By Juanita Rios

from GeneWatch 27-1 | Jan-Apr 2014

I am 24 years old and sadly, I have only known about GMOs for about two years. My interest in the matter grew quite passionate after the Farmers Assurance Provision bill had passed, and the opportunity to express my feelings about GMOs presented itself in my English class when my professor assigned a research paper. I chose to write on the topic of the mandatory labeling of GMOs, especially since the rejection of California's Proposition 37, which would have required companies to label foods containing GMO ingredients. I titled my research paper "I Want to Know What I am Eating." As I was doing my research, I came across an article that led me to Samuel Anderson, editor of GeneWatch. Mr. Anderson graciously granted me an interview, and afterward, asked me if I was interested in writing an article about what I learned and whether my views on GMOs and the labeling of GMOs have changed due to my research. I can honestly say, now that I have become more educated on the issue, I still want to know what I am eating, and the only way to accomplish this is through food labeling.

I learned that the purpose of GMOs is to obtain desired traits and to make the crop stronger against certain weather conditions, pesticides, diseases, and improve quality. Many people believe genetically engineered breeding is the same as traditional crossbreeding, but that is a misconception. Traditional crossbreeding occurs between organisms that are sexually compatible, whereas genetically engineered breeding can mix the DNA of species as unrelated as a flounder and a tomato.

I was intrigued by the regulations for GM crops - poor regulations. The FDA relies on the studies made by the developer to decide if the GM crop is safe. In other words, the FDA is not responsible for the risks, the companies are. It is hard not to wonder whether this is related to the "revolving door" between the companies that develop GM crops and the government agencies which regulate them. For example, Michael R. Taylor is the deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA. Another important position Michael R. Taylor used to hold was Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto. How can Taylor reassure consumers there is nothing to worry about if he has an affiliation with Monsanto? He has an obvious conflict of interest - much like when scientists who have been hired by biotech companies tell consumers GMO foods are just as healthy to eat as non-GMO foods are.

In the meantime, independent research and findings made by other scientists, who are not hired nor have an association with these biotech companies, are ignored. Independent research is restricted due to the patent-based rights, so when companies such as Monsanto do grant authority for independent research, it is under their rules and it is ultimately up to the company whether or not the findings will be published. I believe industry studies are not enough simply because there will be biases and surely the developers are not going to reveal the cons, only the pros. The studies made by the industries are not published and cannot be reviewed. Some scientists reassure consumers there are no health risks, but other scientists disagree. Who do we believe? Many countries have banned or at least have labeled foods containing GMOs, such as Australia, Japan, and the European Union, to name a few. Other parts of the world refuse to eat foods that have been genetically engineered - does that not raise concern? Consumers are not asking for the complete elimination of GMOs and are not even requesting for the regulations to change (as we should); all we are asking for is a label.

Labeling not only informs consumers, it gives them a choice as well. Yes, consumers can inform themselves and purchase products that are labeled "non-GMO" and shop organic, but is that fair if 70-80% of foods sold in grocery stores contain GMO ingredients?  I spent 6 weeks doing research and accumulating data and I came to the conclusion that I still want to know what I am eating and the best and most convenient way is by the mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs. After all, it's about what the consumer wants, right?

Juanita Rios is a student at Riverside Community College in Riverside, California.

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