Ever since bioengineered crops entered the food supply, people have been calling for labels to identify them. Today, nearly 50 countries have GMO labeling laws, but efforts here in the United States have gained little ground. So far, although 19 states (and one federal bill) have sought labeling requirements, every attempt has failed.
A November California ballot initiative hopes to change the tide. Voters will decide on Proposition 37 in what could be the nation’s first identification requirement for food produced with biotechnology.
There are nine genetically engineered crops grown in the United States: corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, zucchini, and yellow crookneck squash. With over 70 percent of grocery store products said to contain GMO ingredients, there may be more in the aisles than you realize.
If Prop. 37 passes, all foods that contain GMOs could no longer claim to be “natural.” The industry calls the measure misleading, and federal regulators agree. Despite a repeated push for a label law, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the evidence to support one isn’t justified.
When it comes to the question of safety, the biotech industry says that science is on their side. But the perception depends on whose research you believe.
According to Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology and one of the leading advocates of GMO labeling, bioengineered food may have the FDA’s blessing, but it’s not a decision based in solid science. He says that since 1991, regulators have been instructed to promote biotechnology, and it’s a mandate they’ve dutifully observed ever since.
Smith says biotech giant Monsanto ensured FDA cooperation by placing Michael Taylor, the company’s former attorney, in charge of FDA policy. Once Taylor was in charge, the new technology was said to pass stringent safety tests with flying colors.
“In reality, the overwhelming consensus among the scientists at the FDA was exactly opposite–that GMOs were dangerous and should be tested extensively,” Smith said, pointing to 44,000 internal FDA documents released in a 1999 lawsuit. “The Taylor policy lied about the science, and then Taylor became Monsanto’s vice president. Now he’s back at the FDA as the U.S. food safety czar.”