Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is relatively new language to many Americans. However, the movement to legislate labeling and disclosure of GMOs in foods is gaining momentum as people learn more about what the possible dangers might be. The main objective of the movement is to force food manufacturers to disclose the use of genetically modified organisms on labels so that the public can decide for themselves. While science has not yet decisively linked any substantial harmful effects to genetically modified organisms, surreptitiously placing them in foods makes it seem like manufacturers are hiding them in plain sight.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, there are currently eight-four bills on genetically modified organisms in twenty-nine states. Most labeling proponents of the movements have focused their agenda not on attacking GMOs, but on the right for consumers to have the information. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who recently signed a bill on GMOs, reiterated the fact that the bill was not a judgment about weather one should eat GMO foods or not. He stressed that when people read food labels one should be able to know it they are “eating a GMO-based product.”
Despite the reports that genetically modified organism foods being consumed now appear to be safe, the concern is for the future. At present, genetically modified foods do not need to be approved for consumption by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Which would mean that advancements or changes in the technology of modifying foods could change, for the better or worse, and the public would be largely unaware.
The real problem is that the public generally perceives what it is being sold to be natural. Food manufacturers use provincial sounding names on products such as “Country Farms,” and “Nature’s Own,” in an attempt to create a certain perception. Most of these so-called farms are actually factories and warehouses filled with machinery. With the lack of requirements mandating genetically modified organisms be disclosed on labels, many of these foods are being consumed unaware, and simply hiding in plain sight.
In recent times people have become increasingly aware of misleading labels that list ingredients in deceptive or confusing ways. Labeling a serving size as half of a container can mislead consumers into thinking the nutritional information refers to the entire package. Placing ingredients such as caffeine into “proprietary blends” which include vitamins and minerals, often hide true numbers so that consumers will not be deterred from trying the product. The attempts of companies to market foods in a better light through covert label manipulation, reveals the very real danger keeping major technology changes a secret can have.
Opposition to GMOs has been compared to parents refusing to vaccinate their kids, or people that question man-made climate change. With potentially billions of dollars to lose to a discerning public, many in the agribusiness worry that such movements are nothing more than a hazardous mania. Fear that people will steer away from genetically modified organisms if they were made aware of them reveals more about why companies would rather hide them in plain sight.
Opinion by John Benjamin Wilson