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Gmo Labeling and Genetic Engineering: the Significance of Both

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“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell.” – Tom Wiley. While researching texts written about food labeling mentioning GMO’s and food cloning, I found authors who published works on this topic through book, a scholarly article, an encyclopedia article, a magazine article, a newspaper article, and a couple of interviews. These authors discuss the significance (or insignificance) of the labeling of any type of genetic engineering and whether food cloning should be put into action. My goal in this paper is to connect seven sources to demonstrate that we need food at a faster rate to maintain the satisfaction for the racing population even though it’s genetically modified (or even partially genetically modified). GMO products should have labels to take every safety precaution to avoid problems within the individual as a consumer and as a living body.

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I have recently interviewed two current peers of mine at Mount San Antonio College. Christian Michel, a nursing major, said, “The main purpose is to keep up with the population, to keep from having a deficit so we can make produce to handle rigorous conditions to keep up with the population rate.” Another peer, Alyssa Cortez, a child development major, has said she doesn’t know much about genetic modification but agrees with Michel’s statement. Cortez provides an example of a fraction of how public consumers are when it comes to grocery shopping. The public misconceives the whereabouts of how their favorite packaged product ended up on shelves. I asked Michel and Cortez if they agree with my statement that genetic engineered products aren’t detrimental and Michel said, “I agree because it’s evident, it’s true, it’s not something we can prove against. The population is growing and we need to keep up with it.” Again, Cortez agrees with Michel’s statement, but isn’t in complete consciousness either. These two interviewees illustrate that segments of society are misinformed and unaware of the full factual details on genetic engineering.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. There isn’t sufficient evidence to warrant the claim that GMOs are unsafe for the individual, but there are economic pros and cons to genetically engineering food. In Clifford Sherry’s encyclopedia article, “Problems and Controversies,” Sherry shares the economic impact positively and negatively by stating, “When there were thousands of family farms, each farmer might plant a different strain or hybrid. But, as the number of farms decreased and the average size of existing farms increased, there was an increasing tendency for many farmers to plant the same hybrid. This allows farmers to take advantage of economies of scale (thousands of acres of crop can be treated in the same manner, saving time and money). The major problem with planting thousands of acres of the same strain is that if a new disease or parasite should appear, it could cause a devastating loss.” By including, “increasing tendency for many farmers to plant the same hybrid,” this means increasing competition. Competition is good for the economy. Genetically engineered foods could be sustained through climate change, herbicides, and insects. If you’ve heard of the term, “survival of the fittest,” this applies the same way but through an agricultural aspect. They select traits that would become beneficial in the long run. Farmers want to enable mass production towards crops that are high in demand so when it comes to harvesting, it will be ready for the market. They want the crops to adapt to unpredictable external conditions so it can satisfy consumer needs. Like Sherry said, yes a disease or parasite could occur, but I believe the pros outweigh the cons because the chances of that is slim.

In Elizabeth Weise’s newspaper article, “FDA Backs Safety of Meat, Milk from Cloned Animals,” she answers how clones are made. Weise answers, “Let's use a cow as an example, as cattle are the most commonly cloned farm animals right now. A single cell is taken from an adult cow. Its genetic material is inserted into another cow's egg that has had its genetic material removed. A jolt of electricity tricks the egg into thinking it has been fertilized and it begins to grow. The resulting embryo is implanted into the uterus of a surrogate cow, which gives birth to the cloned calf.” This statement implies cloning an animal so it should be no problem for the rest of society to genetically engineer some crops. It costs thousands to duplicate a living organism into something edible. I would consider cloned meat and dairy products to fall under GMOs because it’s not in its pure form, but it has the same structure on a molecular level. It is similar enough to pass as the real thing. GMOs and clones are necessary to keep up with the pace of a growing population for billions of people.

Food labeling affects society by being well-informed before future complications can occur. In Richard Dahl’s scholarly article, “To Label or Not to Label,” Dahl explains the social significance the labeling of genetically engineered products. The article states, “‘Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, offers a theoretical example of how such tracking might work: ‘If you take a gene from the kiwi fruit, put it into a tomato, and the tomato gets turned into sauce for your pizza, and there's an allergic reaction, only the genetically altered tomato would produce that allergic reaction. . . . This is not like [allergy concerns associated with] conventional foods because the problem is going to be for one particular [bioengineered modification]. How are you going to figure that out unless it's labeled? You can't. And that's why so many countries have labeling.’” Michael Hansen’s theoretical example supplies the conditions of figuring out a problem. One cannot find a solution to a complication without finding the direct source. You can’t further expand your theories on why you have an allergic reaction without the full acknowledgement on what you consumed.

