GMOs

Elle Magazine recently ran an article on the health risks of genetically modified corn. To say the movement to label GMOs has been gaining steam is now, quite evidently, an understatement.

Fashion magazines aren’t known for their editorial content on food safety issues, but with more than one thousand Facebook likes, Elle’s July 24th article (“The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn“) is showing just how significant the label GMO movement has become in the U.S.

It wasn’t all that long ago that eating healthfully meant you were some kind of wheat-germ fanatic, or worse. It was fodder for teasing and making scrunched up faces at the mere mention of kale. But we simply can’t deny the benefit changes in our diets bring. Even processed food brands are feigning healthy pursuits. The Earth is a fascinating place. People want to live longer and enjoy more of it. These are legitimate goals, and reasons for eating healthy foods.

Corporations still battle to control what we eat, though.

Here in the U.S., the government subsidizes junk food in a massive way. Lobbyists for the big-ag, processed food and biotech industries behave like tobacco companies did in the late ’80s. They’re desperately clinging to a story that simply doesn’t add up, and Americans are waking up to the fact that the protagonists are nothing more than greedy corporate agendas. (Not that we don’t love a good villain to make things interesting.)

All of a sudden, it appears as if we’re hitting a turning point. Elle Magazine is just a tiny little drop in a much bigger bucket of change. While a federal GMO labeling bill has yet to be passed and California’s November 2012 labeling bill failure was a huge disappointment, there are notable victories happening almost daily. For starters, both Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling bills. Even though they’re conditional, they’re still a step in the right direction. Major retailers including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have vowed not to carry Aqua Bounty’s GMO salmon, should it receive final FDA approval. (It would become the first genetically engineered animal allowed in the food supply.) Whole Foods has also announced a comprehensive plan to label all GMOs sold in its stores by 2018. (This move is particularly significant and could force manufacturers to label GMOs sold throughout the U.S., rather than just create GMO labels for Whole Foods.)

Other victories include Chipotle Mexican Grill’s recently updated list of ingredients on its website to reveal which items exactly are genetically modified. Class action lawsuits are regularly being filed against major food brands deceptively using the word (and variations of) “natural” to describe foods that contain GMOs. The latest victory was a settlement that forced PepsiCo to pay some $9 million for labeling its Naked Juice brand as “natural” when it contained both GMOs and synthetic ingredients.

And then there are the advocacy, education and consumer groups working to expose GMOs. The nascent organization GMOs Inside sent thousands of frustrated consumers to the Chobani Greek yogurt Facebook page recently in outrage. The company, which claims its yogurts are all natural, uses dairy from conventionally raised cows who are most often fed GMO grains. It’s the first campaign of its kind to target dairy as a GMO ingredient. (Ben & Jerry’s recently announced it was replacing all GMO ingredients in its ice cream as well.)

The question now is what happens next? Will more states pass GMO labeling laws? Will manufacturers disclose or replace their GMO ingredients? How many more lawsuits will consumers file against food manufacturers? And if/once GMOs are labeled, will the health and environmental risks be enough to turn more Americans towards organic and non-GMO food options? Perhaps Caitlin Shetterly summed it up best in her Elle article, “I’ve had to slow down and think about my food—how it was grown, what’s in it, and which trade-offs were made in the journey from a seed to my plate. That consciousness has to be worth something bigger than just my health.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: GMO Inside