Should genetically modified foods be labeled?

Do you want to know if foods you eat have been genetically modified? A lot of produce, milk, and about 80% of packaged foods are all genetically modified. There's a heated debate over whether or not these foods should be labeled so that you will know what you're eating.

GMO's, Genetically Modified Organisms, are crops that are bred at the DNA level to resist pests, disease, herbicides, or drought. They help farmers grow more food at a lower cost.

"You have more of a guarantee of a productive crop," says Jeremy Moyer with Oakmulgee Dairy Farm, which grows GMO corn and soybeans.

GMO's have been used for for nearly twenty years in the production of foods such as corn, soybeans, squash, alfalfa, sugar beets, and milk.

Some health food advocates and stores, like Ellwood Thompson's Local Market, want GMO foods be labeled so that consumers can choose what they're eating.

Explains Kirk Schroder, Food Advocate for Ellwood Thompson's, "I think the big issue is when you play with life, play with the DNA structure of what you're eating, people wonder, 'Are there going to be unforeseen consequences to that?'"

Sixty-four countries require GMO labeling, including all nations in the European Union, as well as Australia, China and India. But the FDA and the Virginia Farm Bureau point out that many studies have found no health risk.

Said Lindsay Reames, Assistant Director of Governmental Relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau, "There have been over 2000 studies that have been done on GM foods before they've actually gotten to the market place to prove there's safety."

Farmers say GM crops are no different from conventional crops, and labeling would drive up costs and needlessly scare consumers from buying them.

"A mandatory label from FDA would be a false impression to the consumer that there's actually something different about that product," said Reames. "Because GMO's are just the way that seed was bred, it doesn't change the nutritional composition of the end product."

Adds Jeremy Moyer, "It would be a nightmare because, as a dairy farmer, our milk is pooled with other farms' milk, so we would have to pay for different trucking, or increased trucking costs."

But health food advocates say costs shouldn't outweigh public health. Said Food Advocate Kirk Schroder, "I don't know that economic argument supports the fact that you shouldn't know what you're eating."

Most polls on the topic show Americans want GMO labeling. Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont have passed laws requiring it. None are implemented yet and Vermont's law is being challenged in court. Voters in Oregon, Colorado, California, and Washington state recently turned GMO labeling down. In Virginia, a proposal this year to study GMO labeling didn't get a hearing. But Delegate Betsy Carr (D - Chesterfield) says she plans to reintroduce it when the budget is healthier.

Meantime, if you want to avoid eating GMO's, you can. Suggests Schroder, "If you can, buy organic. Second, if you're in a local market, talk to the farmer, talk to the grower and ask."

Also, some food companies have already voluntarily labeled their products as "Non-GMO" or "Non-GMO Verified."