A new campaign, Just Label It, has been launched to require that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) label foods from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). An accompanying video, Labels Matter, was also just released to educate people about the risks of eating genetically modified foods and to encourage people to fight to know what’s in their food. Produced through a collaboration between the Just Label It campaign and Food, Inc. filmmaker Robert Kenner, Labels Matter “captures the conviction that consumers have the right to know what is in their food,” said Kenner.
Many countries, including the European Union, Australia, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and China, require genetically engineered foods to be labeled, but the U.S. does not have such a law in place. Even though the FDA requires labels to include all significant information about a product under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in order to prevent consumer deception, it considers GMO products to be “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO foods, so it doesn’t require companies to label whether their foods contain GMOs.
While some genetically engineered crops are being sold as-is, more GMO foods are sold for processing, making up about 60 to 70 percent of the processed foods available in American grocery stores. The majority of livestock that Americans consume, with the exception of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified Organic meat, has been raised on genetically modified grains.
The organizers of the Just Label It (JLI) campaign predict that more consumers will push for mandatory GMO labeling, especially as the FDA prepares to approve genetically modified salmon. One proposal that raises additional concerns is advancing at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and would deregulate corn that has been genetically modified to be resistant to 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, an herbicide contained in Agent Orange.
“While the pros and cons of genetically engineered foods are debated, an entire generation is growing up consuming them,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm. “Until we have no doubt that GMO crops are safe to eat, consumers should have a choice about whether we want to eat them. GMO foods must be labeled. Consumers need to know.”
Currently the most reliable ways for Americans to avoid buying GMO-containing food are to buy foods that have been certified Organic by the USDA, and to buy from local, sustainable farmers. But the lax restrictions on genetically engineered foods in the U.S. present a risk to organic growers. For example, wind-pollinated and bee-pollinated crops like corn and alfalfa can often cross-pollinate between GMO varieties and organic varieties. No provision currently exists to protect organic crops from cross-pollination, but the EPA has required barriers of non-GMO-planted crops around areas with GMO crops planted.
Young farmers and those interested in sustainability are encouraged to take action to ensure that the FDA requires the labeling of genetically modified foods. The Just Label It Campaign has undertaken a petition drive, which you can participate in here.