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GMO food labeling fight

April 20, 2010 |  5:21 pm

Cereal These days, many foods -- especially organic foods -- carry labels declaring that their wares are free of genetically modified ingredients. Will companies be able to continue to do this? A consortium of 80 groups fear that the answer may be no.

On Tuesday, the 80 groups sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture "expressing serious concerns" about the agencies' stance on the issue.

The bone of contention: The FDA and USDA have written a draft for an upcoming international meeting in which they say that requiring labels indicating that a food has genetically modified ingredients would be "false, misleading or deceptive" as it is "likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different." Right now, each country can set its own rules for GMO-food-labeling and the FDA and USDA oppose that.

The 80 groups who signed the protest letter include the Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports), organic food organizations, farmers and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others. (You can see the whole list at a website that posts the letter in full.)

Here's the news release from the Consumers Union about the issue.

All this is taking place because of a meeting to be in Quebec City on May 3 to talk about international standards for food labeling. The meeting is to discuss revisions to part of the "Codex Alimentarius," a group of rules and guidelines that set international food standards. Sounds fascinating, huh? Here's an official Codex Alimentarius website where you can learn more about what this thing is. Here's even more information about the Codex. All kinds of food-labeling issues will be discussed at the meeting.

-- Rosie Mestel

Photo: Does that cereal have GMO ingredients or not? The Consumers Union, among others, fears that companies will not be able to tell us if some international labeling rules change.

Credit: Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (5)

Thank you for writing this important article. Tell the US delegates to Stop their sneak attack on GMO labeling! Please sign either the CREDO or the Food Democracy Now petition--both below.

People everywhere should have the right to know what they are eating, and countries should have the right to mandate their own GMO labeling laws. Non-GMO is the fastest growing label in the US, with hundreds of products enrolled for Non-GMO Project's Verification. There certainly are differences between genetically engineered crops and non-GMO ones. Ask the bio-tech companies who own the patents. Such irony! And look at the new studies that found effects such as organ toxicity from 3 varieties of Monsanto GE corn and decreased fertility from GE/GMO soy. These genetically modified organisms (and the herbicides, which they are dependent upon) wreak havoc on our agricultural systems and our biological ones---including us.


• de Vendômois JS, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini GE. A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:706-726. Available from

• Genetically Modified Soy Linked to Sterility, Infant Mortality in Hamsters

• Soil: not roundup ready
USDA downplays own scientist’s research on ill effects of Monsanto herbicide

"... likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different."

Is the food is nutritionally different;? Is the food is more or less hazardous in any way? Flagging issues like these would be good reasons for the labelling but not the only valid and worthwhile reasons.

I want to know which foods are non-GMO so that I can buy them to support the farmers who are resisting the move to GMOs. So in the first sense my motivation is economic rather than food-health related.

But in a broader sense and just as importantly I'm concerened with the health of the food supply system. The further it sinks into ArcherDaniels Midlandesque hegemony the greater the overall food-health related risks to us all, as I see it.

Anyway the motivations of those fighting for removal of the labels is eversomuch more economic than mine.

Keep the labels.

The food is different. Even if there was nothing wrong with either of them, the food is still different. And it isn't just people concerned with health who need this stuff. People with allergies need to know if their food has been crossbred with other allergens.

Just because you can't see the difference, doesn't mean there is one. When a seed or plant is altered at a genetic level, it requires using antibiotics and bacteria to break the cell walls and recombine DNA in new ways. What hasn't been tested is the interplay of these different types of combinations in the human body. For instance, the GMO corn might be OK, but what happens when you have GMO chicken and corn and rice together--it can create new diseases that we do not have the cure for and a genetic altering of our own tissues (that's what cancer is, folks!) With our bodies carrying antibiotics on a daily basis, we as a species become less resistant to bacteria and invite chronic infections (hello, yeast infections in both men and women at record rates--it's the food!) Labeling is absolutely necessary for GMO products. Beyond that, trademarking life and diseases need to be revoked. It's inhumane to steal the work of God and make a profit from it, whether it's food or water. Shareholder accountability should not trump ethical accountability; it's time for change.

The Non-GMO Project verification isn't a "non-gmo" label. I went to their web site after seeing it at Whole Foods. It's a verification program to test for GMO presence. Products are still allowed to have a certain percentage of GMO contamination.
So, like the organic label (which also allows contamination), this Non-GMO Project label is already contaminated by GMOs (and a bit misleading at that). It's no solution. The bottom line - it sucks that we don't have politicians and courts that recognize we want labeling and we want food free of GMOs.


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