By Kate Geagan, MS, RD
Halloween still seems like the one day of the year when parents fret more than usual that their child may accidentally eat something they shouldn’t: remember back to our own childhood all those warnings from our own anxious parents about not “taking candy from strangers” when we were trick or treating? The reason, of course, was to protect us from something potentially dangerous in our treats.
What a difference a few decades makes. As a mother and a nutrition expert, what I will be watching most closely today on Halloween (and all days of the year, for that matter) is what went into the making the treats themselves. Because the truth is that some of our spookiest ingredients come from our modern highly processed food system itself. And I will be steering clear of anything made with trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or preservatives, or GMOs.
But therein likes the trick for moms like me. Because while our current food label allows me to know whether the first four ingredients are present, it is not required to tell me whether a food contains GMOs. And unlike over 60 countries in the world where I could take my kids Trick or Treating tonight and be handed only GMO-free treats (including Russia, China, the EU and Japan), it’s scary to think that the U.S. is not one of them.
I support GMO labeling as a parent because I believe families should have a choice about how they want to feed their children – on Halloween or any day of the year. As a registered dietitian, I want my professional decision to be grounded in the science-and in my opinion there simply is not adequate evidence at this time to demonstrate that GMOs are safe. In fact, the first long term peer reviewed study ever done, recently published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found GMO corn to be linked to significantly higher rates of tumors, organ damage, and premature deaths in rats. That’s scary stuff, even not on Halloween – and not a risk I’m willing to take with my children.
The food label is one of the best tools we have as consumers to make informed choices. Indeed, one of its strengths is that it continues to evolve to keep pace with consumer interest. For instance, high fructose corn syrup has become an ingredient many consumers are choosing to avoid, which is why many companies now loudly tout that their products are HCFS free. The food label also changes over time to integrate new science; take trans fats for instance, which are now required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel in light of growing evidence about the health risks associated with consuming trans fats.
It’s time to add GMOs to the label, too. If GMOs represent technology new enough and revolutionary enough to require patent protection by the company that makes them, how can the FDA conclude that there is ‘no difference in the foods that are made from them”, and thereby not require a label?
So today, I will of course issue the standard reminders to my own two little goblins about what makes for a safe Halloween. I’ll also try to coax in some healthy foods so as to buffer those blood sugar surges. But most notably, I will be giving out-and only eating-GMO free Halloween Treats (which means they will be USDA Certified organic, or bear the “Non GMO-Project Verified” label).
I hope you’ll join me; for the safety of our children, the health of our planet, and the transparency in our food system that every eater in America deserves the right to have.