Tag Archives: food safety


Does GMO Food Labeling Really Matter?

The FDA, USDA and EPA each have a role when it comes to genetically modified crops. But are GMOs safe,and should they warrant additional food labels? Lindsay and Andy give their perspectives on GMO food labeling.

Andy Kleinschmidt

I want food labels to tell me something important to the nutrition about food: calories, fat content, vitamins – these nutrition facts are important to me and help me make decisions about food. Telling me that food contains a GMO doesn’t help me make decisions; see my pistachio example below (I love Pistachios BTW!).


Science indicates that GMOs are safe including the GMO ingredients used in our food.  We rely on the FDA (http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/Biotechnology/ucm346030.htm)  and the National Academy of Sciences to affirm these safety claims. In some cases, we know more about GMOs than we do about conventionally bred crops. I am confident in the safety of GMO, but there is never-ending confusion and misinformation on the web.

To remove confusion and provide transparent information I support a nationwide labeling solution. There are more than two-dozen states that have considered additional food label requirements and Vermont became the first to pass GMO labeling laws.  Each state creating their own labeling law is a messy approach. State-mandated food labels create a challenge that extends beyond just making a new and separate label for each state.  Food manufacturers would need to create different inventories and/or different shipping lines so that manufacturers are in compliance for each state.  Could it be done? Sure, but it is important to ask about the benefit to you and I as well as to ask about the cost involved in meeting various state-mandated label laws.  The food labeling battle is not about nutrition but about how food is grown. So if there is a mandatory warning label for GMOs it should be about the health, safety or nutrition of food.

That’s why I support FDA’s ability to require labeling of genetically modified food ingredients if there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with foods made by biotechnology. If there is not a health, safety or nutrition issue with foods made by biotech, I support the FDA to establish standards for companies that want to voluntarily label their product as GMO or non-GMO.

Bill HR 4432 ‘The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014’ has been introduced by Pompeo-R and Butterfield-D (http://pompeo.house.gov/uploadedfiles/safeandaccuratefoodlabellingactof2014.pdf). This bill would require biotech companies to go through a mandatory review process with FDA, before commercialization of a new GMO plant. This bill also creates a voluntary label guideline for the presence or absence of GMOs.   Finally, this bill would require the FDA to define ‘natural’ on food products. Ultimately, this bill creates a nationwide, voluntary labeling system and standard for GMOs that will reduce confusion about food ingredients.

This is a common sense approach to food labeling, and this approach is validated in the  2014 Food Technology Survey (http://www.foodinsight.org/2014-foodtechsurvey). According to the survey, the majority of Americans (63 percent) support the current FDA policy for labeling of foods produced through biotechnology. The FDA’s role in regulating safety of GE foods is available here http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm352067.htm.

Last, I encourage you to head over to Biofortified and take a look at the post ‘What does a non-GMO label get you?’, written by Anastasia Bodnar. This is a great post with noteworthy discussion in the comments section. http://www.biofortified.org/2014/02/non-gmo-label/ 

Lindsay Hotmire

I’ve been thinking much about Plato’s ideas on the cave—where reality is skewed for prisoners in a cave because they live a life in darkness, completely sheltered from the truth.  Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I believe there’s an analogy to be found here between the prisoners of Plato’s allegorical cave and the players in the food wars—consumers, producers, suppliers.

It’s hard to know the truth. Are GMOs bad for us? Two decades of science tells us to relax, to praise technology for saving the world from starvation, to eat up and be merry. GMOs are safe. (Read more on my thoughts on that here.)

But can we trust the research, or like the prisoners of Plato’s cave, are our realities skewed, our understanding of truth not fully informed? And what about the research arriving on scene that advocates for organics over GMOs?

For the consumer, our ideas of reality are shaped by those within the food industry. The organics industry (Big Organic) understands that its survival depends on informing and educating its consumer on the dangers of conventionally raised food.  Conversely, the conventional industry (Big Ag) understands that its survival depends upon toeing the line, making it crystal clear that there is absolutely zero nutritional difference between its product and its organic counterpart.


