A task force created to discuss labeling genetically engineered foods in Connecticut still has a lot to learn about genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
The task force met last week to hear from Jeffrey Smith, an advocate for a diet that doesn’t include GMOs. Smith noted the bipartisan support for a bill that didn’t pass the legislature this year that would have required growers and producers to label any genetically modified food products sold in Connecticut.
Testing and labeling should be done before these genetically altered food products are put on the market, he said. But he doesn’t believe that responsibility should be left up to the state.
In what felt like a college course for lawmakers, Smith explained some specifics about the strength of genetic engineering.
Roundup Ready crops are crops that have been genetically engineered not to die when sprayed with herbicide. These crops are commonly soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton, Smith said.
Roundup is a commonly used herbicide that kills plants by depriving them of nutrients and minerals and promotes the pathogens in the soil which can then more easily kill the weakened plants, he explained.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration does not require testing for GMOs, but instead has a voluntary consultation process, Smith said, calling it a “meaningless exercise.” The FDA does not actually decide if the foods are safe, he said.
Because the FDA doesn’t test, Smith said, most testing is independent and is designed to avoid finding problems.
“They have bad science down to a science,” he said.
Members of the task force, including Rep. Brenda Kupchick, voiced concern regarding consumers’ right to know about their food purchases.
Kupchick said, “It’s just a basic issue of choice and knowledge and I think people have a right to know what’s in their food, whether people choose to have that food or use that food is up to them.”
Rep. Diana Urban agreed from an economic perspective.
“We know that market economies work better the more information that the consumer has,” she said, “We can make our marketplace economy work better simply by labeling.”
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine found that there was a causal relationship in animals that eat GMOs and reproductive disorders, immune system problems, gastrointestinal distress, accelerated aging, and dysfunctional regulation of cholesterol and insulin, Smith said.
The same health problems found by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine are among those shown to improve when livestock and pets switch to a non-GMO diet, he said.
Research like theirs has resulted in many doctors’ prescribing non-GMO diets to their patients, Smith said. Patients on non-GMO diets claim to have seen improvements in irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, asthma, skin conditions, and infertility to name a few.
The process of genetic engineering calls for mass producing a mutated gene and injecting it into the cells of a crop, then taking those cells and cloning them into a plant, Smith explained.
One genetically modified corn was intended to simply create a new toxin in the corn, but resulted in 43 changes to the natural proteins in the plant, he said.
Opponents to labeling genetically modified foods argue that labeling would be an expense passed along to the consumer, Smith said.
In Europe in 1999, consumers expressed distaste in genetically modified foods and most food companies agreed to stop using genetically modified ingredients, which resulted in a wide-scale reformulation of products, Smith explained.
“But no extra money was spent by consumers. Prices did not rise,” he said.
Relabeling would not be an extra expense for companies either, he said, because they change their labels two to five times a year anyway.
The GMO task force will meet again on Wednesday, Sept. 12 to continue learning about recommendations they can make during the next legislative session.