At Sustainable Food Center, we believe that more can be done to help educate consumers about the risks of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). We are proud to provide a trust-worthy shopping outlet to Austin consumers at our SFC Farmers' Markets, where every vendor is thoroughly audited on their growing practices before being accepted to market. To help achieve our goal of aiding in greater consumer education about food production and agriculture, we are sharing a little bit more about what is currently happening in our nation with consumer choice and GMOs.
Consumer choice relates to a consumer’s ability to choose a product based on information provided via packaging, presentation, and placement in a store. This term also relates to consumer education and industry-wide transparency.
Today, there are many factors in advertising, marketing, and policy that influence consumer choice, particularly in food-related products. As technology in modern-day agriculture advances, and as food allergies and special diets become more prevalent in our everyday lives, proper labeling of foods is critical to facilitate the ability of consumers to make informed choices.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate the labeling of food products to ensure consumers’ access to reliable and safe food. An ongoing debate is underway among consumer choice advocates, policymakers, and food-producing businesses about whether or not labeling should be required for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). Advocates argue that such labeling would allow consumers to make well-informed decisions.
But what is a GMO? GMO’s are Genetically-Modified Organisms—food plants or animals that have been changed through genetic engineering. Genetic engineering alters the DNA of an organism, adding or extracting certain properties to lend desired results. Genetically modified crops are intended to alleviate common challenges in the field, such as drought and pest damage. Some argue, however, that the health impacts of GMO crops have not been researched thoroughly enough to ensure that they are safe to consume. Today, nearly 90 percent of planted acres of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically engineered crops (1). Current U.S. policy leaves GMO labeling to the discretion of manufacturers and producers.
In response, third-party labeling organizations have formed in the hopes of creating a means of transparency between producers and consumers. When shopping at grocery stores, consumers can now find non-GMO labels on products from cereals to potato chips to salts—and even water. Many consumers are willing to pay a higher price to ensure that they are not consuming GMO food. However, this practice has recently come into controversy because for some of the products that are being labeled as non-GMO, no genetically modified variants exist (examples include salt and tomatoes) (2). While many producers and manufacturers view the non-GMO label as a way to show consumers they are committed GMO-free production, in some cases, the label provides consumers with misleading information.
Given that no GMO labeling requirements currently exist at the federal level, and that third-party labeling can provide misleading information, for now, the most effective action consumers can take to inform their food choices with respect to GMO’s is to gain a better understanding of what genetically engineered products are currently on the market.
Want to get learn more? Below are a few resources to help you get started.