While Andy proposes that the FDA requires labeling where there is a nutritional or health difference, the truth is that the majority of scientific evidence relied upon by the FDA shows NO nutritional or health difference between conventionally raised and organic food. The FDA knows this. The ag industry knows this; that’s why Andy’s stance is such a safe place for those in the biotech world to be.

But proponents of food labeling for GMOs aren’t typically choosing organic (and I use that term loosely as “organic” is a word that needs some major unpacking) because of a massive difference in nutrient levels. Rather, consumers who are leery of eating GMO food aren’t comfortable with the amounts of synthetic residual and systemic pesticides found within GMO foods. They are seeking a more sustainable way of raising food, and so they choose to support the idea that buying organic stems the tide of big corporate takeover of the farm table.

But it’s important to note that those people are the same people who care enough about their food to educate themselves about the origins of their food. They are the ones who understand that a food label is packed with information intended to inform concerned consumers about the quality of ingredients, the nutritional value, and even the form of production and processing. A quick walk down the grocery store aisles will reveal that corporations have become enlightened to the needs of these consumers: They know that words like “organic” and “natural” sell. They have learned that a segment of consumers are willing to pay a premium price for products that can tout “locally raised” and “non-GMO.” By default, then, it seems that food labeling of GMOs is already happening. By marketing genius, by the rule of the capitalistic dollar, those who can market non-GMO products are already doing so, and those who are interested in buying non-GMO products are already savvy enough to identify the labels. So, to ask it bluntly: Isn’t food labeling ALREADY happening?

If the purpose of a food label is to inform the consumer, then I have to wonder: If a consumer buys a bag of artificially colored cheese puffs or a loaf of bread with 50 ingredients listed on the food label, will a GMO label be the clincher for her? My hunch is that it will not, that her convictions won’t compel her to pay a higher dollar amount for non-GMO food, mostly, perhaps, because she hasn’t been convinced that GMOs could be harmful to her health.


Something that cannot be done—as long as the almighty dollar rules the world. We need to cut the jargon. We need to be honest with consumers about the science, about the possible science, and about the origins of food long before it ever hits our grocery shelves. There’s so much more to the food story than a price tag and a label, and there are consumers out there who are willing to invest their dollars in food that seeks to protect worker rights and communities, but I’m not sure that we’ll ever find that type of food in our grocery aisles, for that’s the food found in our neighbor’s back yard, our farmer’s markets, our co-ops—the type of food where a true label is found in a handshake stained with soil-covered fingernails.

A food label is truly a map for the consumer, but not every consumer wants a map of the entire world—some are just looking for the basics. So let’s keep the choice on the table. Let’s allow voluntary labeling, empowering the consumer to make a choice, to seek out those products that foster transparency, that go the extra mile to meet consumer need. It’s the law of capitalism, making something available and letting it prosper on its own merit. And in the meantime, let’s empower the consumer with information and education—getting them out of the cave before it’s too late.




Fast Five Favorites: Food News and What It Means to Us

This week, Lindsay highlights five articles that found their way into her newsfeed. She and Andy join in a brief conversation about the articles.

What are your thoughts and questions? We’d love to hear them.




Q for Lindsay:  What does eating local mean to you?

Lindsay’s Response: “Local” is a term that has evolved over the last few years, and if consumers aren’t careful, they will be tricked into buying or eating something “local” that doesn’t at all abide by their perceptions. When I invest in a “local” product, I know where it was raised. I’ve seen the hens running across the yard, the cattle grazing in the field. These are animals that haven’t been raised behind stark metal barns with thousands and millions of other animals. While a farmer’s factory farm might be local to my neighborhood, it isn’t investing in a food ethos that aligns with my convictions, and labeling that type of product as “local” feels like a blatant betrayal of what the term “local” intends to convey.

Q for Andy: Why do you think the local food movement has become so huge throughout the last few years, and do you think that it’s deceiving for industrialized ag to market its product with that label?

