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Friday, October 31, 2014 | Last updated: 8:16pm

GMO labeling allows consumers to be better informed



On Nov. 6, Washington state’s Initiative 522, which would have required genetically engineered foods to be labeled as such, failed in the voting booths — a travesty for truth that should not go unnoticed.

Despite what large agricultural companies such as Monsanto say, the debate over GMO labeling isn’t about whether the GMOs are harmful or not, nor is it about shining their products in a bad light. It’s about an American’s right to know what they are eating.

The Food and Drug Administration requires food distributors to include nutrition labels on the foods we purchase so we can make some informed decisions about what we’re consuming.

Nutrition labeling came about because “consumers requested information that would help them understand the products they purchased,” according to the FDA.

Regardless of whether or not GMOs are good or bad, they are something that is present in the food we eat, and should be clearly labeled.

Asking GMOs to be labeled is not much different than requiring fats and calories to be identified on packages — all are a part of the food we eat, and therefore, the knowledge of their presence should be available to consumers.

“The label is all about the attributes of the food,” said Felicia Billingslea, director of the FDA’s food labeling and standards staff. “It’s not to say that this is a good food or a bad food. It provides information that consumers can use and rely upon in developing healthful diets for themselves.”
The point of GMO labeling isn’t to scare people away from eating those foods. The purpose is to provide the information to citizens to allow them to make their own, educated decisions, which is something we should all be able to do.

“We have long believed that consumers have a right to know how their food is produced,” a coalition of Washington businesses and farmers, including Whole Foods Market stated on their website. “We believe that government-mandated labeling of GMO ingredients would enable shoppers, retailers and manufacturers to make informed purchasing decisions… [and provide] transparency and true freedom of choice.”

Many other countries share the same mindset as the proponents for Initiative 522. Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not require GMOs to be labeled. 64 countries, including the European Union, mandate labeling.

So why is the U.S., the country that boasts freedom of choice and the freedom to discover the truth, so far behind the rest of the world?

It could have something to do with the amount of money that biotech companies are willing to put in to prevent GMO labeling.

The opponents of I-522 raised $22 million in donations; however, only roughly $600 came from in-state supporters. The majority was donated by large agricultural companies such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience, who are all heavily invested in genetically engineered crops.

They outspent the initiative’s supporters by about three to one.

Those wanting the initiative defeated claimed that it was because “the cost of enforcement would place additional burdens on taxpayers.”

However, this is just not true. Consumer Reports released a statement refuting the claim that Initiative 522 would increase the price of food for a three-person household by between $350 and $400 a year.

“That estimate is based on an assumption that if labeling were required, companies would immediately change entirely to nonengineered or organic ingredients, which would cost a lot,” the report stated. “We feel that this assumption is not realistic, however, and in the long run, we don’t think consumers will see a price increase.”

Unfortunately, it is too late for Washington now, but Arizona citizens still have a chance to become better informed about their food. Jared Keen, the director of Right to Know Arizona, and the man behind Arizona’s own GMO-labeling initiative, said he plans to begin gathering signatures in January to see this on the ballot next November.

“What matters to me is the food that I eat, and what’s in the food that I’m eating… I believe I have a right to know; I think we all have a right to know,” Keen said.

Indicating on a nutrition label whether a food is genetically engineered or not isn’t an attempt to shine a bad light on products that contain GMOs; it’s about the right to know, fully and completely, what you consume. Citizens should be provided with the knowledge necessary to make conscientious decisions about what they eat, and should not remain in the dark as to what’s in their food.

Elizabeth Eaton is a pre-journalism freshman. Follow her @liz_eaton95.


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