Consumers Have the Right to be Informed About GMOs

As a 2012 California initiative for the labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Proposition 37 was fundamentally flawed.  The most troubling aspect of Prop 37 was its dubious wording, which allowed consumers and law firms on their behalves to file lawsuits against anyone in the GMO process: farmers, distributors and grocers. On the other hand, Prop 37 sent a wake-up call to companies associated with GMOs. Despite its flaws, it argued that consumers have the right to know whether their food is natural or not. We do. Consumers should have this right because it is a pivotal part of making an informed decision. Knowledge, in a time when the truth seems ambiguous, is the most viable alternative to ignorance. Consumers have the right to be informed about GMOs, as this knowledge is an important part of making an informed decision.

Right now, the right to know is gaining momentum with a renewed campaign by State Senator Noreen Evans to introduce Californian bill SB 1381 into the 2014 general election. Recently, SB 1381 was approved by California’s Senate Committee of Health. The bill is a cleaned up version of Proposition 37 that aims to hold food manufacturers responsible for the GMO labelling of their products while limiting possible lawsuits. 

As part of making an informed decision, consumers need to not only know whether a product is genetically modified or not but also what a GMO is.  A GMO is any organism whose DNA has been altered. 

Most of the controversy surrounding GMOs centers on the unpredictable nature of changing an organism’s genetic material. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not linked any GMO crops to increased exposure to toxins or allergic reactions. While there are anti-GMO scientists who have concluded from mice studies about the potential cancerous side effects, many of their reports have been discredited by the scientific community. Furthermore, the United States has been consuming GMOs since the 1996 introduction of the Flavr Savr tomato. 

Today, the United States is by far the largest GMO producer in the world, cultivating two thirds of genetically modified crops such as corn, canola, soy, squash and papayas. These crops have been used in 70 percent of the products found in supermarkets, ranging from milk and ice cream to crackers and cereals. 

Despite the fact that there have been no proven hazards of GMOs, consumers still have the right to know what they are eating. The most significant reason why consumers should have this right is that information fosters a more informed decision, which is crucial to democracy. In a study testing the impact of informed general voters, researchers from the University of California San Diego and University of Southern California argue that informing voters is essential towards producing reasonable decisions, as  it is extremely difficult to make a reasonable decision without context. Thus, agricultural biotechnology companies such as Monsanto and Dupont should label GMOs in order to afford consumers the right to decide for themselves.

Although Monsanto and Dupont argue that GMOs have a negative public perception, right now, the first step towards building trust with the consumer is to let them make their own informed decision. According to SB 1381, 90 percent of the American public support the labelling of GMO foods. SB 1381 is projected to pass California’s state legislature. Even with this guarantee, the future impact of GMO foods is unclear. More than ever, it is important to demand not only transparency, but the truth.