Andy’s response: Buying food that is locally grown is awesome! In my opinion, the local food movement has become so large because people want to make a connection with how their food is grown and understand how their food makes it to the plate. Family farms, which make up the majority of farms and ranches, take pride in working locally. In addition to selling locally, there are many examples of farmers supporting local food banks with locally raised food.



Q for Lindsay:  What factors go into your decision about food choices? Is organic labeling part of your decision?

Lindsay’s Response: Organic labeling is so loosely regulated (as demonstrated in this article) that I don’t typically buy a product based on the “organic” label alone. In fact, all of my meat and egg purchases come from small, local grower within my own network. When organic products are available in my store (*note, Ohio isn’t listed as one of the best states to eat local; nor is Indiana, where I will be moving in a few short months), I buy discriminately because there are certain areas within the food pyramid where I’m still  not convinced that organic is better or safer than conventionally raised.


Q for Andy: Organic chickens are often raised in the same type of environment as non-organic, but the consumer imagines organic chickens on large open land and unrestricted daylight. Shouldn’t the agribusiness market be more forthcoming about this?

Andy’s response: An organic livestock farmer makes management decisions based on science and current regulations. Today’s organic livestock farmers raise animals that benefit from technology, advances in nutrition, and adequate room to grow. I think this article could be a jumping off point for more conversation about organic food production.




Q for Lindsay: Take a look at the post ‘Sometimes we are mean to our cows http://dairycarrie.com/2013/12/09/cowabuse/‘; how does Carrie’s post influence your opinion on filming?

Lindsay’s Response: I think comparing this post to some of the other information out there is really disingenuous on Carrie’s part. Does this influence my opinion on filming? Absolutely not. Through this very post, Carrie demonstrates what Ag’s response to filming ought to be: opening your doors and explaining how the food production process works—over and over and over again until any misconceptions are cleared up. When the response is to shutter the windows and doors and tell the consumer to blindly eat what is provided, the industry is painting themselves as dubious (no help from animal rights groups needed).

Q for Andy: Why should it be illegal to expose our food production methods?

Andy’s response: Undercover farm videos appear on occasion showing animal abuse from individuals. Anyone who abuses animals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There are some great initiatives, such as the See It? Stop It! effort to encourage farm workers to immediately report animal abuse. Transparency in agriculture and food production is important. People want to know more about how their food was grown and efforts such as Food Dialogues provides a starting point on transparency in food production.




Q for Lindsay: My reaction: I am in favor of embracing technology that improves food safety without exposing workers to injury. What is your reaction?

Lindsay’s Response: To be honest, when I read this article, my mind immediately went to Sinclair’s The Jungle or PBS’s documentary Rape in the Fields. There’s a long history between agriculture and worker exploitation, and accelerated line speeds seem to have more to do with profit efficiency rather than food safety.

Q for Andy: I have read that ½ of all crop farm workers are undocumented, earning nearly $6,000 less in wages than documented workers. Knowing this, how can we truly ensure worker safety when ½ of the crop farm workforce isn’t even accounted for?

Andy’s response: We need to make a better effort to understand farm workers in their full context. I recently read of an Extension effort to better the lives of migrant workers. I think efforts such as these should be held up and recognized for the important role they play in the agriculture community.



Q for Lindsay: Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is a major concern and reinforces the need for biosecurity (such as monitoring visitors) on farms. Are there questions you have about biosecurity?

Lindsay’s Response: I agree that biosecurity is necessary when we’re packing thousands and millions of animals into barns. The issue with the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, however, seems to center around the feed additive, porcine plasma, and if our suspicions are confirmed, I’m not sure how biosecurity will eliminate this issue without increased cost to the producer.

Q for Andy: How will biosecurity eliminate the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus?

Andy’s response: Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that biosecurity will eliminate porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. It is possible to move the virus between farms on items that come in contact with manure and are not thoroughly disinfected between farms. The amount of exposure required to cause illness is low, which means that small amounts of residual manure pose biosecurity risks.  Biosecurity is a practice designed to prevent diseases from being introduced to a livestock farm by minimizing movement of biological organisms and their vectors onto premises. Here’s a real example of a biosecurity technique https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbUbXX9P7qs&feature=youtu.be