Luskin: GMO Labeling

Feb 4, 2014

I’ll be the first to admit that I love the new, high performance, fabrics that have been keeping me warm, dry and protected from the wind during the recent arctic cold. But as I geared up to snow shoe in the sub-zero weather, I couldn’t help but notice that every article I pulled on came with a multitude of labels.

My polypro long johns have the size and fiber content printed inside the collar and waistband. These inked labels are a big improvement over the old-fashioned kind that used to irritate my winter-dry skin.

My fleece pants, my Polar Tec vest, my wind jacket, my hat, and my gloves – every article of clothing I pull on against the cold bears labels on the inside listing size, fiber content, and instructions for care. Manufacturers of sporting gear also place logos and labels on the outside of their products, essentially forcing us consumers to advertise for them. Even my gaiters, which keep the snow out of my boots, carry labels inside and out, advertising both the brand name of the gaiters and the proprietary, trademarked name of the fabric from which they are made.

These labels even tell me where my clothing was made.

Lots of other items I purchase are also heavily labeled, from the car I drive to the mattress I sleep on. Manufacturers are required by law to provide a list of fiber content on those labels attached to bedding, pillows, and sleeping bags. Only the consumer is allowed to cut off that long label – and rest easy. Long johns are my preference for intimate winter apparel, and I’m glad to know what I’m wearing next to my skin. But I’d argue that I have an even more intimate relationship with the food I eat. So it seems a no-brainer to me that food, too, should be comprehensively labeled.

In the United States, foods do carry a nutritional label, listing calories, carbohydrates, sugars and fats. Packaged food is also labeled with warnings about allergens, like wheat, eggs, dairy and nuts. If food is grown organically, it’s labeled as such. Same if it’s kosher. And when food comes in a package, it has an address. So it stands to reason that if the item is produced with genetically modified ingredients, it would say so, right on the label.

But it doesn’t, and it won’t – not unless enough states pass a law requiring it. Vermont has a chance to be one of those states.

Passing a GMO labeling law is not about the pros and cons of growing GMO foods. It’s about the right to know. Surprisingly, the safety of genetically modified crops has not been adequately proven. Some good scientific studies are needed so we can learn whether or not there are environmental or health risks to growing and/or eating genetically modified foods. In the meantime, a label law would give us consumers the basic knowledge we need for the freedom to choose.