allergic reactions in humans allergic to Brazil nuts.
There are peer-reviewed GMO feeding studies that show toxic or allergenic responses in lab rats.
There are internal memos from FDA scientists in the early 1990s – raising questions about the safety of GMOs foods and the policy decision not to label them – that were disregarded by their superiors.
6. Exhibit 2: Environmental Risks
The big three risks to the environment from growing GMO crops are:
- The unintentional yet inevitable cross-contamination of organic and conventional crops with GMO crops, which has already occurred
Superbugs resistant to pest-resistant GMO crops have evolved and are destroying those crops
Superweeds resistant to herbicides sprayed on GMO crops have evolved and caused farmers to spray more herbicide per acre than ever before as well as resort to the use of even more-toxic herbicides
7. U.S. Food Labeling Policy Is Inadequate
The Food Allergen and Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA; 2004) is a federal law mandating that food products containing ingredients derived from major food allergens MUST explicitly state on the label that it contains these ingredients. Genetic modification can introduce new and known food allergens into GMOs. Tree nuts (e.g., Brazil nuts) are a major food allergen identified by the FDA in FALCPA. One GMO developer inserted Brazil nut genes into a GMO soybean, which caused allergic reactions in people allergic to tree nuts. If a shellfish gene were inserted into a GMO salmon, people with shellfish allergies would be at risk when eating unlabeled GMO salmon. Since GMO foods are NOT safety tested by the FDA or independent third parties for human allergens, Americans with allergies are put at risk every time they eat food with unlabeled GMO ingredients.
8. Americans Deserve and Demand the Right to Know!
60+ countries have already enacted laws banning or mandating labeling of GMOs. The EU has been labeling GMOs since 1998! China and Saudi Arabia, since 2002. And in July 2011, Codex Alimentarius, the intergovernmental food commission, recognized the right of all nations to label GMO foods. Americans, however, are still dining in the dark. We believe we deserve the right to know what’s in our food and the right to make informed choices about what we eat! We have the right to be protected from food health risks and the right to stop being used as guinea pigs! Nationwide polls show that over 90% of Americans want GMOs labeled.
9. We Won't Wait -- National Right to Know GMO Coalition of States for GMO labeling!
To fill the void in the absence of a federal GMO labeling law, GMO Free NY has joined forces with allies in 37 states and Washington, D.C., in a nationwide movement to give Americans the right to know when GMOs are in our food. Moms, dads, kids, scientists, farmers, grocers, food producers – ALL OF US WHO EAT FOOD – will benefit from state-level efforts to mandate GMO labeling.
We rest our case: We deserve to the right to know!
It’s time to label GMOs!