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Mandatory Labeling for GMOs or An Immediate Ban?

By Theodora Filis

Each year, hundreds of children die from food allergies. Genetically modified foods (GMOs) contain proteins from other plants, making non-labeling a big concern for allergy sufferers. Because of lack of labeling people are now, unknowingly, exposed to substances that trigger allergies. For example, a tomato plant may contain a protein from peanuts – peanut allergy has more than doubled since 1997 -- concern is that if scientists create new proteins and put them into foods people who did not have food allergies before could begin to have reactions.

According to a 2007 study by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, over 30,000 Americans are hospitalized due to food allergies each year.

Food allergies occur when a person's immune system reacts to a protein in a food he or she eats. The allergic response can be as mild as a slight stomach ache or as severe as anaphylactic shock.

Genetically-modified plants, animals and processed foodstuffs were introduced to the international marketplace in the 1990s. North American production of corn, soybeans and canola is now more than 50% with transgenic traits (herbicide tolerance or bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) resistance), while milk from the US is produced with recombinant bovine somatatrophin (rBST), and meat is being produced with various biotechnologically-based growth hormones.

Countries that regulate the introduction of GMO's are Canada, US, Mexico, Japan and the European Union (EU). Only the EU requires labels that specify the presence of GMOs. This potential "technical barrier to trade" poses challenges to producers, consumers and governments alike.

Over the past two decades there has been a 1500% increase in children diagnosed with autism.

Without proper labeling of GMOs, consumers lack consumer sovereignty and is unable to make 'rational consumption decisions.' Goods where consumers lack information are said to be 'credence goods' because there exists some degree of consumer uncertainty that cannot be factored into purchasing decisions (Bureau, et al., 1997).

The true credence good is one that may have harmful (or beneficial) effects that are not discernible at the point of consumption. In many cases the full impact is not known for a long period of time. Transfused blood tainted by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or beef infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are two contemporary examples. In both cases the impacts of consuming those goods were not evident for years.

A report by the University of Saskatchewan, Canada said labeling products with words like "natural" or "naturally derived" does not mean the same as organic and does not mean the food does not contain GMOs.

Soy allergies jumped 50% in the UK just after GM soy was introduced.

The report goes on to suggest that “if GM soy was the cause, it may be due to several things. The GM protein that makes Roundup Ready Soy resistant to the herbicide does not have a history of safe use in humans and may be an allergen. In fact, sections of its amino acid sequence are identical to known allergens.”

Today, 6 million children have asthma. Asthma deaths have increased by 56 percent in the past two decades.

Asthma and breathing difficulties were reported by people who inhaled Bt-corn pollen. They also experienced swollen faces, flu-like symptoms, fever, and sneezing. Some individuals reported long-term effects after exposure.

There is a great deal of evidence of toxicity and reproductive effects associated with GM foods. Sheep that grazed on Bt-cotton plants in India, for example, exhibited nasal discharge, reddish and erosive mouth lesions, cough, bloat, diarrhea, and occasional red-colored urine. Shepherds report that 25% of their herds died within 5–7 days.

Rats fed Bt corn showed toxicity in their livers and kidneys. And farmers link Bt corn with deaths among cows, water buffalo, horses, and chickens, as well as sterility in thousands of pigs and cows.

Animal feeding studies with Roundup Ready soy indicated toxic livers, altered sperm cells, significant changes in embryo development, and a fivefold increase in infant mortality, among others.

Until we have the proper research and safeguards in place, the US government should not risk the health of the entire population with GMO frankenfoods or to release these crops into the ecosystem where they may self-propagate for generations.

An immediate ban of GM foods and crops is not only justified – it is imperative!

Mandatory labeling is clearly a threat to the continued development of biotechnology products and processes. Therefore, in the absence of industry action to positively label and preferably ban GMOs, governments must be pushed by consumers and groups to impose mandatory labeling to ensure companies like Monsanto are held accountable for the product-specific credence uncertainties. 

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