It has been a while since the debate about growing Genetically Modified (GM) crops has been declared loudly in the news, so much so that, on face value, society has disregarded what problems there were in the first place.
The argument against GM was that it is unnatural to alter the DNA of plants just to improve their yield, flavour, and resistance to disease, amongst other things. The issues that rose were ones of ethical nature – are we ‘playing God’ with the environment and being unnatural? – Commercial nature – that it gives some farmers an unfair advantage over others – and, considered most vital, of environmental concern. For a while, the debate was focused on how to keep these genetic mutations or ‘superfoods’ from breeding with the natural-gene crops and to stop the GM overrunning other plants, with the possibility that they would crush them out. In the same way that some environmentalists are against all fertilisers, GM is treated as being dangerous:
“Genetic engineering is inherently dangerous because it greatly expands the scope for horizontal gene transfer and recombination, precisely the processes that create new viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics, and trigger cancer in cells.” – Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
According to the UK Greenpeace website, the introduction of GM food has been “a disaster”.
Since the debate, GM foods have been legalised for growing and commercial use as ingredients all over the world, particularly in the USA, India and China. A great proportion of field-grown food contains GM DNA, from rapeseed and honey all the way to the meat of animals that have been given GM feed. Around 90% of US-grown corn and soybean is GM.
Although there is an EU regulation requiring companies to label their food if GM crops have been involved, this labelling is not obvious, and there is no such law currently in the US or Canada. In the November 2012 California Proposition 37 vote, 53.7% of voters decided against the measure to label GM foods.
So, for those people who want to avoid ingesting GM ingredients, there is great difficulty. The labelling on packages can be as little as an asterisk and a short message below denoting which ingredients came from GM crops. For a society that should be given the choice whether or not to eat GM, this cannot be enough.
Perhaps, in an age where the ‘traffic light’ system of red, orange, green health levels on foods is commended and Fairtrade is important, we need a similar sign on the front of packaging that says outright:
“This food contains Genetically Modified ingredients.”