Labeling GMO Foods

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The Issue: Labeling GMO Foods

The Initiative: Just Label It! is an advocacy campaign that hopes to get Congress and the Food and Drug Administration to make the labeling of genetically-modified foods (GMOs) mandatory.

Vandana Shiva explains why corporations want to patent seeds in the first place.

Background: Genetically engineered (GE) foods, or GMOs as they are often called, have been altered at the molecular level in a laboratory for a variety of reasons, such as increasing crop yields, imparting extra nutritional benefits or speeding up the growing process of a fruit or vegetable (or salmon). Opponents question these benefits. One GMO crop that many people are familiar with is “golden rice,” which TIME magazine put on their cover in 2000 with the headline, “Grains of Hope.”

The truth is that GMO foods had been available in the United States for nearly a decade before that. The first GMO offered in America was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was made available in supermarkets in 1994 without any special labeling. Since then, public outcry in the European Union and elsewhere produced labeling laws in 40 European countries, Brazil, Japan and China. According to the AP, 18 states are considering similar legislation, but the only state that currently requires it is Alaska, where genetically modified fish and shellfish must be labeled.

The Just Label It! campaign is a coalition of over 500 partner organizations including consumer advocates, farmers, concerned parents, environmentalists and organic businesses, such as Amy’s Kitchen, Stonyfield and Earthbound Farms, among others. They think Americans have a basic right to know what they’re eating and the right to make informed choices about what’s for dinner. There are only 9 genetically engineered fruits and vegetables for sale in produce aisles in U.S. supermarkets: corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. But wander away from the produce section and you’ll have a lot harder time identifying processed foods that contain GMO ingredients. Prevention magazine reports that genetically altered crops are in 80 percent of processed foods. They counsel: “[U]nless a packaged food is certified organic or specifically labeled non-GMO, chances are it contains modified ingredients.”

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  • mem_somerville

    Awww…I remember when Bill Moyers would call on relevant scientists on important topics. Remember vaccines? “That’s when you want a darn good scientist in a research lab.”

    Maybe you could have talked to some plant scientists on this. In fact, I would recommend an entire show on the actual science as a brain cleanser after the Shiva episode.

  • Bmodel

    I’m thrilled about this interview.  As an investigative reporter I did an interview with Vandana Shiva years ago and, partly as a result of that interview, have spent the last ten years looking into the safety and truth behind GMO and the impact of today’s farming policy on food safety, food security and the potential for famine. 

    Shiva really is the voice of our generation on this topic.  Cannot wait to see this show

  • Kevin Folta

    Sad to see that the station that used to revere Sagan and other scientists has caved into the anti-scientific, anti-intellectualism that defines the labeling issue.  I’m excited to see the Shiva episode and the bashing of sound science.  In the future they should consider including neutral, public scientists in the discussion as well.   There is nobody that knows food science or production that thinks this flawed law is a good idea.

  • foodmama

     Kevin, your very own Monsanto scientists believe that genetically modified food is dangerous, so stop shilling for your employer. Americans have a right to know and we will succeed in the “costly” labeling initiative. Anything less is unacceptable. You eat your GMOs.

  • johnd

     There is nothing BUT sound science, including testimony from Monsatan’s own employees about the danger of GMOs. That’s why 50 other countries including India, China, the EU and Russia label. You eat your own GMOs!

  • Laurabogdan

    Urban farmer

  • Moreaboutthat

    The big “intellectual property” owners, including but not limited to Monsanto, fit the clinical descriptions of “sociopath.”  They are killing the ecosystem in so many ways.  GMOs are the tip of the iceberg.  Sadly, they are extremely powerful corporations that are literally able to control governments, agriculture and science.

  • Mcarr1042

    It’s time that our large corporations and government were reigned in with the devastation of all things pure and good! Monsanto is poisoning us and so is our government. Mrs. Obama talked about caring about food. What a joke! President Obama has done more to destroy our environment and food sources than previous presidents.

  • Kevin Folta

    Hi Foodmama.  Your allegation that I am somehow connected to that company is consistent with the lies, distortion and evidence brought by your anti-science movement.  You have no evidence that I work for that company or that I ever received a dime from them.  Because I haven’t.  My research program is public and every cent in it is part of the public record. 

    I think PBS should also feature a balance from a scientist that knows the issues, the literature and the scientific evidence.   Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming as credible in the GMO discussion as Fox News is in climate change.  Science denial applies to either fringe.

    I’ve been eating GMO food for years, along with an estimated 3 trillion other organisms.  Humans have been eating human-manipulated crops for 20,000.   The food supply is safe and abundant, and that’s what we need to feed a growing planet and do so while minimizing environmental impact. 

  • Kevin Folta

    Foodmama, your link does not tell us very much.  Let me help.  The employee worked for the big M in 1996.  He speaks of concerns about where transgenes integrated and potential uncharacterized side effects of integration. Sixteen years later we can easily assess where genes are integrated and that whole suite of fears is out the window. 

