Genetically Modified Organisms are often portrayed by critics as unnatural franken-foods, straight out of a horror movie to slowly kill oblivious consumers. And people are listening – Chipotle announced relatively recently that they were taking up arms against GMOs, as part of their “food with integrity” program. But while the use of genetic modification in food isn’t as hot right now as the Planned Parenthood debate or Donald Trump’s hair, this topic is currently buzzing through both the campaign trail and Capitol Hill, not to mention its international traction. But this issue is actually widely misunderstood.
A GMO is any organism that has had genetic engineering changing its genetic makeup. From corn to tomatoes to even insulin, GMOs, or transgenic crops, have had enormous impacts on human society. And while the test tube aspect is a recent development, humans have been genetically modifying crops since the dawn of agriculture.
Outside the U. S., several countries are taking very drastic measures on this issue. France and Russia are among the most recent countries to ban GMOs, and they aren’t the first by any stretch. Now, the debate has come to Congress. To the dismay of GMO critics, a bill that does not allow states to mandate labeling of GMOs in food has already passed in the House of Representatives and is headed for the Senate.
In addition to legislation, GMO labeling has become an issue taken on by Rand Paul during his campaign for the Republican primary. He has come out against GMO labeling, saying that it will disproportionately affect the poor.
The problem with the GMO debate is that it is a widely misunderstood issue. One of the biggest problems with the debate about GMOs is that most people – especially critics – don’t actually know what a GMO is. Jimmy Kimmel did a bit last year about GMOs asking people on the street why they were avoiding GMOs and if they even knew what they were. Even factoring in dramatic editing, the responses showed that this is a topic that most of the general public is very uneducated about.
This means that the GMO debate is one of public opinion, not of actual science. And while the American Medical Association has stated that they have been consumed for 20 years with no noticeable effect, Chipotle and Whole Foods are profiting from fueling the fire of fear.
The key to the GMO labeling debate is that until there is real, compelling evidence that GMOs actually hurt Americans, it should be put to bed. Labeling GMOs would be hurtful to food producers because despite the superiority of GMO crops, people would stop buying them. This would make food production more expensive, less efficient, and food probably wouldn’t taste as good.
The bigger issue here is that America, and to a greater extent, the world, has a major food insecurity problem – 14.3 percent of American household were food insecure in 2013. Making food production even more costly would definitely not solve this problem, and would probably exacerbate it, over concerns not based in scientific evidence. People should know what ingredients are in their food, but GMO crops are not substantially different from non GMO crops in nearly every case.