Food, GMOs & the Right to Know

donuts with calorie labels

In case you missed it last week in the run-up to Thanksgiving, the FDA recently announced that calorie counts will now need to be “clearly and conspicuously” posted on menus and displays in all establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.

Of course, it’s not all that much information with respect to nutrition. Simple calorie count says nothing about about the quality of those calories – though it’s easy enough to guess that, in many cases, they’re probably not all that great.

One industry group estimates that the rule will cost businesses more than $1 billion “in the first year, with continuing costs reaching hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Despite that, it was doable. Despite industry grumbling, it was doable. After all, we have a right to know what we’re buying and eating. Hamburg says we expect to know.

Yet we can’t get labeling for GMOs? The information conveyed would say more about the quality of the food. Yet you constantly hear that it’s too hard or too expensive or too inconvenient to do – despite the fact that 93% of Americans say genetically modified foods should be labeled.

Really, as Andrea Stone puts it in a recent article on AlterNet, GMO labeling is “a no-brainer.”

Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumer Reports argues [that there is] an unjustifiable double-standard against GMO food labeling. He reasons that GMO foods are far more clearly distinct from conventional foods, compared to frozen vegetables, for example, which are often genetically identical, and sometimes even nutritionally superior to their fresh counterparts.

“In terms of a FDA decision about labeling, this debate about how ‘significant’ the difference is should be irrelevant. If there is a documentable difference between two foods, or two processes, and consumers care about the difference, then under the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act FDA has the authority to require labeling and should do so. It does not matter if it is a small difference or a large difference. Nor does it matter whether consumers are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to care about this difference,” Hansen says.

“The difference between frozen peas and fresh peas, one could easily argue, is much less than the difference between genetically engineered peas and conventional peas,” continues Hansen. “The frozen and fresh peas can be genetically identical. The frozen peas may even be nutritionally superior, even as consumers choose fresh peas thinking fresh is better. Yet FDA appropriately requires labeling about the difference, and allow consumers to make their own choices about what to buy, even if those choices are a ‘mistake,’ leaving it to the marketplace to educate consumers about pluses and minuses of each type of product.”

But no, we’re told again and again. GMO labeling is impossible

Image by Eric Mueller, via Flickr

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