     Plus, that’s one guy, a former employee, so he may be a little bitter.  It also is funny that he’d suddenly be nervous about this sixteen years later.  What took him so long to get so upset? 
    Of course, everything conventionally bred mixes tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of genes with absolutely no way of assessing what changes, where genes integrate, or if they are safe.  Think about what traditional breeding is and what practices have been used to make sterile bananas, watermelons, wheat, brassicas…. all plants with crazy whole genome changes compared to wild counterparts.  Adding a gene or two in the lab brings great precision to the process.  I’m always happy to answer questions on this important topic. 

  • Kevin Folta

    Do you realize that every plant you eat is, or at some time was, likely protected by patents?  Plant breeders take on a difficult task.  They have to improve plants using genetic crosses, sometimes taking decades to do so (like with tree crops).   Plant breeders have used patents to protect their inventions.  Why should they spend tremendous time and money to have to give a product away?  The royalties from licensing allow them to keep breeding and improvement. 

    It is not just BigAg partaking in intellectual property protection.  Every breeder in universities, government, small private breeders, etc also benefits from these rules.

    If you dislike BigAg and its government ties, relax restrictions.  Let the little guys compete.  Right now we can’t because the big Co’s have made the process impossible, and public fear and outcry make it more favorable for them to monopolize the system. 

  • Noelle Maylander

    I think we need to start producing a product called “GOD’s SEEDS, No Paten necessary”

  • geeksquad

    brahahaa your a joke! really every plant we eat has a patent wheres the proof? you mean Monsanto has patents on everything! Monsanto owns the FDA and USDA its a revolving door most are outright paid by Monsanto so you say relax regulations? lol Monsanto put those regulations into law since they own the USDA and FDA so you make no sense! Every breeder forces farmers to pay them every year for the seeds that come from the crop? ya and santa claus is real! Monsanto forces farmers to plant their gmos and have devastated farmers in India where thousands have commited suicide! and thats one example your a scumbag Folta!

  • Chandelle

    There’s never been a scientific study that’s shown a negative human health effect from eating a GMO food, despite 15+ years of use. See the AMA’s statement on this.This is the left’s science myopia (along with the unfounded belief that vaccines cause autism, and disproportionate fear of nuclear power over fossil fuels), equivalent to the right’s rejection of evolution and its denial of global warming data. Science is the candle in the dark. We must go toward it.
    Please Mr. Moyers, get some plant geneticists on your program to discuss genetically modified crops as well, not only a former physicist who is trying to sell her book. Nina Fedoroff would be a good choice. But, like for climate scientists on the subject of climate change, 98% of plant geneticists would urge the public to reject superstition and instead look at the data.
    Opposition to corporations is an understandable impulse, but, like Chomsky has said, “Anytime you hear something stated with a lot of conviction, you must ask yourself ‘Wait, is that true?'”. That’s your job, Mr. Moyers, as it is the responsibility of all of your listeners. As a liberal and a plant geneticist, I wish the science conversation could focus on what’s really killing us: anthropogenic climate change. We are not descended from fearful men and women, but we need to know what dangers to oppose.

  • anon

    Plants in the USA have only been able to be patented since the 1930’s with the introduction of the “Plant Patent Act”.

  • Anon

    Dr. Kevin Folta works for the University of Florida. There are a few scientists working for UF collaborating with Monsanto currently, so while he dose not make “a dime” from Monsanto his employer dose.

  • Susan

    In January 2009, a farming couple contacted the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering ” because two of their three children were born with congenital
    malformations. One had a somatotropic deficiency, an imperforate anus
    and a small atrial septal defect at birth. Due to the absence of known
    familial antecedents, and lack of genetic origins evidenced to date,
    the hypothesis of an environmental origin can be explored. In
    particular, many pesticides were used by this family around pregnancies….The father sprayed, without protection, more than 1.3 tons of pesticides per year including 300 liters of glyphosate based herbicides. Among them are well-known endocrine disruptors such as carbendazim,
    2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, glyphosate, ioxynil, linuron, trifluralin and vinclozolin. The whole family had close contact with the father, consumes products of their garden and can be exposed through the consumption of pigs and poultry fed with the farm harvest.”

    Authors: Mesnage R, Clair E, Spiroux de Vendômois J, Seralini GE

    I expect after sharing this study that the data will disappear from the web.

    In study after study, it has been shown that using GMO’s increase the use of pesticides including herbicides and does not decrease them. This greatly benefits everyone at the pesticide companies trough, including the universities they have funded. It does not benefit the children who have been poisoned with this technology, or future generations. It does not benefit the people and animals poisoned with these pesticides.

  • Susan

    Climate change is enhanced with the expansion of fossil fuel products including herbicides and other pesticides.

  • Anonymous

    LOL! Meanwhile every time you cash your paycheck MONSANTO ensures there is money in the bank to cover it.

    yea, sure we believe you (chuckle, chuckle)