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 ( 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 (

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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Charles from from simpsonville,sc on August 16, 2011 at 01:49:10 PM
we need to continue fighting the GE products here in America...we are eating mostly all organic foods and sure don't want the GE products making there way somehow into
the food chain...both for regular customer and those in the organic field...thanks
Fran from from La Crosse, WI on August 16, 2011 at 12:39:06 PM
Having grown up on a farm with routine access to fresh garden vegetables and pasture raised chicken, ducks, cattle, pigs, I now have a true basis for comparison. I now buy from farmers who supply me with organic pasture raised/grown eggs, raw milk, meats, while I grow most of my own vegetables in the city. I purchase no prepared foods but if you read labels they sneak GMO soybeans and high fructose corn syrup into everything - most which have no reason to be added to the product, like tuna. They of course have no logical reason - - of course, Cargill, ADM, Monsanto, Dow all pressure the sale and use of these GMO additives to line their pockets. This has got to stop.
Bev from from Colorado on August 16, 2011 at 12:11:56 PM
I am 101% FOR at least labeling foods as GMO - and straight up with no bull. I do not want GMO at all going in my body!
Marcie from from St. Louis, MO on July 20, 2011 at 04:06:55 PM
I started a petition. I don't see how anyone can argue that all GMO foods should be labeled. It's sad that the USDA and FDA are not working for the people.
Tracy from from Lawton/Fort Sill, OK on July 19, 2011 at 08:52:00 PM
I have been more aware recently about GE foods. My two year old son has special dietary needs and we were told by the specialist that we needed to avoid a long list of foods. GE foods was on that list. I have found myself calling all the 800 numbers on the packaging only to get "form letter" excuses and plattitudes stating that government has deemed the use of GE food to be safe for human consumption. I am appalled and sick to my stomach to know that at the time I was making all these calls, more than 70% of the foods in our home contained one or more GE ingredients.
Needless to say I have stopped buying them and have earnestly searched for alternatives which at times can be very costly.
I am all for mandatory lableing of GE products. It would make my choices so much easier.
This needs to pass! People have the right to know what they are eating & the effects of it. Our governement says that there are no known side effects to eating GE foods. But in the last 10 years we have seen a significant increase in Cancers, heart disease,Diabetes in young and old, early onset dementia just to name a few. Can they seriously be that blind? I doubt it, but this country has quickly become founded on greedy people just looking out for themselves. They are padding the pockets of the politicians and government officials at the expense of our children & ourselves.
There also needs to be more public awareness without fear of government reprocussion.
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