Most people do not know precisely what the term Genetically Modified Organisms means. When it comes to food, genetic modification is necessary with the changing climate and also to add desirable traits to plants. However, many people are mistrustful of GMOs and would prefer not to consume food with genetically modified ingredients. For this reason, there have been calls for the government to mandate the labeling of all genetically modified food sold to consumers. Companies that produce food from genetically modified ingredients have long been resistant to labeling, although they claim that GMOs are not harmful to human health and do not adversely affect the environment (Harmon). It is, therefore, ironic that the same companies would be so opposed to labeling. The government should require GMOs to be labeled for several reasons including the fact that consumers have the right to know and choose what they take, for health and environmental concerns as well as ensuring transparency in the food industry.
To begin, it is necessary to understand why GMOs exist in the first place. The primary reason why GMOs were introduced is to fight environmental conditions such as drought. Climate change is a harsh reality that threatens food production all over the world. Many places that previously experienced heavy rainfall suitable for agriculture now receive significantly less rain, thus reducing production. It, therefore, became necessary to come up with genetically modified crops that can withstand prolonged droughts and little rainfall.
The second reason for producing GMOs is to increase the yields of crops. The population of the earth is growing at an exponential rate, averaging about 7.7 billion in the year 2019. Land for farming is decreasing, and climate change has reduced fertile land area further. It is therefore crucial that the land available for agriculture is utilized to the maximum. Genetically modified crops produce high yields compared to non-modified breeds. Increased productivity ensures that the population of the world has enough food to live on. It also helps to avoid issues of starvation and death due to a lack of food, especially in developing countries. Hunger and malnutrition is a significant contributor to the number of deaths worldwide. In the year 2012, it was estimated that about 868 million people faced starvation and malnutrition (Kamthan et al. 1647). Most of these people live in developing countries. In order to feed its population, the world needs to double its food production by 2050, and GMOs will go a long way toward achieving that goal.
The third reason for GMOs is to produce crops that are resistant to pests and diseases. Climate change has brought with it warmer temperatures that promote the growth of pests and insects that spread disease. Such conditions cause the yield of crops to go down or even disappear completely. If this happens, the world will have nothing to feed on. GMOs resistant to insects and pests mean that crops can grow to maturity and maximum yields. Another advantage of GMOs is herbicide-tolerant crops. Such plants are not affected by herbicides that are used on weeds around them. Farmers can thus kill weeds without affecting their crops. However, the challenge is that with the introduction of these herbicide-tolerant crop varieties, there emerges the issue of resistance that means crops fail to respond to herbicides used on them. Superweeds also develop that cannot be wiped out using herbicides, making farming very difficult.
Genetically modified crops are also produced in order to add nutritious value to food. An excellent example of this is golden rice that is modified to have a high level of vitamin A compared to the other types of rice consumed. In developing and underdeveloped countries, millions of people face malnutrition each year. Lack of vitamin A leads to a compromised immune system, especially in children and also has other severe effects such as blindness. The solution to this is to enrich crops with essential nutrients such as vitamins. A study carried out showed a 24% reduction in child mortality rate with vitamin A supplements, as well as reduced risk of blindness (Oliver 492). Golden Rice is to be used in areas where rice is the staple food for the local population, and especially where there are no other sources of nutrients such as vitamins in the diet.
Many advantages come with the adoption of genetically modified crops. However, for many years, manufacturers have been unwilling to label genetically modified food that they produce. This state of affairs is set to change in the year 2020 when the government will require that all GMOs be labeled. Such a step is a positive one for many reasons. The first reason is that consumers have a right to know what they consume. When a person walks into a store to purchase their food, they want to know exactly what it contains. A recent poll shows that 93% of consumers want all GMOs labeled (Harmon). Given the fact that companies say that GMOs do not affect human beings, why are they so resistant to labeling? People want to know what is in their food, and that information should be afforded to them by labeling.
The second reason why all GMOs should be labeled per government requirements is that it gives the customers a choice between organic and genetically modified food. Producers of organic food have long pushed for labeling of GMOs for selfish reasons. When GMOs are not labeled, customers can pick anything. With labeling, however, they will be motivated to choose organic foods due to the many unfounded theories on GMOs. Organic producers stand to benefit from these theories. The American chain restaurant, Chipotle, banned all GMOs from its food in 2015 (Oliver 492). This action means that customers worried about eating GMOs will know precisely what they are getting at the restaurant. There are many theories surrounding GMOs that are yet to be proven scientifically. Scientists say that genetically modified foods are not harmful, but many people are not confident enough with GMOs. It is therefore essential to label all GMOs so that consumers feel confident in what they consume.
The third reason why GMOs should be labeled is that its effects on human health are still unknown. So far, scientists and researchers who have studied the GMOs say that they have no impact on human beings and their health. Despite this reassurance, many people still don’t feel safe enough when consuming genetically modified crops and animals. It is therefore essential that any food containing GMOs are clearly labeled so that people protect themselves the best way they know how. Many don’t want to take a chance then many years later they find that the GMOs affected their health in some way. The main point when it comes to health and safety concerns is that each individual has a right to do what they think is best for their own interests.
