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Playing Offense Against GMO's: Your Right To Know

shutterstock_259757654By Deirdre Imus-June 23, 2015
Back in April the popular Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle announced it would use only ingredients free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.  Last year, Whole Foods Market committed to “full transparency” on products containing GMOs, demanding that by 2018 all products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores be labeled to indicate if they contain genetically engineered materials. These are noble proclamations with potentially huge implications and should not be taken lightly.
 
I just hope these companies can practice what they preach. Already Chipotle has been forced to back off its mighty claim, noting that many of the beverages (like soda) sold in their restaurants contain genetically modified ingredients, such as corn syrup, which the company notes is “almost always” made from GMO corn. Additionally, Chipotle makes clear that the meat and dairy products they serve are likely to come from animals that have been given “at least some” GMO feed. 
 
These footnotes to what seems like a genuine attempt to serve healthier food (and improve its public image, no doubt) highlights just how difficult it can be to eradicate GMOs from our lives. They are seemingly everywhere, and yet their presence is obscured on food labels because there is no law in this country requiring any manufacturer to tell you if a GMO ingredient – like canola, corn, or soy – is in that snack you just handed your child. 
 
According to the JustLabelIt.org, a campaign created to advocate for the labeling of GMO foods, more than 90 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. All joking aside, when was the last time Americans agreed so wholeheartedly on anything? But just like with so many other issues pertaining to human health, the U.S government is dragging its feet on this issue.
 
Twenty-eight nations in the European Union, along with Japan, Australia, Russia, China, and others require GMO labeling. Needless to say, the U.S. does not. A few states have passed labeling laws, but legislation introduced by big food and biotechnology corporations is already seeking to preempt these laws, and create more barriers to mandated labeling.  
 
What are they trying to hide? If genetically engineered foods are “safe,” as their producers claim, then there should be no shame in affixing a GMO label to any food. I’d say the cover-up is worse than the crime, but the crime itself – exposing countless people across the globe to foods that have been altered from their natural state and turned into antibiotic-resistant, pesticide-resistant imitations of the real thing – is pretty awful, too. 
 
Because that’s the real elephant in the room: we don’t know precisely what these genetically altered ingredients are doing to our bodies. Some experts blame them for increased incidences of allergies, antibiotic resistance, and cancer, but studies are scarce, I suppose not surprisingly. 
 
In plenty of supply, however, is information on the very real dangers of allergies, antibiotic resistance, and cancer. According to the CDC, food allergy rates among children younger than 18 have increased since 1997, from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent. A top official at the World Health Organization told NPR that antibiotic resistance is “one of the biggest health threats of the 21st century,” with potentially “grave” consequences. And as for cancer, the National Cancer Institute predicts that the number of new cancer cases worldwide will rise to 22 million within the next two decades, up from 14 million in 2012. 
 
Too often we play defense against disease. GMO labeling offers us the rare opportunity to play just 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. 
 
You have a right to know what goes into your food. Make your voice heard by visiting www.JustLabelIt.org, and let the FDA and Congress know that GMO labeling matters to you, and to so many other Americans. 
 
 
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