Demand labels for genetically modified produce

by Stacey Oparnica

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

What’s really in a hot dog? Apparently animal hearts, kidneys and livers aren’t uncommon ingredients. It’s disgusting, yes. But mysterious, mechanically separated organ links are the least of your worries. Where your food comes from and how it is produced are what Americans should really be concerned about.

Let’s face it: The vast majority of Americans readily gobble up meal after meal without the slightest clue of what they’re actually eating or where the ingredients come from. The mystery of the food industry combined with our own apathy has allowed colossal corporations, such as Monsanto and Cargill, to dominate the food industry through the exploitation of genetically modified organisms. If it sounds like zombie food, it’s because it isn’t that far off. Genetically modified foods are produced from “…a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of organisms such as animals, plants, or bacteria,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The original purpose of biotechnology was to produce food that could withstand environmental perils, such as freezing temperatures, drought and exposure to pesticides. Farmers now actively engineer more resilient food to grow larger in shorter periods of time. An online search of “genetically modified foods” yields hilarious, yet very frightening, depictions of the results, such as blue strawberries, super huge carrots and corn with “patent pending” on the side. Based on the vast advantages of this science, it’s obvious why biotechnology has revolutionized the food industry, even sparking discussion of being able to manufacture enough food to feed the entire world. But I want to ask you one question: How do you feel about eating genetically modified foods? After all, you’ve been eating them for more than ten years. You didn’t know? Neither did I.

Astonishingly, roughly 86 percent of corn and 93 percent of soybeans produced in the U.S. are genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The U.S. also has the most land area of genetically modified crops in the entire world.

Where do these engineered foods end up? In your grocery stores. “More than 60 percent of all processed foods on U.S. supermarket shelves — including pizza, chips, cookies, ice cream, salad dressing, corn syrup, and baking powder — contain ingredients from engineered soybeans, corn, or canola,” according to National Geographic.

One reason you were completely unaware of this is because the Food and Drug Administration — you know, the department supposedly here to protect our health — doesn’t require labeling for genetically modified food unless the product is deemed abnormal, meaning possessing a toxin or an allergen. Otherwise, companies don’t have to label a thing. Therefore, even if you were to scour the aisles of your grocery store for hours on end, you could still unknowingly end up with dozens of genetically modified food items sitting in your shopping cart.

Although the process of requiring companies to label genetically modified foods is not simple, continuing to stock grocery store aisles with them while failing to inform consumers of what they are buying is absolutely irresponsible. While the possible health risks of consuming genetically modified foods are heatedly debated, the question remains: What happened to consumer choice? Why don’t we get to know what’s in our food before we eat it, whether we agree with genetically engineered crops or not?

There’s a clear answer for this. If you knew what was in your bag of chips and how its contents were manufactured, you’d hesitate to buy it. You’d likely opt for organic food from your local farmer’s markets and Trader Joe’s. Even Trader Joe’s, however, desperately needs some transparency, although that’s a column for another day. The bottom line? If we continue to turn a blind eye to the source of our food, enormous corporations will continue to dominate the decisions we’re supposed to be making for ourselves. If the government isn’t protecting us, who will? We can’t afford to wait around for the FDA and President Barack Obama to stop bending over backward for corrupt food corporations. Take the initiative and take the reins. Care about what’s going inside your body. Seek out local grocers in your area. Go organic. I assure you I’ve already made the switch. I’m just waiting on you.

— Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.