The GMO labeling debate continues on, now almost eighteen months after the 2016 bill was signed to require food producers to disclose genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredients on the labels of consumer products.
The debate at this point centers around new legislation in Congress that the big lobbying groups, such as GMA (Grocery Manufacturers of America), are advocating for which will allow some loopholes to the disclosure of genetically altered ingredients.
This week in the news, the GMA suffered a setback when Nestle decided to join The Campbell Soup Company and withdraw from the GMA over the issue. Nestle and Campbell Soup disbanded their membership in the group over this contentious issue of GMO labeling.
Both Nestle and Campbell Soup favor more transparent disclosure of genetically modified or engineered ingredients. In a previous article I produced, the decision by The Campbell Soup Company to make a full disclosure of GMO ingredients before it was required by law brought significant traction and attention to the legislation that eventually gained passage in 2016.
The GMA group wants less transparency in the process, and the opinion of the Nestle and Campbell Soup is that direction will damage the relationship with the consumer more than just disclosing the presence of GMO ingredients up front. The average consumer today has far more information available to them and many shoppers are significantly more health conscious than in prior generations.
However, at the same time, some consumers do not care about GMO or genetically engineered ingredients in their food. Some consumers have a favorable view of GMO ingredients and feel they are safe. Many consumers are making purchasing decisions strictly based on price, and they cannot afford to stretch their budget to buy products that do not contain genetically engineered ingredients.
The other force at play here is that depending on the type of grocery item on the list, the non-GMO versions are either difficult to find or do not exist. The second most important attribute to shoppers in grocery channel surveys after price/value is time/convenience. The average shopper has a very busy lifestyle and most people have what they would term “time sensitivity” and that is a huge component in some shoppers just doing the “grab and go” without reading labels.
It should be noted that the majority of Americans have a negative opinion of GMO and genetically altered or engineered ingredients in food products. It has become an issue where the consumer is making purchasing decisions based on that one factor, which makes the labeling transparency crucial.
Some food companies have noted sluggish sales of certain product categories and are rapidly designing alternative versions that are either organic, gluten free, soy free, or GMO-free.
The current legislation regarding GMO labeling has a few different options for the food producing company with regard to the design of their label deck. The first option is to highlight the ingredient(s) that are genetically modified and then put a disclaimer below the ingredients list that the highlighted items are made with genetic engineering.
The second option is to place an asterisk next to the ingredient(s) that are modified or genetically altered and then below the ingredient list have a similar disclaimer as option one: made with genetic engineering/modification.
The third option is to not highlight or asterisk any individual ingredients on the label and put some type of bold or highlighted statement reading: this product contains ingredients made with genetic engineering.
Then what is known in the industry as “option four” which is going to become more prevalent on packaging and label decks for companies who want to be less transparent about their ingredient statement. This option allows the food producer to put the disclaimer of the genetically altered or engineered ingredients on a document that can only be found if the consumer scans the QR code on the package.
The lobbying and special interest groups for the GMO free or those against the use of genetically engineered ingredients in our food products have several issues with this option for disclosure.
The first point of contention being the obvious one, the consumer has limited time and yet they are going to have to scan a QR code on individual packages and then read the disclosure statement to determine whether or not it is genetically modified, that is an unrealistic expectation.
The other major point of concern is the elderly, the economically disadvantaged, and those with other physical handicaps do not have access to the technology needed to scan the QR code to find this information.
The option four labeling is also being used on items that the average consumer would not anticipate being genetically engineered: such as grapes, certain types of juice products, and bottled spices. This option, just at face value, seems dishonest to the consumer as well.
The role of the QR codes in the labeling of food products and disclosures in any future legislation remains to be determined. It is definitely going to be one point of contention moving forward.
The labeling of food products and GMOs took another on another aspect in the news this week, with a major news organization publishing a story based on the results of a study published in JAMA where scientists analyzed the effects of the pesticide called Roundup.
The study found that people living in Southern California in recent years have had an increased level of glyphosate in their system which is the active ingredient in that pesticide product (see my earlier article on the effects of this product and the food supply) it is increased about 500%.
The study in Great Britain of the effects of glyphosate on rats demonstrated an increased level of liver disease and liver cancer. This is something that the scientists will monitor in California with their study participants. In fair balance, it is not known whether the increased levels in Southern California are due to the ingestion of foods with higher levels of GMOs, or if the participants breathed in particles of the pesticide from nearby farms.
The use of pesticides, herbicides, and genetic engineering has altered our food and our crops. It is trending in lockstep with an increased rate of illness in Americans from higher rates of cancer, to autoimmune diseases, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
The American public should have the right to know if the products they buy to feed themselves and their families contain ingredients that are genetically modified or altered. It should be up to the consumer to make their own choices based on having all the facts in front of them.
The debate on GMO labeling and whether or not genetically modified foods are safe will continue on, and what is left is for you to decide which side you will be on.