This morning, I poured coffee creamer labeled “no GMO ingredients” in my mug. I fed my daughter cereal, and the box said no genetically engineered ingredients. Over the weekend, I bought a few spices at the grocery store. When I put them on the spice rack at home, I was surprised to see a “No GMOs” label. Surprised, because does someone out there worry that a teaspoon of onion powder or parsley flakes may contain GMOs?
One reason that we’re seeing more labels like “partially produced with genetic engineering” is because of a now-defunct Vermont law that required labeling foods made with genetically engineered, or genetically modified (GMO), ingredients.
A new federal law, signed by President Barack Obama last year, put an end to state-by-state regulations in favor of a standardized, national labeling system for GMO ingredients. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the rulemaking stage of writing the regulations.
Yet why am I still seeing “No GMOs” on the foods my family eats every day? Because like a “gluten free” label on potato chips or a “low fat” label on gummy bears, it’s about marketing. And food companies are struggling with lower sales as consumer preferences change.
For reasons that have nothing to do with health but everything to do with promoting a “what isn’t natural is bad” lifestyle choice, food activists have created consumer doubts about the safety of GMOs.
A 2015 Pew Research study found that 57 percent of Americans say GMOs are unsafe, but 88 percent of scientists believe GMOs are safe. If you actually look up the websites that food companies include on their labels to further explain their ingredients, you will see the companies agree that GMOs are safe.
So again, why the “No GMOs” labels? Food companies say their customers are asking for more transparency about what’s in their food.
And I get that. I’ve become “that” mom who blocks the aisle at the grocery store, checking to make sure the snack crackers I buy my toddler aren’t full of sugar.
Consumers have every right to choose the foods they want, but because of marketing claims, it’s tough for consumers to make informed decisions.
A non-GMO food isn’t any safer or healthier than a GMO food. Instead, eating healthy means reading nutrition labels and following the USDA’s “MyPlate” guide: fill one-half your plate with fruits and vegetables, plus lean meat and a serving of low-fat or fat-free milk or dairy.
A little creamer in my morning coffee is fine too. But what’s important to me isn’t the “No GMOs” label. It’s the “salted caramel” label.
By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.