10 Misconceptions About GMOs


GMOs Are Unlabeled and Impossible to Avoid

A label on this bag of popcorn indicates it is non-GMO. Some grocery chains will start labeling their products to let consumers know they do not contain GMOs. A referendum to make this the law in California was defeated in 2012. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
A label on this bag of popcorn indicates it is non-GMO. Some grocery chains will start labeling their products to let consumers know they do not contain GMOs. A referendum to make this the law in California was defeated in 2012. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

It is true that the federal government doesn't require food from animals that have been raised on feed from GMO plants to be labeled. However, in June 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially approved a label that food companies can use to identify meat and liquid egg products that come from animals that haven't been fed GMOs. All these producers have to do is provide proof that they've been vetted by an independent certifying organization [source: Strom].

Additionally, some specialty grocery store chains are trying to keep their distance from GMOs. Trader Joe's, for example, recommends that consumers concerned about genetic engineering buy its organic-labeled meats and dairy products and wild-caught seafood. Another chain, Whole Foods, announced that by 2018 all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores will be labeled to indicate whether or not they contain GMO ingredients, and it will label some animal products as non-GMO verified.

But unless you grow your own food, perhaps the surest way to avoid GMOs is to live in Europe. Since the late 1990s, the European Union has required labeling of food products containing GMOs, and as a result, European food retailers — fearful that the labels would drive away customers — have kept them out of their wares. As a recent Scientific American editorial notes, "It is virtually impossible to find GMOs in European supermarkets."

Author's Note: 10 Misconceptions About GMOs

I wasn't particularly well-versed in the controversy about GMOs before I researched this article, though like many people, I probably harbored a vague unease about so-called "Frankenfoods." After learning more about the subject, however, I've developed a more nuanced view. It's not easy to dismiss all the concerns that people opposed to GMOs have, and it makes sense to me that consumers should be able to decide if they want to consume GMO foods or avoid them. But I also think there's a powerful argument to be made that GMOs actually can be good for people, particularly in developing countries where malnutrition remains a serious problem. For example, one GMO, Golden Rice, which has been designed to produce the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, could play a big part in fighting vitamin A deficiency, which kills 250,000 children worldwide each year and blinds another 500,000.

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