By Robyn O’Brien (Prevention)
Fourteen years ago, I was in NYC at a conference hosted by one of the big banks, as a financial analyst covering the food industry.
In that position, I learned how the food industry uses artificial ingredients to manage their profitability and meet earnings. But never once, attending conferences in New York City or speaking with traders on the floor of the stock exchange, did our team meet with the chemical companies engineering their products into our food, ingredients that required increased use of a portfolio of chemicals that helped them manage their earnings.
It is a brilliant business model for chemical investors, but for eaters?
At that conference, I also happened to be six months pregnant. At that time, parents around the world were being told about a massive change in the way that food was produced and grown, but parents here in the United States, even those of us covering the food industry, had not been told what was going on.
That is changing.
Introduced in the 1980s and patented for their novelty, GMOs, or genetically engineered ingredients, quietly found their way into our foods in the 1990s.
Why is this a big deal? It’s not, according to the FDA who say that these things look, taste and smell the same as their conventional counterparts. But perhaps the six points listed below will shed some light on why China just rejected 60,000 tons of genetically engineered product:
1) The novelty of these ingredients is so unprecedented that the EPA now regulates genetically engineered corn as a pesticide. Up until GMOs, insecticide was sprayed on corn and could be washed off. With the introduction of GMOs, corn is now engineered to produce its own insecticide. Why label? If you had a choice between the two corns, one that is regulated as a food and the other, genetically engineered corn, regulated as a pesticide, which would you choose?
2) The FDA says that these foods look, taste and smell the same, that they are “substantially equivalent,” but the United States Patent and Trademark Office says they are substantially different, so unique that they have granted patents to the chemical companies that invented them. Not unlike Intel Inside, we now have GMO Inside.
3) Chemical companies engineered food crops like soy and corn to withstand increasing doses of their chemicals. It’s a brilliant business model if you’re selling chemicals. And while shareholder reports what a remarkable impact that has had on their top lines for their weed killer and other chemical products, the Presidents Cancer Panel is telling all of us, especially those of us with kids, to reduce our exposure to these very same chemicals. Wouldn’t you like to know which corn and which soy has been saturated?
4) 25 states have introduced legislation, over 6 million voted for labels in California, the first state to introduce a labeling initiative last year.
5) 64 countries around the world label these ingredients: a partial list includes every country in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and even Russia, India and China.
6) Over 20 countries around the world flat out banned them, didn’t introduce them at all. The reasons vary, from no long term human health studies, no synergistic toxicity studies (eating a pesticide sprayed with other weedkillers, anyone?), no prenatal studies and concerns over everything from cancer to allergies.
We label the inside parts of our clothes, our cars and our computers, why not our corn? Why is the industry so opposed to labeling? The industry would say that it is just fear-mongering. But the bottom line is that it’s their fiduciary duty to do just that, dismiss labeling efforts. Labels would bring liability, traceability and accountability. In other words, it would be increasingly hard for them to claim “no evidence of harm.” Without labels, there simply is no evidence, and they are fighting for their shareholders to keep it that way. It’s their fiduciary duty to shareholders.
But labels matter, especially in light of the escalating rates of allergies, autism, diabetes and pediatric cancers. There are no long term human clinical trials, no prenatal studies and no pediatric studies.
And while the industry is quick to label those of us calling for full disclosure (I’ve been called a lot of names), the most important name that most of us hear is “mom” or “dad.” And as parents around the country wake up to what is happening to our food supply, how these ingredients aren’t being used in other countries and how our very own American companies are opting out of these controversial ingredients overseas while doing nothing here, they are finding their courage and beginning to use their voices and platforms to create change. In some cases, that change has been positive, a quick look at Chipotle’s share price shows how embracing the customers’ request for more information can drive shareholder return. In other cases, the change has been negative, as Kellogg’s has had to down quarters on record, announcing a 7% cut in their employee base, as a grassroots movement to reject their products, aimed at children and loaded with genetically engineered ingredients grows.
The food industry has a choice to make: stand with the chemical companies or stand with their consumers.
The fiduciary duty is an obvious one: to reduce the risk of litigation and to meet consumer demand, the food industry should join their consumers and give Americans the right to know if the ingredients in their food are now genetically engineered or to opt out of them entirely. Continuing to pump ingredients into the food supply that expose them to liability makes no sense.
This article was originally published on Prevention.com