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GMO labeling: Consumers Deciding What to Put on Their Plate

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Since the House of Representatives passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, or the ‘Dark Act’, setting standards for the voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms, the Senate has been deliberating a revision of the bill to set a national standard to successfully and completely pass it.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is hoping to come to a compromise before July 1 when Vermont passes its law to require labeling, according to the New York Times.

“State and local requirements for the labeling of GMO products are preempted unless the state or local government establishes a program that matches the programs described in this Act,” according to the Congress website.

Sen. Pat Roberts, chair of the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said the patchwork of state laws instead of a universal law will be damaging to the food and agriculture companies, according to NPR.

Professor Russell Thurston, a biology department faculty member, said GMOs, like any other food, do not affect the genes or DNA of the human body.

“As you eat it, it goes through your digestive tract and it gets broken up into amino acids and absorbed into your system; you use those amino acids to make your own protein,” Thurston said. “You eat it, it’s chopped up, you absorb the amino acids like you would the plants’ natural proteins, and you use it for nutrition.”

Professor Daniel Dewey, an Applied Plant Science faculty member, said the public should have the knowledge to make a decision about GMOs.

“There’s no difference between the DNA in your body vs the DNA in a plant because it’s all A’s G’s C’s and T’s, and so really, who cares where the DNA came from?” Dewey said. “With education, that debate will go away, in my opinion.”

Long-term effects of GMOs are unknown and it is too early to know with certainty if there are negative or positive impacts to humans’ health, according to the Non-GMO Project.

Whitney Egbert, a senior who works in BYU-Idaho’s plant shop and is studying horticulture, said extreme science that happens with plants does not happen to the plants and foods people consume on a daily basis.

Thurston said in regards to biotechnology usage for GMOs refers to adding additional genes to the plant in order to yield favorable traits.

“When you’re talking about a genetically modified plant, pretty much anything that any of us are eating at the grocery store, over years, it’s been hybridized and things that would make it be considered a genetically modified organism,” Egbert said. “Plants do that naturally on their own without our interference to some degree.”

Over 80 percent of GMOs grown and patented worldwide are engineered to become their own form of pesticide, increasing the use of toxic herbicides 15 times since they were introduced, according to the Non-GMO Project.

The food industry estimates that 75 or 80 percent of all processed foods contain genetically modified organisms and ingredients, according to the New York Times.

“Genetically modified products are so prevalent that being able to track and prove that something has or does not have genetically modified plant products is totally separate, and that’s where I think a lot of the anti-labeling people are coming from,” Dewey said.

Egbert said that due to the different levels and definitions of GMOs, labeling food products would become complicated and extraneous.

Thurston said he is in favor of a voluntary labeling system.

“If you’re going to require it of GMO products, you ought to require it of all products,” Thurston said. “The problem with that is that it adds expense, and I just don’t think that it’s warranted.”

Dewey said biotechnology immensely helps agriculture in Idaho and reduces the amount of pesticides that have to be sprayed on fields.

“With GMOs or biotechnology, we can take the specific traits that help a plant fight an insect, or deal with cold, or drought and we can take those genes and put them into that plant,” Dewey said. “If I can take a gene that gives that plant resistance to a bug and put it in that plant, and then that plant is resistant to that insect, then I don’t have to spray chemicals.”

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