Organic Sense

Our Right to Know: Organizations Take Action for Labeling of GMOs

by Katherine DiMatteo, President of the Board of IFOAM  on July 18, 2011

This past month I’ve found myself neck deep in thinking and talking about genetic engineering. Not about the science, but about the current state of affairs. Recently the unrestricted approval of Round-Up Ready alfalfa, the legal battles around sugar beets, and the pending approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon have brought the uncertainties, dangers and influence of such technology back into focus, renewing discussions about how to protect ourselves and our future.

Did you know that 27 countries of the European Union plus 31 other countries have laws and/or regulations about labeling GE crops and food products? Only four countries of those with labeling laws allow voluntary labeling. The remaining countries require mandatory labeling, which requires all or parts of the supply chain to label raw agricultural ingredients or finished food products with a phrase or mark that indicates that the product may contain, contains, or is derived from genetically engineered crops. Of course, the United States is not one of these countries, though the state of Alaska enacted a law in 2006 that requires the labeling of genetically engineered fish and fish products. 

I’m sure you can guess that it is the original countries that produced and exported GE crops—the United States, Canada and Argentina—which either don’t allow labeling or have adopted voluntary labeling approaches. And the first countries to adopt mandatory labeling requirements and ban production of GM crops (or allow in only very limited areas) were the large importers—the EU and Japan. Today there are developing countries that have some form of labeling laws and even countries like Brazil and China that are among the top ten countries with GE crop production. 

There is no one international agreement on these labeling laws. The variations include tolerance levels, whether the crop was grown from GE seeds or the end product was tested for residues, all or some ingredients and/or packaged products, all forms of GE crops or those with “novel” characteristics. For 18 years a debate on whether national laws on labeling GE foods should be allowed has raged in a little known international body called the Codex Alimentarius. Early this May, a document was finally approved, but it does not provide any specific guidance. It only provides some protection for a country with a GE labeling law from accusations that such laws were barriers to trade—a small step forward.

Is labeling the answer? Certainly in Europe the GE labeling law has curtailed the use of GE seeds (although not eliminated all production) and the use of ingredients from GE crops (except in animal feed). Could this be possible in the United States now with 165 million acres of GE crops planted? Polls of U.S. consumers indicate that the majority favor labeling. But would they stop purchasing GE foods if they were labeled? 

Although it’s neither a perfect nor the only solution, labeling of GE foods is one approach. The Center for Food Safety (www.centerforfoodsafety.org) has launched a campaign for labeling GE foods, and IFOAM is collaborating with other organizations to organize a march from New York to Washington, DC, to raise awareness and gather consumer support for the labeling campaign (www.right2knowmarch.org).

A multi-faceted, unified strategy to control GE production is needed, and organic, non-GMO, environmental and consumer groups are coming together to build that plan. Hopefully all the talking and thinking will lead to swift decisions and action.


Katherine DiMatteo is managing partner and senior associate at Wolf, DiMatteo and Associates, a consulting service specializing in organic and sustainable practices. She was the former executive director of the Organic Trade Association and was instrumental in shaping the outcome of the U.S. National Organic Program (NOP) Standards and securing Congressional support. She also helped shape the UN Codex Guidelines for Organic and the Global Organic Textile Standards. Katherine was a founding member and Secretary of the Board of The Organic Center and currently serves as the President of the Board of International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements World Board.

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Comments

Susan from from Lafayette, Louisiana on August 24, 2011 at 02:57:07 AM
Our food in the USA has deceived us for decades long before genetically modified ingredients.

Pesticides were initially registered under the label of economic poisons. And our government, including the USDA, called American agriculture the safest in the world. That's brain washing and pure propaganda.

With GMO's it's even worse. It's a blatant lie that foods are safe or that are foods are the safest in the world. If our food is so safe, why do we in the USA have the highest cancer rate in the world? Why are pesticides still on the market and used in agriculture that have been banned in Europe and many other countries...countries that have government paid medical care, which citizens pay for but with which the costs are lower than in the USA.

