Californians seem to be doing everything right these days. Achieving the tall and slender beach-body look, eating less than kids in other states, and now likely voting to enforce a new law that would require labeling of genetically engineered food. Is there anything they aren’t doing right? Well, maybe.
If approved, California would be the first state in the nation to require GMO labeling. And according to a recent poll by California Right to Know, it’s likely to happen as nine out of 10 California voters want the labeling to be enforced.
However, new research on the effectiveness of food labeling suggests it may not be the one-cure-fix-all solution Californians, and other health-conscious Americans, are looking for. This is because a labeling initiative may end up making it harder for consumers to know what’s in their food, since it makes the definition of ‘natural’ food very unclear.
When we think of the word natural when it relates to food, we think organic, healthy, and no artificial preservatives, flavorings or ingredients. But apparently the term natural is becoming much harder to define, especially since the federal government has refused to make the term any clearer, allowing food companies to continue labeling their food as ‘natural’ when it may very well not be.
But just in case there was any confusion on what they want, California’s Right to Know is spelling it out for the government and food producers alike. They want processed food or raw agricultural commodity, such as corn, that has or may have been partially or wholly produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such. And they want food companies using GE ingredients to stop labeling their foods as ‘natural.’
But experts say Californians may not know what they’re asking for, and might end up frustrating the food production industry in the process.
In an interview with NPR, Peggy Lemaux – a cooperative extension specialist for the University of California – speculated that the term ‘natural’ as Right to Know defines it may exclude many non-GMO and whole foods. And that since natural can potentially be defined as nothing other than organic food, the labeling system could be very limiting and confusing both for consumers and food producers. But Right to Know insists that non-genetically engineered foods can still be labeled as ‘natural’ under their terms.
This push by Californians may seem extreme to other Americans, but it likely comes as no shock to the world abroad as more than 40 other countries already require labels for genetically modified foods. This is due in part to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which continues to insist that genetically modified foods pose no safety risks to the public.
But as most GM labeling advocates would agree, they’re missing the point. Americans don’t the government to tell them if GM foods are safe or not, they just want to know which ones are and which ones aren’t so they can make the decision themselves. Is that so hard to understsand?
In the meantime, the Center for Food Safety has published a True Food Shopper’s Guide – which can be downloaded, printed, or utilized via smart phone app – that informs consumers what GMO foods are and how they can avoid them during their grocery run.
May 15th, 2012