What is the goal of the ‘Just Label It’ campaign?

The Just Label It Campaign is calling for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. We have petitioned the FDA to require that genetically engineered (GE), often referred to as genetically modified or GMO, foods be labeled. Americans have a basic right to know what they’re eating and the right to make informed choices about what they eat.

What do surveys show Americans think about labeling GE foods?

According to various polls and surveys, the vast majority of Americans feel they have a right to know what is in their food. Voter support for labeling of GE foods is nearly unanimous, according to the political opinion survey on GE food labeling conducted by The Mellman Group on behalf of JLI. The survey found nearly all Democrats (93% favor, 2% oppose), Independents (90% favor, 5% oppose) and Republicans (89% favor, 5% oppose) in favor of labeling. To learn more about the national survey of 1000 voters, read the Mellman Survey Results.

The results of the Mellman Group survey are consistent with multiple previous polls including:

93% believe GE foods should be labeled (10/10,Thomson Reuters PULSE™ Healthcare Survey, “National Survey of Healthcare Consumers: Genetically Engineered Food”)
96% believe genetically modified foods should be labeled (6/11, MSNBC)
95% of consumers believe GE foods should be labeled (11/08, Consumers Union, “Food-Labeling Poll: 2008,” p. 13)
94% believe genetically modified food should be labeled (9/10, Washington Post)
93% of the American public wants the federal government to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods (6/11, ABC News)

What is the petition?

The legal petition filed with FDA calls for products that use ingredients produced with genetic engineering disclose this information on the label.

Who is behind the Just Label It Campaign?

More than 600 partner organizations representing the healthcare community, consumer advocates, farmers, concerned parents, environmentalists, food and farming organizations, businesses, the faith-based community, and many more concerned with protecting the consumer’s right to know have joined together on this issue.

Are genetically engineered (GE or GMOs) foods safe?

The fact is, we don’t know. The safety of GE crops for human consumption has not been adequately assured. Several National Academy of Sciences studies have affirmed that genetically engineered crops have the potential to introduce new toxins or allergens into our food and environment. Yet unlike the strict safety evaluations for approval of new drugs, there are no mandatory human clinical trials of genetically engineered crops, no tests for carcinogenicity or harm to fetuses, no long term testing for human health risks, no requirement for long-term testing on animals, and limited testing for allergenicity. There have been no epidemiological studies of the possible impacts of the consumption of GE crops on health.

Studies have confirmed that there is reason for caution. For example, scientists recently found that the insecticide in GE corn is now showing up in our bloodstream and the umbilical cord blood of pregnant women. More research needs to be done to confirm these results and determine whether consumption of GE crops is introducing new toxins into our bodies. Until we know without a doubt that GE crops are safe to eat, we should have a choice about whether we want to eat them.

The scientific debate about the benefits and risks of GE crops may go on for a long time.  Meanwhile, an entire generation will have grown up consuming them. We should all have a choice about whether we want to participate in this grand experiment with our bodies and our environment. We have a right to know what’s in our food.

What is the relationship between herbicides and GE foods?

Many GE crops are designed to be resistant to commercial herbicides allowing the crop to tolerate more herbicide spraying without affecting crop growth. Genetically engineered crops have been credited with an increase of 527 million pounds of herbicide use in the U.S. over the first 16 years of commercial use (1996- 2011). In August of 2011, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported that glyphosate (the active ingredient in the herbicide “Roundup”) is now a common component of the air and rain in the Midwest during the spring and summer.

As a direct result of widespread use of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops populations of weeds (“superweeds”) have developed resistance to herbicides and are now present in 26 states. Not surprisingly, farmers have increasingly needed to revert to using older and more toxic herbicides like dicamba and 2,4-D (one of the ingredients in the Vietnam War era defoliant Agent Orange). These herbicides are known to cause reproductive problems, birth defects, and increased risk of cancer.

Doesn’t GE food help with the hunger crisis and feeding the world?

The PR machines from the biotech industry are performing far better than the actual results of the crops. According to Failure to Yield, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields. Alternatives such as conventional breeding and modern non-GE breeding methods that use improved understanding of crop biology, as well as newer production methods, have demonstrated that collectively they are capable of increasing crop yields far more than GE has yet managed to do. However, public funding for conventional breeding has not kept up with the need for improved crops as resources have been channeled toward GE research and development.

Globally, a plethora of recent reports reveal that non-GMO, low input, sustainable farming practices can alleviate hunger, reduce dependency on fossil fuels and chemicals, use resources efficiently, and create healthier communities.

What is the difference between GE foods and conventional foods?

Genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as genetically modified, or GMOs, are those that are altered at the molecular level in ways that could not happen naturally. This means plants and animals have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. These techniques use DNA molecules from different sources, sometimes different species, and combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes (e.g. mixing of flounder genes into tomatoes so they can grow larger and more quickly.)

How prevalent are GE ingredients in our foods?

Nine genetically engineered food crops are currently on the market in the U.S.:

  •             Corn
  •             Soybeans
  •             Canola
  •             Cotton
  •             Sugar Beets
  •             Alfalfa
  •             Hawaiian Papaya
  •             Zucchini
  •             Yellow Crookneck Squash

(FlavrSavrTomatoes were the first genetically modified foods to come on the market, but are no longer cultivated today.)

Three GE crops account for the vast majority of acres planted to GMOs around the world – corn, soybeans, and cotton.  Five countries produce 90% of the world’s genetically engineered crops: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and the United States.

While the animals themselves are not genetically engineered, the majority of the livestock Americans consume have been raised on genetically engineered grains. This is because the two most prevalent genetically engineered crops are corn and soy which are used in many processed foods and most animal feeds.

A genetically engineered salmon is pending FDA approval.The GE Atlantic salmon being considered was developed by artificially combining growth hormone genes from an eelpout. This modification causes production of growth-hormone year-round, creating a fish that grows at twice the normal rate. If approved, it will be the first genetically engineered animal on supermarket shelves in the U.S.

If the FDA requires GE ingredients be identified on food labels, will this be a big expense for food companies and if so, will the cost be passed on to the consumer?

Companies often change their labels for a variety of reasons. The FDA would give a period to phase in the new labeling requirements as it has done with all required labeling changes, so the costs could be incorporated into other planned packaging changes and not passed onto consumers.

How can consumers avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods?

Nearly 90 percent of corn; 94 percent of soy; and 90 percent of cottonseed grown in the US are from GE seeds. These ingredients are most often found in packaged foods like cereals, crackers, cookies, chips, high fructose corn syrup sweetened soda, frozen meals and more. The best options if you are looking to avoid genetically engineered foods are to buy USDA certified organic as the USDA organic standards prohibit the use of GMOs; to look for verified Non-GMO products; and to buy unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables as few whole foods are genetically engineered.

How can people get involved in the campaign?

On this website, people can with one-click notify the FDA of their support for the Just Label It petition  and stay up to date on the initiative. If you’ve already commented to the FDA, sign up to receive our email updates.