Environmental concerns are another reason why GMOs should be clearly labeled. Genetically modified crops are made by changing some genetic component of the plants to achieve some desirable traits. When these GMOs crossbreed with natural varieties, they can lead to many challenges. Some of the characteristics of GMOs include insecticide resistance and herbicide tolerance (Jones 65). These characteristics affect agricultural practices, and this impacts the environment at the farm level and on a larger scale. Herbicide tolerance or resistance means that the crops are not affected by herbicides sprayed on the weeds. This reaction is suitable for the crops because the herbicides do not hamper their growth or development in any way. In addition to this, it encourages minimal or zero tillage on farms. Farmers can spray their farms before planting to kill the weeds and allow the crops to flourish. However, the downside to the herbicide-resistance is that it gives rise to superweeds that soon become resistant to the herbicides as well. When this happens, the weeds grow harder to destroy, and they will end up overpowering the crops and thus reducing yields on the farms.
Another environmental impact of GMOs is that zero tillage improves soil quality. This style of tillage reduces soil erosion, making a positive impact on the farm. Zero tillage also conserves moisture in the soil and increases water infiltration. Water quality is also a positive effect of zero tillage (Kamthan et al. 1651). Because of reduced run-off, water bodies get fewer sediments, and this makes the water cleaner. A consumer should be allowed to assess the impact of growing GMOs and if they think that the positives outweigh the negatives, then they will consume GMOs to promote environmental sustainability. It is therefore vital for any GMOs to be labeled.
The most obvious reason as to why GMOs should be labeled is that all companies claim that they have no negative effects on human beings; thus there should be no objection to labeling. For many years, there are no strict laws that force companies to label their products as either genetically modified or not. However, there has been growing public concern surrounding the issue. The law that regulates GMO labeling in the country is known as Public Law 114-214 (Fraboni 563). President Obama signed it into law in the year 2016, increasing disclosure of GMO ingredients in the food sold within the country. The law makes several provisions when it comes to labeling of genetically modified foods. Some of these include a sign or symbol on the packaging showing that the food has been genetically engineered, small manufacturers and restaurants excluded from the disclosure requirements among many others.
Those who argue against labeling GMOs present several arguments in their support. The most significant one is that there are no scientifically proven harmful effects on human beings. Therefore, people can consume GMOs as well as non-modified products with the same level of safety. While this may be true, the same reason can be applied to a requirement for labeling. Another reason offered for not labeling is that it will increase alarm among consumers given that there are many false and unfounded beliefs among people. A symbol for genetically engineered food can lead to a reduction in sales as people panic for no reason. To counter this argument, people have the right to know what they consume. The companies producing GMOs should carry out public awareness to ensure that consumers understand that the GMOs are not harmful at all to human beings. They can use scientific research to back up their claims and counter the negative narrative surrounding GMOs.
The main reason why there is so much controversy surrounding genetically modified foods has a lot to do with media portrayal of GMOs. A research carried out to find out how media shapes consumer perception found that more than half of Americans, 58%, turn to the media to find out more about GMOs (Prakash 65). With the widespread use of social media, there has been widespread propaganda that has no scientific basis. However, people consume such false information quickly and use it as a basis for their knowledge of GMOs. The government needs to do something about this. There should be more education of the public around the topic of GMOs. The mainstream media should also play a significant role in making sure that information dispensed to the public is factual and accurate. It is much more challenging to handle social media, but with increased public awareness, the American people will no longer feed into baseless claims designed to create fear by labeling GMOs as ‘Frankenfood.’
In conclusion, the topic of GMOs is still a touchy one with most Americans. All genetically modified products should be clearly labeled in order to improve transparency and afford people the right to information and choice. To promote public knowledge, people need to know more about GMOs based on scientific research. Some of the reasons why GMOs were developed in the first place are to combat hunger and food shortage, improve the nutritious value of food, and adapt to changing climatic conditions on the planet. GMOs have revolutionized agriculture all over the world. The Public Law 114-214 makes it a government requirement that all genetically engineered foods be labeled staring in 2020 (Fraboni 563). The reasons as to why labeling should be mandatory are to promote consumer’s right to information, to address health and environmental concerns of the public, and to improve transparency in the food industry. The federal and state governments need to carry out public awareness campaigns, especially in the media, to alleviate any fears in the public domain arising from false information. Genetically modified foods have been proven to have no harmful effects, and therefore, people should embrace them to promote sustainability in agriculture.
Fraboni, Jordan James. “A Federal GMO Labeling Law: How It Creates Uniformity and Protects Consumers.” Berkeley Tech. LJ 32 (2017): 563.
Harmon, Amy. “G.M.O. Foods Will Soon Require Labels. What Will the Labels Say?” New York Times.12 May 2018. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/12/us/gmo-food-labels-usda.htmlJones, Robert R. “Genetically Modified Organisms Crops In Agriculture? Food For Thought.” Missouri Medicine 112.1 (2015): 28.
Kamthan, Ayushi, et al. “Genetically modified (GM) crops: milestones and new advances in cropimprovement.” Theoretical and Applied Genetics 129.9 (2016): 1639-1655.
Oliver, Melvin J. “Why we need GMO crops in agriculture.” Missouri medicine 111.6 (2014): 492.
Prakash, C. S. “GM crops in the media.” (2015): 63-68.