Tag Archives: GMO


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.



Golden Rice

Not All GMOs Are Created Equal

Jonathan Benson recently wrote an article criticizing GMO foods that seek to prevent malnourishment and death within the developing world, namely Golden Rice and GM bananas. Lindsay and Andy find common ground in their discussion, bringing to light the question: Is there ever a point where GMOs can be praised?

Lindsay Hotmire

I’m not sure how to write this without appearing as though I’ve just had a bipolar moment and completely forgotten my personal convictions.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in the gray—believing that little in this world is black and white, that our understandings and knowledge are always skewed, always biased, always prejudiced, and as I’ve journeyed through agricultural issues throughout the last few years, I’ve understood that really—if we’d all stop shouting for a moment and listen—we’d realize that we’re all working towards the same goal: The world is hungry. Bellies must be filled if this revolving blue marble is going to stay populated for very long.

The problem with working towards the same goal, though, is that there’s always conflicting thoughts, non-aligning ideologies, and when looking into the agricultural world, I’m not sure I can think of any greater example than the GMO debate.

So, when I came across this article last week, an article that condemned Golden Rice as yet another ploy of biotech giants, I wasn’t surprised to find myself disagreeing with someone who’s supposed to be “on my side.”  I quickly sent an email to Andy:

See, this is the kind of stuff that burns me from the organics side. . .

I could swear I’ve come across solid scientific articles praising the advent of Golden Rice. Am I wrong?

And I had read articles on Golden Rice, many that talked about how Golden Rice was intended to be given for free to the growers and communities. For over a decade, researchers had worked on this rice, gathered the evidence, the numbers—an estimated 40,000 lives, every year, saved because of the nutrients genetically engineered into the rice.

You see, Vitamin A deficiencies kill people, mostly women and children. It causes blindness, disease and infections, things the developed world never sees because we are overfed. Most of us can’t imagine hunger that kills.

To my knowledge, Golden Rice hasn’t failed as author Jonathan Benson so boldly claims. It is still fighting for approval, still waiting to see if it can help out in countries where rice is the only food most people can afford to grow and eat, countries where “nature’s offerings are [indeed, Mr. Benson,] inadequate to provide nourishment for humans.”  Of course, we should be investing in education, but that requires shifting an entire culture, and any sociologist will tell you that such a feat takes time—the kind of time that malnourished populations don’t have time for.

This isn’t a case of Frankenfood taking over the world. Rather, it’s an example of the common good, of working to find a solution, and while there may be better solutions to develop, exploiting the intent of Golden Rice simply to sustain a narrative of “Big, Evil Biotech” produces nothing but blindness and death for mothers and children throughout the developing world.

Andy Kleinschmidt

I am a strong supporter of agriculture, which includes using biotechnology to create GMOs.  I also believe that biotechnology has successfully increased agricultural productivity in done so in a sustainable way.  So when Lindsay emailed me the article ‘GMO Advocates Ignore Failure of Golden Rice, Quietly Move On to GM Bananas’ my first reaction was to question the ‘failure’. I am not aware of any failure but I am aware of the noise created by detractors. There are numerous references on the potential impacts of Golden Rice in fighting Vitamin A deficiency and I’ve compiled a short list at the end of my article. If you are interested in reading more about Vitamin A deficiency, The World Health Organization provides a good overview here http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/. Through using biotechnology, researchers developed Golden Rice to contain beta-carotene. The beta-carotene in Golden Rice is converted by our bodies into vitamin A.

Biotechnology has not yet been fully utilized or adopted for key food crops such as rice, banana and sorghum. But advances are being made with Golden Rice (http://irri.org/golden-rice), Better Bananas (http://www.gatesnotes.com/Development/Building-Better-Bananas), and Biofortified Sorghum (http://biosorghum.org/). These are a few examples of several crop initiatives that use biotechnology to help improve human health on a global scale — this is definitely praise-worthy! And for crops that are directed towards subsistence farmers there are no plans for patents or licensing.

Let’s ignore the noise, find common ground and work towards a solution for reducing hunger and nutrition deficiencies.  On the issue of Golden Rice, Lindsay and I have found more common ground.

Early references for Golden Rice

Improving the nutritional value of Golden Rice through increased pro-vitamin A content (2005) http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v23/n4/abs/nbt1082.html

Biosynthesis Pathway into Rice Endosperm by Genetic Engineering to Defeat Vitamin A Deficiency (2002) http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/3/506S.short

Recent references for Golden Rice

Nutritional enhancement of rice for human health: The contribution of biotechnology (2013) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0734975012000389

β-Carotene in Golden Rice is as good as β-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children (2012) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/96/3/658.short

Golden Rice and ‘Golden’ crops for human nutrition (2010) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871678410004450

References for GMOs

GMO Answers http://gmoanswers.com/