Messing With Mother Nature: Genetically Modified Organisms

In February, New York Times food reporter Mark Bittman wrote an excellent article asking a very important question “Why Aren’t G.M.O. Foods Labeled?”

Click here to read that article. 

Bittman points out, “If you want to avoid sugar, aspartame, trans-fats, MSG, or just about anything else, you read the label. If you want to avoid G.M.Os — genetically modified organisms — you’re out of luck. They’re not listed. You could, until now, simply buy organic foods, which by law can’t contain more than 5 percent G.M.O.s. Now, however, even that may not work.”

The Times article was, in part, responding to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent decision to reverse a previous restricting position and allow the deregulation and unlimited planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically engineered alfalfa and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) consideration of a proposal that will allow the sale of genetically engineered salmon. If approved, this would be the first genetically modified animal allowed for human consumption in the U.S.

Supporters of the wonders of genetically modified foods see the new technology as a way to help farmers meet the world’s food demands and keep prices low. Genetically modified (GM) crop plants contain viruses and bacteria that make the plant resistant to insects, disease and/or tolerate herbicide applications. Seeds can also be modified to make them more tolerant to cold and draught conditions. Most of the country’s soybeans, sugar beets, corn, cotton, and canola are already grown from genetically modified seeds.

While the bio-tech agribusiness industry celebrated the Obama administration’s about-face, organic farmers and conservationists feel betrayed…yet again.

Opponents – which include some government officials, public interest groups, organic farmers, scientists and religious organizations – cite the lack of understanding about how GM foods may affect human health as well as the environment. The possibility that GM plants could create a new allergen that would trigger an allergic reaction in certain individuals is a major concern.

There is also apprehension regarding inadequate safety monitoring and regulatory oversight.

Under federal standards organic farmers are prohibited from using genetically modified crops. Opponents of the agency’s decision worry that the pervasive planting of genetically modified alfalfa will result in unavoidable cross-pollination and contamination of organic crops, which could result in the rejection of the crop and threaten organic food growers’ certification. Additionally, many consumers have expressed anxiety about the milk and beef derived from animals that have been fed genetically modified crops.

Reaction to the UDSA’s decision from organic advocates was swift and critical. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for the Center for Food Safety accused the agency of becoming “a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GM alfalfa will threaten the rights of farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”

The organization sent an open letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack detailing their objections.

With so many children and adults suffering from often life threatening food related allergies, the public has a “right to know” what they are eating and putting on the family dinner table, especially if it includes genetically engineered organisms.

Congress needs to change the existing food labeling policy to ensure consumers know if the products they are purchasing contain genetically modified organisms. And then let the marketplace decide if this is what the public really wants.

Additional sources:
Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?

Institute for Responsible Technology

USAToday: FDA panel on genetically modified salmon leaves questions unanswered

Center for Food Safety

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health CenterTM at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children’s health issues, and is a contributor to For more information go to