Monday, March 11, 2013

Whole Foods Market and GMOs in the News

   Whole Foods, a national chain of grocery stores with a strong emphasis on natural foods, announced Friday that it will begin labeling all products containing GMOs(the deadline has been set for 2018). GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals which have been altered by having genes added or removed. This is usually done to make growing plants or raising animals easier, and genes used may be from a plant or animal within the same species, or from an entirely different species, as in the case of this tomato with an anti-freeze fish gene added. Whole Foods' move is an exciting development in light of the fact that California's Proposition 37, which would have required all genetically modified foods sold in retail outlets in the state to be labeled as such, failed to pass this past fall and Washington state will attempt to pass a similar law this year. A quote from nicely sums up the situation:
 Doesn't it make sense that genetically engineered foods containing experimental viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled...? Genetically engineered foods do not have to be tested for safety before entering the market. No long-term human feeding studies have been done. The research we have is raising serious questions about the impact to human health and the environment.
   GMOs were first seen in our markets in 1996, and have since become commonplace in the US. Given how ordinary they seem, relatively little is actually known about their affects on our health and, interestingly, they are not nearly as accepted in most countries. The first long-term animal study on the effects of GMO consumption was just published in September 2012 and showed an increased rate of cancerous tumors in rats who had consumed them. As with all studies, experimental design must be critiqued in order to see if the results truly mean what they seem to. But whether or not the study was flawed, the fact remains that our knowledge of GMOs is uncertain and consumers have a right to decide whether or not they wish to take part in this nationwide experiment.

   The response to customer demand by Whole Foods is both a promising and intriguing sign. While the proposed legislation would result in FDA regulation, a wide-spread response from the private sector could be even better. As a government agency, the FDA has many conflicts of interest and the interest that may not always win out is trying to do what is actually best for the health of the public. First, private companies like Whole Foods Market, Earth Fare, and Trader Joe's responded to our desire for better food. Now, Whole Foods is leading the way in responding to our desire for better information. I can see this availability of the real food we want getting better and better over time, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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