Corey Fischer | Student Columnist
Food has always been able to spark widespread debate and controversy here in America. From the Cola Wars between Coke and Pepsi (which, might I add, Coke has been winning for quite some time), to the endless debate over chocolate and vanilla, we have always found ways to fight over food.
In recent years a more heated and polarizing debate has emerged not over brand names or flavors, but over the idea of increased labeling. We’re all familiar with the “one-size-fits-all” labels on the side of everything informing us of the ingredients and nutritional content of whatever it is we’re about to shove down our faces, yet there are many who believe that these labels, while thorough in nature, are simply not enough.
There are more than seven billion people on the planet and more than 300 million people here in the U.S. alone. And if that number seems like it’s supposed to make you stop and say “wow, that’s a lot of people,” that’s because it is. Now everyone has to eat, and the average American typically eats roughly five pounds of food a day totaling close to two thousand pounds of food a year. Now multiply that by how many Americans there are walking around and we can safely estimate that Americans as a whole eat six hundred billion pounds of food a year. That’s a lot of food.
The food we eat comes from a wide variety of sources, but for the most part everything we eat can be traced back to a farm. It’s no secret that, as the population and demand for food has exploded over the past century, farmers have struggled to keep up a supply to accommodate this insatiable demand, which begs the question: how do they do it? One answer lies in genetically modified organisms.
Genetically modified organisms, GMOs for short, are any organism that has had its genetic material altered by a scientist through the use of genetic engineering. So far, scientists have genetically altered micro-organisms like yeast and bacteria, along with larger, more complex organisms such as insects, plants, fish, and even mammals. It may sound scary, the notion of someone in a lab playing God with our food, but the intentions are pure and the benefits enormous.
Major corporate supporters of GMOs, such as agricultural giant Monsanto, cite lack of natural resources, global warming, a depleting bee population and the basic fact that there are more people then farms would be able to feed without the use of GMOs all as reasons to support GMO usage in foodstuffs. There is no significant data to suggest that consumption or use of GMOs has a negative effect on one’s health or wellbeing. That being said, the vast majority of people are perfectly fine with GMOs. What, then, is the issue? It all comes down to labeling.
In recent years, many across the country have called out Monsanto and other food and agricultural supply companies to start labeling the GMOs they sell in supermarkets. Public outcry for labeling these products has only grown in recent years, with the issue making the ballot as statewide initiatives in California, Colorado, and Oregon since 2012. All three failed, due in large part to huge investments from big name companies.
For an issue as common sensed as this one it is hard to understand how labeling, a harmless measure that would come at no cost to taxpayers, consumers, or food processors and manufacturers (especially considering food companies alter their labeling quite often for no reason at all). What these companies hide behind is the myth that people would suddenly stop buying their food should they acknowledge their own use of GMOs, even though 75-80 percent of all food products use GMOs in some way shape or form, and that is no secret.
The most important principle here is honesty. Many food companies, beloved ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s among them, are not ashamed to say they do not use GMOs and explain in detail to consumers why they do not use them; it’s mainly for matters of principle or marketing. That being said, why would companies that use GMOs be unable to do the same?
There’s a tradition here in the US: eat first, ask questions later. The longer we allow that tradition to stand and companies to hide from us what it is we’re eating, the worse things will get. This issue, although seemingly small in nature, could have huge ramifications if not dealt with right now all they’re hiding from us are GMOs, but what else might they hide in the future?