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GMO Labeling: The Dark Act Will Keep us All in the Dark

shutterstock_152243585By Deirdre Imus-8/9/2016
Late last week, amid a busy news cycle, President Barack Obama quietly signed into law a bill creating federal labeling standards for foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Sounds great, right? Problem solved? Advocates satisfied?

Not so much. Better known to its critics as The DARK Act, which stands for Denying Americans the Right to Know, this new law stops frighteningly short of actually informing people what’s really in their food.

Rather than indicate a food contains GMOs through words that clearly state, “THIS FOOD HAS GMOs IN IT,” The DARK Act offers food companies options for how to label their products. They may inform us of their genetically modified nature by writing “Contains GMOs” – which would be practically heroic, since other alternatives are far less forthcoming.

Those choosing to remain coy about their GMO status may instead provide a QR code for consumers to scan for more information; a symbol created by the USDA; or a phone number to call. As Forbes contributor and food trend expert Phil Lempert observed in a recent column, such labeling will be largely self-regulated, with no penalties for lack of compliance and no authority to recall improperly labeled items.

Of even greater concern is that this new and mostly useless federal law now supersedes other, better laws in states like Vermont, which imposed stricter food labeling requirements. As a result, some companies stopped selling their products in Vermont to avoid extra labeling costs.

Why is it so important that we KNOW if our food contains GMOs? Because when particular changes are introduced into a plant’s DNA, it may also impact human DNA – we just don’t know exactly how. Some experts blame GMOs for increased incidences of allergies, antibiotic resistance, and cancer, but studies are scarce. The Center for Food Safety has noted that inserting GMOs into food could cause formerly nontoxic elements in food to become toxic. Well-regarded animal studies have also linked GMOs with reduced immune function, and scientists have warned that genetic engineering may alter a food’s nutritional value.

The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that offers North America’s only third-party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products, estimates that 80 percent of conventional processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients. But if people stop buying foods made with GMOs, companies will stop using them and farmers will stop growing them. Until there is a clear, efficient, national standard for labeling GMOs, American consumers must take it upon themselves to learn which foods contain these ingredients.

The website for The Non-GMO project (www.NonGMOProject.org) is a wonderful place to start, and check out www.JustLabelIt.org for tips on how to continue lobbying for clearer food labeling in this country.

Too often we play defense against disease. GMO labeling offers us the rare opportunity to play a little bit of offense, to access information that could be vital to our health. If nothing else, it allows YOU - and not some executive at a food company – to decide what goes into your body.

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