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What To Know about the GMO

by Piper Stull-Lane

Genetically modified organism: It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie with green legs and a death wish. Historically, however, the use of GMOs is actually benevolent—intended to increase crop yields, lower medicinal costs, stabilize wildlife populations and much, much more. It is perhaps the GMO’s very breadth of use that has lit the fire for consumer concern.

Commercial modification of genetic material began only 38 years ago, yet 70 percent of American processed foods now contain genetically engineered ingredients. Their widespread (and unlabeled) incorporation into day-to-day products has caused some to question the safety of a practice that hasn’t stood the test of time.

Today’s target area? Food production and labeling. It is unclear what long-term consequences might arise from the use of GMOs on the consumer end. However, there are already known production issues: Farmers who do not use genetically modified seeds can be sued by those who do if there are any GM seeds found in their fields. This poses a problem as it is natural for seeds to drift from one field to the next, and litigation is costly, putting some small farmers out of business.

Image courtesy of Green America

Image courtesy of Green America

As consumers, we know to eat organic and buy local—crops cannot, by USDA definition, be certified organic and contain GMOs. In 2012, Californian citizens voted on the consumer right to know when GMOs are involved in the production of their food. Proposition 37 would have mandated labeling items that contain GMOs. Its narrow loss sparked concern among its proponents, and additionally seemed questionable after Monsanto and The Hershey Co. donated millions of dollars towards defeating the proposal.

In response, Green America, the nation’s leading green economy organization, jumpstarted a comprehensive campaign to educate Americans about GMOs, and to raise awareness about organic certified alternatives. It’s called GMO Inside, and I spoke with Campaigns Director Elizabeth O’Connell to learn more about the recent decision to target one of many Americans’ favorite morning rituals, Starbucks.

“Starbucks is one of the newer campaigns, and we’re focusing our efforts on dairy,” O’Connell explains. “We’d like to see Starbucks use organic ingredients instead of additives that contain GMOs.” Starbucks is known for ethical decision-making, so beginning here makes sense. Check out their dedication to corporate responsibility; it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to include a clause on genetically modified organisms.

“We need to change consumption patterns of corporations, and we [Green America] see Starbucks as a leader with a conscientious consumer base.” When O’Connell says “consumption patterns of corporations,” she’s talking about the ingredients Starbucks chooses to use. However, O’Connell also emphasizes the importance of consumer choices, which boils down to the decisions we make every day at the supermarket. If we are actively aware of what we buy, we can send a message of affirmation to companies whose food production decisions we support. (And, by the same token, send a message of disapproval to those we don’t.)

Over 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan and every country in the EU, have banned the use of GMOs. It might be wise to step back, do a bit of research and reflection, and truly consider our food. To learn more about GMO Inside, visit facebook.com/GMOInside. It is updated frequently with the status of the non-GMO movement and includes easy ways to support healthy and fair food regulations. You can also follow @GMOInside on Twitter for updates.

Connect with Piper @PiperStullLane

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