What's the scoop on what's in your food?
© Elizabeth Glass Geltman

Walk into a store to purchase a new pair of pants. The labeling will tell you where the clothing was made and the material from which the pants were made.

Walk into a grocery store and you can tell some nutritional information about the food you select; but you cannot tell whether or not the food was genetically modified (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE). While some companies voluntarily label GE and GMO products, there is no federal requirement to do so — and only a few states currently have a labeling requirement.

A study just published by Consumer Reports highlights both the need for:

  • Federal legislation requiring labeling when foods are genetically modified or engineered; and
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action by offering both guidance and enforcement to ensure that claims made concerning GMO and GE foods are not misleading.

Consumer Reports tested more than 80 grocery products "to determine the extent of GE corn and soy in processed foods and whether labels that suggest or claim to be non-GMO were meaningful." The findings were instructive.

Almost all of the conventional products tested contained GE corn or soy. As did most of the products labeled "natural."

Only products labeled USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) "organic" or "Non-GMO Project Verified" contained no GE corn or soy.

The Consumer Reports findings provide two important messages. First, it is now clear that most processed foods in the grocery store containing corn or soy are made with GE crops. Second, most companies that label their products "natural" do not distinguish between GE and non-GE ingredients.

Foods must be properly labeled so that consumers can make informed decisions. Currently, labeling laws do not dictate how companies manufacture products or what GMO or GE components manufacturers can or cannot put into products. Labeling laws do not require changes in food manufacturing practices. Studies show labeling laws will not significantly raise manufacturing costs or consumer costs for food. Labeling laws merely demand that companies provide accurate information and let the market decide.

Having accurate information so that consumers understand and are able to choose what they are eating is both a democratic and a human rights issue.

More than 60 countries currently require the labeling of GE and GMO foods. The U.S. should, too. Congress should pass Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)'s "Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act" or other legislation making labeling of all GE and GMO foods mandatory.

In addition, the FTC should immediately revise its "Green Guides" to clarify that food products containing GE or GMO ingredients are not "natural."

Geltman is the author of 17 books on environmental and natural resources policy and is an associate professor and program director for Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health and the Urban School of Public Health at Hunter College.