New GMO rules should tell whole story

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rather than let Vermont dictate GMO food standards for the country, the Senate passed a labeling law last week and the House will take up the issue in short order.

There's no guarantee the House will go along with the requirement.

While humans have been modifying their foods for centuries through selective breeding, it's only been a few years that they've been able to manipulate DNA directly, by inserting a gene from one plant or animal into another.

You've eaten GMO food today whether you realize it or not, in the form of soybean oil, cornstarch, or high-fructose corn syrup.

Corn and soybeans are most commonly modified to resist disease or herbicides, and 75 to 80 percent of foods contain products made from them, foods the U.S. Food and Drug Administration assures us are safe.

Whether or not a labeling bill makes it to President Obama's desk, be prepared for a slew of products advertised as "Non-GMO" -- even if they never were made from GMO products in the first place.

And, besides hybridization and selective breeding, there are other ways our food supply has been modified besides the techniques known as genetic modification.

For instance, removal of an undesirable gene from a plant does qualify it as a GMO food.

And, a number of foods such as barley and rice have been modified by accelerating evolution through the bombardment of radiation. That red grapefruit grown in Texas was created by a breeder in the mid-1960s who exposed grapefruit tree buds to radiation. Called mutagenesis or radiation breeding, that technique produces food that can be certified as organic.

Some genetic mutations occur naturally, of course, such as orange carrots, which were favored by humans over the original purple and yellow ones that were more common in nature.

If some form of the Senate bill finally makes it into law, consumbers will be able to scan a code on their smart phones to go to a website that explains the food's genetic modification and the reason it was done.

Vermont leaders such as Bernie Sanders say the federal law doesn't go far enough, falling short of that state's stricter GMO laws that went into effect last week.

Consumers have a right to know what they're eating, and new GMO labeling requirements seem to be a reasonable step.

But any new requirements should allow the whole story to be told, not simply be a knee-jerk reaction to the latest food scare story.

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