By Dick Durbin |
Although we do not yet know about the safety and long-term effects of GM foods, the U.S. does not even require labeling of these products. As a result, consumers are not empowered with the opportunity to make informed choices about their own comfort level in purchasing and eating these foods.
The risks are unknown, especially due to the lack of long term studies in this area. Biotech companies own the patent rights to the genetically engineered seeds and their lack of sharing and disclosure of information has compounded the problem of conflicts of interest in research facilities by not allowing long term studies to take place.
In the face of scientific uncertainty, who should bear the risk of potential harm from GMOs? Unlike the international community, which prohibits the introduction of GM foods into the food supply until they are proven safe and requires labeling and post-market monitoring, the U.S. government takes the position that these foods are safe until proven otherwise. It looks at the composition of GM foods as "substantially equivalent" to conventional foods and does not recognize potential risk inherent in the technology. Furthermore, by not requiring labeling or traceability, the stage has not been set for any type of recall action if hazards are discovered or incidents arise.
Potential harms to human health have been identified by the World Health Organization as including direct health effects (toxicity), tendencies to provoke allergic reaction (allergenicity), specific components with toxic properties, the stability of the inserted gene, nutritional impact and any unintended effects that could result from genetic modification.
Harm to the environment has already been documented with the development of "superweeds" that are resistant to the herbicides embedded in the GM crops. Several incidents involving contamination of non-GM crops have also occurred, which were further exacerbated by the fact that these GM seeds are not labeled or segregated in the food supply chain.
The exponential rise of the organics industry is confirmation that consumers want to be educated and make decisions about the foods they eat. However, U.S. regulatory agencies should not rely upon organics as the solution for consumers who care about their food, because organic foods are not widely available for the average consumer. Our government has a responsibility to protect the mainstream food supply for all Americans. More long-term studies need to be conducted on GMOs and, at the very least, these foods should be labeled and monitored in case safety issues do crop up in the future.
About Debra Strauss Associate Professor of Business Law at Fairfield University
Robert Lawrence Professor in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health