What is GMO labeling and what’s all the fuss about? Well, first of all, it’s the second most discussed aspect of GMOs; Labeling seems to be less controversial than GMO use among American consumers – people plainly want to know what they buy. Here’s a dissection of what GMO labeling means, what’s the legal base behind it and the real reasons why GMOs should be labeled.

What is GMO Labeling and Why do People Want It?

The answer to the question “What is GMO labeling?” is pretty straightforward: GMO food labeling means sticking a label to ingredients or foods that come from genetically altered organisms. This includes fruits, vegetables, and dairy which have been fermented or processed using GM microorganisms. However, consumers also want to know if the meat they buy in supermarkets comes from animals that have been fed with GMO fodder, forage, or concentrated feed.

GMO Legislation

Although 3 states have implemented GMO labeling laws, there is no federal legislation requiring information on whether a product comes from or has been produced with the help of GMOs.

States with GMO Labeling Laws

So, what is GMO labeling in the U.S.?

According to the Center for Food Safety, the following states passed GMO labeling laws at the moment of writing, which you can see highlighted in blue on the map below:

  • Connecticut;
  • Maine;
  • Vermont.
what is GMO labeling in the US

Map & data courtesy: Center for Food Safety

However, GMO labeling legislation is proposed and is pending approval in these states (green):

  • Alaska;
  • Arizona;
  • Iowa;
  • Illinois;
  • Indiana;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Maine;
  • Minnesota;
  • Missouri;
  • New Jersey;
  • New York;
  • Ohio;
  • Oklahoma;
  • Rhode Island;
  • Tennessee.

Should Genetically Modified Foods be Labeled?

According to a 2015 study, 92% of American consumers think GMO labeling should be legally required in the U.S. In addition, 64 countries in South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, plus Australia have mandatory GMO labeling laws.

FDA’s official stand on this matter is that genetically modified foods do not present different safety concerns than traditionally-obtained ones. GMO labeling is required if a plant is “materially different” – which they seem not to be since consumers need labels to differentiate GMO foods from non-GMO ones. However:

Reasons to Label GMOs

There are many theories revolving around GMOs and their consequences. Unfortunately, most of the existing and accredited studies are funded by the GMO industry or non-GMO activist groups – and their results differ as much as their financers’ views. Of course, there are some other seemingly unbiased studies out there, but most of them have inconclusive results – which we assume are caused by lack of funding to allow a long-term test on GMO foods.

GMO corn crop which will not be labeled accordingly on the market

Many Americans want GMO labeling because they are concerned about short and long-term effects. However, this is not a reason to label them; If they do cause health problems, this is a reason to completely get them off the market. Another consumer sector thinks GMO labeling should be mandatory because some crops are said to pollinate and hybridize other surrounding plants; Yet again, labeling would not fix this problem.

Others claim their personal religious, spiritual or philosophical views and deem them “unnatural”. While this is a bit unnerving and maybe too much to take in for some, let’s be honest: We are surrounded by artificial, lab-made objects in our day-to-day lives. Medicine is what it is today thanks to technology and science – IV fertilization or pacemakers are just at the top of our head – but this goes way beyond.

It’s true that GMOs are many steps above these on the technological scale, but isn’t this what technology’s evolution is about? It’s impossible to lead a life free of applied sciences and their benefits in today’s society. However, we still feel further testing is needed to accurately observe the effects of GMOs on the human body – generations’ worth of testing.

What is GMO Labeling and why YOU should care – some unbiased reasons to label GMOs:

  • Even though the FDA does not recognize GMOs as different, thousands of patented seeds and genetic modifications stand to differ. So we ask ourselves: Doesn’t an idea that is unique enough to be patented results in “materially different” produce?
  • Knowing what we buy stands as the basis of the free market. An informed choice is a right choice; If irradiation and other food processing techniques like ingredients or additives must be displayed on a label, genetically modified food labeling seems the natural thing to do. Not to exacerbate this already chaotic matter or anything, but the concept of a free market is intertwined with that of democracy.

What to Look for Until They Will Be Labeled

The bad news is, about 90% of the crops in the U.S. are genetically engineered one way or another – and we’re not talking about selective breeding or grafting. These are plants which grew from lab-fabricated seeds and show traits they could not acquire naturally, or not in 100% of the plants.

organic and GMO products in supermarket

Here’s a list of genetically modified crops and foods that are fabricated from every one of them in the U.S or imported from other countries:

  • Alfalfa: animal feed.
  • Canola: cooking oil, margarine, packaged foods (emulsifiers).
  • Eggplants: as a standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Maize: animal feed, corn syrup, corn starch, standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Melons: as a standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Papayas: standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Potatoes: standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Soybeans: animal feed, standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Squash: standalone food/ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Sugar beet: sugar – standalone ingredient or in processed foods.
  • Sugar cane: sugar – standalone ingredient or in processed foods.

Given this, it seems impossible to stay away from GMOs. You can check out our tips to having a GMO-free diet until GMO labeling becomes obligatory in the U.S. – but taking into consideration the million of Americans who signed the labeling GMO foods petition and its lack of effect, we have to be realistic and accept that, if GMO labeling will be declared mandatory by the federal government, it probably won’t be anytime soon.

Hope we cleared up some misconceptions and questions like what is GMO labeling or why should I care about it. In the end, it’s about the ground rules of the American society.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4.