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The news: Sixty-four nations enforce consumer "right to know" laws on GMO food, while the United States has little regulatory framework surrounding genetically modified food products. The map above shows, as of 2013, the 64 nations that regard food labeling as a consumer priority. They include:
Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France (now de facto ban on all GMO food), Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia (has postponed GMO planting and may consider ban), Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
What's more, the only GMO food approved for growth in the European Union is one strain of Monsanto corn.
That's a lot of countries. Yep. What's more, even while the U.S. does not require GMO food labeling, it is the largest commercial grower of genetically modified crops in the entire world.
More than 88% of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as are 93% of soybeans and 94% of cotton. Other crops might be GMO as well, like sugar beets (up to 95%). And it has been estimated at least 60% and perhaps as much as 75% of U.S. processed foods have GMO ingredients.
Today's GMO foods are generally considered safe for human consumption, but polls consistently indicate that a huge majority of Americans support mandatory labeling requirements for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients. The New York Times estimates that 93% of Americans supported such requirements in early 2013. In addition to the claims about human safety, many scientists recognize that GMO food has the potential to adversely affect ecosystems by encouraging the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects or transferring mutant genes into local populations. And some are worried that future products like GMO fish and meat could be less safe than crops.
What's the holdup? The U.S. regulatory process currently relies on the coordination of three federal agencies: the FDA, EPA and the USDA.
The EPA regulates biopesticides and genes that cause plants to emit insect-killing toxins; the FDA is responsible for regulating human consumption of GMOs, but typically files them as "generally recognized as safe"; and the USDA monitors GMOs that incorporate DNA from "plant pests." No regulations compel food producers to label GMO food, and they don't, claiming it would create an unfair bias against their products.
Now a bitter state-by-state battle might ensue over GMO food labeling laws, which will cost both consumers and companies dearly. Even some GMO food backers think this is a battle that would be more wisely avoided. David Ropeik, the author of the book How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, says, "By supporting labeling, companies would say, 'There's no risk, we have nothing to hide.'"
Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas On a Finite Planet, says, "By fighting labeling, we're feeding energy to the opponents of GMOs. We're inducing more fear and paranoia of the technology, rather than less. We're persuading those who might otherwise have no opinion on GMOs that there must be something to hide, otherwise, why would we fight so hard to avoid labeling?"