Thursday, January 19, 2012


The controversy surrounding Genetically Modified foods and food ingredients refuses to die down though activists opposing these foods based on safety and environmental considerations are being smothered by the money power of the GM lobby. GM foods derived through transgenic process is mired in disputes between those who feel they are safe and others taking the stand that sufficient scientific evidence does not exist guaranteeing its safety. As far as environmentalists are concerned there is a potential danger in cultivating GM crops which may cause cross contamination of normal crops thus destroying the traditional normal crops. It is a pity that these two warring groups cannot sit across a table and thrash out their differences to evolve a consensus on the issue.

There are many countries in the world where cultivation of GM crops are totally banned or restricted by local regulations. The US is the only country which has allowed a free run to the GM crop industry to produce foods which are tampered with genetically changing their original character. Some of the countries which permit GM crops have put restrictions on their cultivation under a strict regulatory regime. In Europe GM crops are allowed to a limited extent but the products containing GM food raw materials or ingredients derived from them will have to declare their presence on the label. One is reminded of irradiated foods which also require the label to declare the same. Why a country like the US does not regulate GM foods as in Europe is a big mystery. 

An incisive analysis of the US Food System brings about.the stranglehold the giant monopoly food companies have over the food and farming system in that country. In a scathing revelation recently, it was revealed that the GM lobby has financed the election of many senators and law makers of the country to retain policies which are subservient to the financial interest of the former, ignoring the welfare. of the citizens, considered a serious distortion of the essence of democracy. Unfortunately precious little has been done during the last two decades to set right this distortion and more than 80% of American foods offered by industry has one or more GM food ingredients forcing the consumer to eat the same without even knowing about it! It is true that during the last two decades the antagonists of GM foods have not been able to pinpoint any specific damage to the health of the population solely due to consumption of GM foods. But the million dollar question is whether GM foods have played any role at all in the transformation of American society into a predominantly obese population.

It is interesting to hear about the great march of thousands of people feeling strongly about the safety of GM foods from New York to Washington DC to impress upon their President the urgent need to introduce mandatory legislation to label GM foods to distinguish from normal, natural foods. No doubt such a move is most welcome which may resonate throughout that country, motivating more people to express their concerns in a peaceful manner. The US President must see the writing on the wall and bring out legislation in tune with the aspirations of common man. What is more interesting is the move now being initiated in California in the US to fight against GM foods and to force compulsory labeling. What will be the fate of the papers filed with the California Attorney General's office to place a citizen's initiative on the 2012 November ballot that would require labeling of genetically engineered food and ingredients derived from them, remains to be seen. One thing however is sure that if California voters pass the ballot initiative, it could likely be the beginning of the end for many companies engaged in genetically engineered food in the U.S. After 20 years of bullying by biotech companies and being fed unlabeled and "potentially" hazardous genetically modified foods, a critical mass of food and health activists have come forward start the the offensive against GM food perpetrators. Probably this fight over labeling genetically engineered food will have to be taken at the national level at Washington DC, where these powerful companies exercise vice-like grip on the government.  

Recent polls in the US show that 80 to 85 percent of the people want mandatory labeling. They point out that there are no genetically engineered foods or crops anywhere in Europe, while almost all foods in the U.S. supermarket contain GMOs. In Europe, genetically engineered foods and ingredients have to be labeled which is a distinct disincentive for the manufacturers considering the strong undercurrent of universal hostility towards GM foods. The GM food manufacturers are sure that such labeling provision could be a threat for their bottom line. If and when GM food labeling is made mandatory in the U.S., there is the potential for millions of consumers who will read these labels to react and shun them, switching over to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers start complaining about genetically engineered foods and ingredients, stores will stop selling them while farmers will have no more incentive to plant them.
 Also to be noted is that once the California voters pass the GMO labeling law in 2012, the biotech and food industry will face an intractable dilemma as to whether they could put labels on their branded food products in just one state, admitting those products contain genetically engineered ingredients and then withhold ingredient label information in other states. It worth watching the unfolding drama in this fight between GM food lobby and the consumer alliance that is spearheading the anti-GM movement.


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