Food labeling crucial in effort to avoid GMOs

On Nov. 5, Washington state will vote on whether or not to require labels on genetically modified food. While this vote only affects Washington, St. Olaf students should pay attention to it. The debate over genetically modified foods directly affects all of us.

There are numerous conflicting reports about the effects of genetically modified food. Agribusiness companies like Monsanto state that their genetically modified food poses no health risk. Other sources outside the agriculture business agree. The American Medical Association released a report stating that genetically modified GM foods are safe and do not need to be labeled.

However, there are also reports that claim the opposite. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine warns about the serious health risks posed by GM foods and recommends that the sale of GM foods should be suspended until further testing is completed. They also strongly support labeling GM foods.

With so many conflicting views, it is difficult to know who or what to believe. At this time, no one knows for certain the long-term effects on the human body of eating GM foods. In animal tests, GM foods have resulted in problems such as infertility, issues in the immune system and improper internal cell signaling.

Large food corporations are feeding people GM food without conclusive evidence that the effects seen in animals won’t happen to humans as well. Sale of genetically modified food has been occurring for less than 20 years, and the effects observed in animals take place over an extended period of time.

Right now, the American consumers are the test subjects. Yes, there is a chance that GM food is safe, but I doubt that people want to take that chance unless they know for certain.

Even if GM foods are completely safe, there are ethical and environmental arguments that must be considered. Many crops have been genetically modified to be unaffected by herbicides and pesticides, which allows farmers to use herbicides and pesticides in large and potentially harmful quantities.

According to a study published in 2011 by Chuck Benbrook, a professor at Washington State University, cultivation of GM crops has increased pesticide use by 404 million pounds since 1996.

This heavy pesticide use pollutes the environment and increases the chance that these chemicals will find their way into our food. Unfortunately, pesticide use also causes the development of strains of insects and weeds that are resistant to the pesticides, which results in the need for more pesticides.

GM foods have created a cycle that increases potential harm to both the environment and the consumer. And while Monsanto likes to claim that its seeds have higher crop yields than normal seeds, scientific studies have shown this to be false. If GM foods don’t produce significantly more food and result in irresponsible pesticide use, it seems to me that we should go back to normal plant breeding – something humans have been doing successfully for thousands of years.

These issues with GM foods need to be addressed. In the meantime, Americans deserve to know what they are putting into their bodies. Currently, there are genetically modified fruits, vegetables, corn products and soy products for sale in the United States. People go to the grocery store and have no way to tell which foods are genetically modified.

According to a poll by ABC News, 93 percent of Americans believe that genetically modified products should be clearly labeled. When there is significant public agreement on an issue, the government should listen.

Americans have the right to know what is in the foods they consume. This isn’t a radical idea – it seems like common sense to me.

Nick Bowlin ’16 is from Princeton, N.J. He majors in history and political science.

Image by Emma Johnson