There are those who have an opposite viewpoint compared to Dahl. In Robert E. Stevenson’s book, “The Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology,” Stevenson deems food labeling to be unnecessary. For example Stevenson says, “As a general rule, food does not require prior FDA approval before being marketed. Rather, FDA takes regulatory action when it determines that a food already on the market is ‘misbranded’ or ‘adulterated’, two statutorily defined terms. Food is considered misbranded if, among other things, it is not labeled in accordance with FDA regulations, or if its labelling is false or misleading. Labeling can be misleading not only by virtue of statements made, but also by way of material omissions.” (26) This means that food companies have the desire to not include labeling on their products if it doesn’t fall into the category of “misbranded” or “adulterated.” This makes us question how many stomach problems have occurred to us in the past that were caused by genetically engineered foods because we were absent-minded. It certainly makes you curious how many companies have gotten away without labeling. Since it can be put on the market in accordance to FDA regulations, genetically engineered foods can have labels have the truth stretched out. It is not a complete lie, but I still think it’s an error in conduct for us as consumers who would like to know what we are putting in our bodies.

Similar to Stevenson, Weise also deems food labeling to be unnecessary. She was asked if cloned meat and milk will be labeled at the store. Weise answers, “Probably not. FDA says that it hasn't yet decided whether it will require labeling. In general, the agency requires products to be labeled only if they might be misleading (butter vs. margarine) or for nutritional labeling (canola oil that is genetically engineered to have high oleic acid). Because FDA has said that meat and milk from cloned animals is indistinguishable from conventionally bred animals, there appears to be no basis for the agency to require labeling.” Weise supplements Stevenson’s claim that labeling must only be required if it’s misleading.

In a magazine article published anonymously called, “Labeling the mutant tomato,” they said, “Genetic engineering is not that different from such ancient techniques as cross-breeding or selective fertilization. To note, the use of genetic engineering is about as informative as noting the use of electricity in making processed foods.” I think that the author is trying to say is that people will eventually see genetic engineering as the norm. It will become standardized if it’s used continuously that people will stop questioning it like “cross-breeding” and “selective fertilization.” Society will learn to adapt to this change just like how we’ve adapted everything else. Some will see GMOs as packaged poison, but what is cigarettes?

Dahl’s article also argues, “‘You can never prove, in any scientifically verifiable way, that GE foods are 'safe' -- you can only verify when they are unsafe,’ says Frederick L. Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. ‘None of this means that GE foods are not safe. It just means that we do not know, because we do not know if we have thought of all the possible aspects of the innovation that might be unsafe to eat. That, from my perspective, is the strongest argument I know of for labeling -- so that individuals can choose for themselves whether to eat it or not.’” I agree that genetically modified foods aren’t the issue. It has to do with the buyer of the product and labeling. For example, let’s say all packaged products were 100% truthful and had every minute detail listed on the label, you can buy it if you want to or not. It’s up to the consumer on how you would like to spend your money. The people would have a choice. It honestly shouldn’t become a big deal if all the facts are out in the open. As long as companies aren’t misbranding or mislabeling, genetically engineered foods is a yes.

In this research paper, I learned the significance of genetic engineering and food labeling. All things considered, I think genetically modified foods should be allowed because there is no supportive data that deems food “unsafe.” GMO’s only seem unsafe to the individual because they didn’t know what genetic material has actually been touched. Therefore, labels should also be reinforced. If food companies are going to produce GMOs, they might as well print labels including everything to avoid being sued or deal with a negative reputation. You can’t argue with facts. I believe it’s okay for food to be genetically modified only if labels come with it. It’s not ideal for a consumer to eating their food blindly then having complexities because a tomato has some kiwi DNA strands. There is more land than water and the world population continues to rise. Money makes the world go round. I think if genetically modified foods are labeled appropriately, it’s perfectly acceptable to enable mass production for the consumer because they know what is going through their system. If a product is high in demand, the product could lower their price so a lot more people can purchase it. Not only will crops become more affordable, they will benefit the farmers because genetically engineered foods have built a sustainability to mass produce (minus the downfall of parasites and diseases). Genetically engineered foods satisfy the social and economic cycle, so I see this as a beneficial factor to our world. It’s unknown if it is detrimental to our health, but if it boosts the consumers positively I don’t think it should be called an issue. 

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