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GMOs: Do we have the right to know if they are in our food?

Walk down any grocery store aisle and you are bound to face many decisions. What should you make for dinner tonight? Where was this product made? But some activists would like the consumer to ask another question, does the product contain ingredients that were genetically modified?

A genetically modified organism is a plant or animal that has been modified with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes are not natural and cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

“Let’s say we grow a large pumpkin and there are stinkbugs infesting it” said Elon Environmental Science Professor Gerald Dorsett. “You can put a toxin that kills stinkbugs in the genetics of the pumpkin so when the stink bugs come out, the chemical will make sure there are no stinkbugs. You would have to worry about your crop, but what will that do to your kids?”

The Eddy Pub

The Eddy Pub

It is questions like “what will that do to your kids,” that concern people like Isaiah Allen. Allen is a non-GMO activist and the Executive Chef at the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw, North Carolina.

“I feel very passionate about GMOs,” Allen said. “My wife and I made lifestyle changes after watching food documentaries. I don’t like the way big agriculture companies influence our government in how much power and control they have over our government’s decisions these days.”

As a result, Allen crafted a menu at the Eddy Pub that is completely non-GMO with an emphasis on local food, one of the few restaurants in the nation that can say that.

“There is a transparency of where our stuff comes from that I think we offer that not many restaurants offer,” Claire Haslem, owner of the Eddy Pub, said. “If you can’t throw a stone at it, you can pretty much find out anything you want to know about where the animal came from or how it was raised.”

Opponents of GMOs argue that eating products with genetically modified ingredients pose a risk to human health, the environment and farmers.

“There is a level of trust between corporations and people that was once there a generation ago, that I think doesn’t exist anymore,” said Haslem. “The government and companies have manipulated to the point where people like my grandmother would believe white bread still has nutrients.”

Vani Hari is a Charlotte-based food blogger and served as a delegate at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She wants to see products made with genetically modified organisms labeled.

“Why have the genetically modified organisms not been studied long term,” Hari asked. “People need to know what is in their food.”

But some argue there is nothing wrong with GMOs.

“We have been eating genetically modified crops for hundreds of years,” John Ruff, president of the Institute of Food Technologists, said. “The risk in eating GMOs are negligible compared to the risks of trying to supply food to the world today.”

In addition, some argue have disease-free crops are worth it.

“We need genetically modified organisms,” Dorsett said. “One of the benefits has been the corn crop. There is something called an Army-worm and when they invade corn crop they completely devastate it. The chemical they bring in prevents that. It is a great thing we have crops that are disease resistant.”

Video- is it possible to make a non-GMO meal at Elon?

Eating healthy:

Eating healthy can be difficult at times because in many ways we don’t know what we are eating.

There are no current laws in North Carolina that require products made with genetically modified organisms to be labeled.

A referendum in California that would have required GMO labeling failed 53-47, some say because major corporations said food prices would rise for the consumer.

Elizabeth Reed, marketing manager at the Company Shops Market, doesn’t buy it.

“The companies that were fighting labeling were huge companies,” Reed said. “A lot of those companies have an organic line so any money they would lose from conventional products could be remade.”

At Company Shops Market in Burlington, it isn’t always easy to tell whether a product is GMO free. According to Reed, 60 percent of items in the store are organic. However, just because something isn’t organic doesn’t mean it was made with GMOs.

“Something can be grown without being a GMO product without going through the certification process to be organic,” Reed said. “But one of the requirements to be certified organic is non-GMO. With that in mind, you can still be non-GMO and not be certified organic.”

Politics

The politics surround genetically modified organisms continue to battle between consumers and corporations.

“In many ways, direct labeling of GMOs is like direct labeling of lean finely textured beef, also known as pink slime,” Elon Poll Director Jason Husser said. “Those who sell this meat product argue it drastically reduces cost of beef. Others report that the trimmings drastically reduce the quality of food. Regardless, labeling will reduce sales.”

Labeling food that was genetically modified could have a costly price for consumers according to Husser. Ballot measures in California and Washington state narrowly lost last year after millions of dollars were poured into campaigns to defeat labeling measures.

Wordle of text of Washington Initiative 522: a failed attempt to label GMOs.

Wordle of text of Washington Initiative 522: a failed attempt to label GMOs.

“Food labeling is much more controversial than some might think,” Husser said. “Labels certainly provide more information to savvy consumers, but they also influence the decisions of all consumers, sophisticated or not. Foods labeled as containing genetically modified organisms will likely sell less in the grocery store. This is a win for anti-GMO activists and a loss for an industry heavily invested in producing food cheaply.”

Maine and Connecticut are currently the only two states to pass legislation requiring genetically modified organisms to be labeled. The labeling, however, will not go in effect until Northeastern states pass similar legislation. New Hampshire’s legislation is up for vote this year.

In North Carolina, food activists like Vani Hari are pushing for GMOs to be labeled. The battle, however, is on-going. Democrat G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, North Carolina, has signed as a co-sponsor of the “Safe and Accurate Food Raising Act.” This legislation would cancel out all legislation for labeling genetically modified foods.

The United States is behind on this movement. India, Brazil, Turkey, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and Australia are among 64 countries that require GMOs to be labeled.

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