Smith: Overwhelming call for genetically modified food labels demands response

Last week the nonprofit campaign “Just Label It” submitted a petition to the United States Food and Drug Administration calling for the labeling of food made with genetically modified ingredients. One million Americans signed the petition. The FDA’s response? The 1 million signatures, they said, only added up to 394, further delaying the process.

This delayed decision comes as no surprise; the process of the ruling would be steep and multifaceted, one that takes more than just marking a bag of Tyson chicken nuggets as “GM.” We mustn’t forget about labeling guidelines, the price of producing new products and equipment to fulfill regulations, the cost of building new factories to avoid cross-contamination and the toll that the ruling could take on the food industry.

The pros and cons of GM food are touched upon daily: Some people believe in the benefits of GM food and some people don’t. But where we don’t differ is in our belief in our right to know if what we’re consuming is scientifically altered.

Since Californian company Calgene’s introduction of the artificially developed tomato “Flavr Savr” in 1994, scientists have worked to perfect their complex techniques of modifying species’ genes. The processes are effective, making for unnaturally long shelf lives of cucumbers and bok choy, giant breeds of cattle and chickens and strawberries – any time of the year! That goes without mentioning our healthy dependence on corn, of which 85 percent is genetically modified.

The Mellman Group recently conducted a sample survey of 1000 voters with results indicating that 91 percent of Americans favor the labeling of GM food. This percentage wasn’t specific to any political party either: The numbers were similar across the aisle.

The long-term effects of the production of GM crops and food are unknown. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine cites animal studies indicating that the consumption of GM food could lead to organ failure, accelerated aging and infertility and the Center for Food Safety warns of “uncontrolled biological pollution” that could force certain species of plants and animals into extinction.

But the usage has also revealed a higher resistance to pesticides, herbicides, disease and cold weather. With innovative technology and fast-paced research and development, an inevitable push from science is necessary to keep the production possibilities frontier shifting outward.

The European Union set laws requiring that companies label products that are made of a proportion of GM ingredients greater than .9 percent. France’s disdain for the Monsanto Company bears resemblance to that of a World Cup rivalry. Recently banning a GM strain of Monsanto maize from their country, France’s motivation lies in the safety and protection of their land and the defense of people’s choice and awareness, something that we deserve too.

Americans’ arguments for the labeling of genetically modified food are unanimous. Beneficial or not, we’re being denied the right to know if what we eat is altered with the methods of transgenesis and cisgenesis. Whether or not we approve doesn’t matter; the lack of label hinders our power to make our own choices.

We all know that we shouldn’t operate machinery when under the influence of alcohol and that cigarette smoking can lead to strokes and heart disease. It’s time that we were more informed of our choices before we bite into that perfectly round and ruby red tomato.