Saying that "we have the best in the world" is propaganda to get Americans to believe what Congress is subsidizing at our expense.
Lorraine from from South Ogden, UT on August 19, 2011 at 01:26:38 PM
As a nutritionist I always tell people to read labels - the whole thing. A product labeled "Non GMO" is a selling point. But understanding what GMO really is what people need to know. While GMO's may look nutritionally the same or act the same as non GMO's in a petri dish we do not know the long term effect of them. Along this line, we don't even know everything that is in a tomato. So then how can we conclusively said GMO is fine? The reality is most people want cheap food and already made food. People will spend money on what is important to them. If non GMO is important that is where they will spend a few extra dollars. To some people having a cell phone, getting their nails done and dying their hair at a salon is important and that is okay but money is spent on what we deem as important. GMO is a big business and though it is hard to take down big business it can be done - think Big Tobacco. Informative articles in support of non-GMO need to appear in our newspapers, on our headline news, as pop-ups on our computers, i phones and smart phones, in magazines and on bill boards. Eat foods as they were intended to have grown period.
Star from from Georgia on August 18, 2011 at 09:26:18 PM
I believe it is totally irresponsible that the people in this country have allowed the government to get away with pushing "dead" foods on people and GE foods on people so that pharmaceutical companies and doctors can make a profit treating the diseases that occur in our bodies because we are not getting the nutrition we need from food we eat. They didn't stop there either--they are in the process of taking over the supplement industry...so we will not even be able to use supplements or go to alternative health care practitioners to "fix" what the lack of safe, healthy food can to combat what the GE and dead foods are doing to us. How has this insane plan gotten to this point with the help of the very people who are supposed to be looking our for OUR best interests? Because People believe men can rule over them and if the ones they vote into office do not do the promised things, then they wait 4 years and swallow some other men's promises. Only one source can solve all of this and no one seems to see it or look for it----our Creator, Jehovah God. He will intervene in man's affairs and set all matters straight for Revelation 11:18 says he will bring to ruin those who are ruing the earth.
Ann Finelli from from Team Health Care Clinic, PC Champlin, MN on August 17, 2011 at 11:55:32 AM
We agree a unified strategy is needed. The public MUST be educated about the dangers of GMO foods, and if we can continue to do that, hopefully we can reach Jeffrey Smith's "tipping point" and get GMOs out of the marketplace.
Dean from on August 17, 2011 at 12:45:49 AM
You must label GMO foods After you read Jeffery M Smiths books on GMO's the proof is clear as day that these food pose a danger.Why else would these big agriculture company's be so against labeling because they know people would avoid them and that would hurt there bottom line.IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!!!WAKE UP AMERICA.
jenn from from Lancaster pa on August 16, 2011 at 11:48:13 PM
The USA actually makes versions of food products that don't contain gmo's or high fructose corn syrup to export to countries that ban them. Then they feed us the junk. Monsanto has its hand in the FDA's pocket. Just plan scary that no one is out to protect us really.
Lori from from michigan on August 16, 2011 at 06:33:27 PM
I was just made aware of how much of our food is GMO. I was stocked to read about this and can not believe I live in the USA and we allow this in our food. Who has the deep pockets? Corporate America. This make me sick. They do not want to label it because people may stop buying the products. I think they should outlaw the use of it.
Scot from from Florida on August 16, 2011 at 04:11:41 PM
The fact that our food is not pure, honest, and wholesome as it once was is deceptive and misleading to the public. It is great that we have individuals uniting to petition and making their voices heard.
On the flip side, isn't it just as dishonest for the organic industry to overprice our food and justify their position by stating half truths because it is more hands on and labor intensive. Over 60 million americans make a gross income of less than $22,000 annually. How is the average family of 4 or single mothers and fathers able to afford honest wholesome food without GMO or traces of toxins?
Christine from from Florida on August 16, 2011 at 03:32:37 PM
It is amazing how corrupt and tainted our agricultural system is. I make my baby's food for the mere purpose of not knowing what is in the baby food, I don't trust our government. Very disheartening and more awareness needs to be shared to the public as they're completely in the dark about GMO foods. Is there anything I can do in S. Florida???

concerned mom,

Christine
gregory from from orlando on August 16, 2011 at 02:41:21 PM
I can't believe that people would rather go through life with no sense of responsibility for the things they eat. All forms of GMO and chemical lace food aught to be a crime against humanity.

Those who are in the business of developing these products will one day stand before God and answer for it.

Lets say no to all GMO products and chemical foods and incourage each other to vote on these issues.

It's time we take a standand and make our voices heard.

The way to go is Organics, nothing less.
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