Labeling Issues and Food Safety

Let us now discuss labeling issues and food safety. People are legitimately concerned about the safety of what they eat. Even though Bt toxin is deadly for insects, it has no effect on human intestinal or other cells, and it is not allergenic because it is quickly destroyed in human gastric juice. Similarly, enzymes that degrade herbicides have been tested for toxicity and allergenicity. GM food plants have been extensively analyzed for the presence of toxic compounds and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. One test for trans-genic products is to determine whether the foreign protein is degraded in the stomach. If the protein is not degraded in the stomach, it has the potential for triggering allergic reaction. Nevertheless, not everybody is convinced that GM food plants are entirely safe.

One solution to this question of food safety is to label foods that contain GM plant products. Indeed, the European Union is considering allowing the importation of products containing GM plants if the products are labeled. If this were done, the public could choose between GM and non-GM foods. There are two obstacles to labeling genetically modified foods: One is that biotech companies have fought hard to prevent the labeling of these products in the United States, and so far they have won this battle. This means that the public has no way of knowing which foods contain GM plant products and which do not. Another looming obstacle is the fact that so many staple crops in the United States are genetically modified. If processed foods are to be labeled, even if only a small portion of the contents is genetically modified, a major transformation of farming and distribution practices in the United States is necessary to keep genetically modified crops separate from nonmodified crops in the food stream.

This issue of labeling of genetically modified foods promises to be contentious for years to come. The increasingly global market of foods will further heighten the need to be aware of issues related to the genetic modification of crops.

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