Should Genetically Modified Foods Be Labelled?
There may be economic incentive for tightening labelling standards
Farmers have been developing favorable traits by selectively breeding crops since the beginning of agriculture. The age old practice of creating more tolerant and pest resistant plants with higher yield has turned into a complicated, and sometimes secretive and modern process of genetic engineering. With modern technology, alterations can be made directly to the DNA of various plants. With only a few companies leading the market in genetically modified crops, and sometimes entire strains becoming eradicated by a single illness, controversy envelops present-day regulations concerning genetically modified foods. Issues being discussed include the safety and treatment of farmers, gene-patenting, food affordability, the environment, and the quality assurance of the crops being produced. How do genetically modified foods affect humans and other wildlife? Do consumers have the right to know when genetically modified crops are present in food products?
Atopic patients are helpful to studying the effects of genetically modified proteins because they are predisposed to development of allergic reactions when exposed to even small doses of an allergen (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2019). In an allergenicity study of a newly introduced protein, when atopic patients were given the skin prick test, no toxin-specific antibodies were found (Batista et al., 2005). Out of 193 countries, only 64 require Genetically Modified Organisms to be labeled (Center for Food Safety, 2019). In an attempt to provide consumers with more information about their food, the the Obama Administration passed into law a bill that would require nationwide labelling standards for Genetically Modified Organisms, which would prevent individual states from making laws regarding labeling of GMOs. This law allows the Department of Agriculture to label foods containing GMOs as “natural.” (United States Congress, 2016)
According to the National Institute of Health, there was a period of time where it was commonly thought by scientists that any protein structure could cause and allergy risk. In a British Institute of Food Research (IFR) study, most proteins causing plant food allergens appeared in one of four structural families. Apparently, a plant's allergenicity is determined by one of these four families determined by the structural nature of the protein. The more altered the surface of the protein is from the surface of the main comparison protein in the structural family, the greater the intensity of allergic symptoms experienced. The hope for this research is to use his work of categorizing proteins to study potential allergies in genetically modified foods. Although there are many more tools that could be used to study in more depth the role of a protein’s structure plays in its allergenicity, this study shows a stronger correlation between these characteristics of a protein than was previously believed by the scientific community (Spivey,2005).
A plant can acquire genes through pollination. In fact, a plant can acquire genes through artificial means as well. A transgenic crop is a plant that contains one or more artificially inserted genes.(Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University, 2004). Bacillus thuringiensis genes were transferred into corn pollen, making a transgenic corn crop called Bt corn. In order to asses the risk of Bt, scientist in the US and Canada have produced data concerning the affect Bt corn has on monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Butterflies tend to die out for a short period of time when Bt sprays have been used to control the gypsy moth population, but the effects do not seem to be permanent. Since the only thing that larval butterflies eat is milkweed, and milkweed is very prevalent in cornfields, the usage of Bt corn pollen on corn fields needs to be examined. In contrast to fields treated with insecticide where the survival rate of monarch larvae was only up to ten percent, fields treated with Bt, as well as fields treated not by Bt were found to be between 80-93%. This indicates that the transgenic crop, Bt corn pollen does not cause a significant amount of death in the monarch butterfly population when the milkweed supply is exposed to it. (Sears 2001).
One positive effect of labelling genetically modified foods is an improvement in international trade with countries that have strict requirements for labelling of Genetically Modified Organisms( Davidson, 2010). If the United States enacts strict labelling requirements of Genetically Modified foods, then it may be easier to sell said food products in markets with similar labeling requirements, such as the EU. Potential access to a market of this scale provides an economic incentive to adhere to stricter labelling regulations. Thus, strict labelling of Genetically Modified foods in the United States may have a beneficial affect on the economy, providing an overall benefit to the population. One positive effect of labelling genetically modified foods is an improvement in international trade with countries that have strict requirements for labelling of Genetically Modified Organisms( Davidson, 2010). If the United States enacts strict labelling requirements of Genetically Modified foods, then it may be easier to sell said food products in markets with similar labeling requirements, such as the EU. Potential access to a market of this scale provides an economic incentive to adhere to stricter labelling regulations. Thus, strict labelling of Genetically Modified foods in the United States may have a beneficial affect on the economy, providing an overall benefit to the population.
Many consumers have negative associations with the term GMO and may make assumptions about the product upon seeing it labelled as Genetically Modified. Most (57%) non-scientist consumers were reported as deeming foods containing GMOs unsafe to eat, while most (88%) scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science considered foods containing GMOs safe to eat. (Pew Research Center). Apparently, the non-scientific community does not accept Genetically Modified foods as okay for consumption. This may be due in part to the fact that the public is uninformed or misinformed about Genetically Modified foods. Genetically Modified foods are have a negative association in the minds of most consumers in the United States, so labelling them could lead to fewer Genetically Modified foods being purchased. Since these foods are generally grown on large scales, there would be a surplus of food uneaten by consumers. Although a surplus of food sounds like a good thing, it could put small farmers out of business.
I understand the disagreement over labelling, but I do not think that labelling genetically modified foods needs to be a bad thing. Food product packaging design highlighting the strengths of the altered crops could present genetically modified foods in a better light. The distrust of products containing genetically foods seems to be largely based on ignorance and fear, not on proven issues concerning welfare of the farmers. Since plants are quite genetically different from humans, widespread illness caused by genetically modified foods is unlikely. With the right tweak in genes, crops could be grown pesticide-free on a larger scale, which would be beneficial to the growing population of the planet. I think that it makes sense to require labelling of genetically modified foods. Doing so may open up enormous markets to American produce, increasing export potential.
- “Atopy: AAAAI.” The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2019, www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-dictionary/atopy.
- “International Labeling Laws.” Center for Food Safety, 2019, www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/international-labeling-laws.
- F., Roger. “S.764 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): A Bill to Reauthorize and Amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act, and for Other Purposes.” Congress.gov, United States Congress, 29 July 2016, www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/764.
- Spivey, Angela. “The shape of food allergenicity.” Environmental health perspectives vol. 113,7 (2005): A448. doi:10.1289/ehp.113-a448
- Sears, M K et al. “Impact of Bt corn pollen on monarch butterfly populations: a risk assessment.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 98,21 (2001): 11937-42. doi:10.1073/pnas.211329998
- Batista, Rita, et al. “Lack of Detectable Allergenicity of Transgenic Maize and Soya Samples.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 116, no. 2, 2005, pp. 403–410., doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2005.04.014.
- “What Are Transgenic Plants?” Transgenic Crops: An Introduction and Resource Guide, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Colorado State University, 11 Mar. 2004, cls.casa.colostate.edu/TransgenicCrops/what.html.
- “Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society.” Pew Research Center Science & Society, Pew Research Center, 8 Aug. 2019, www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/