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FoodShed: If It Starts with an Eight, Hesitate

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I hear the way to tell if a fresh fruit or vegetable is genetically engineered is to look at the PLU number on its label. If it starts with an eight, it’s genetically engineered. (If it starts with a nine, it’s organic, apparently). Here’s a quick synopsis of genetically engineered, or genetically modified (GM), crops:

The Woes

Genetically-modified (GM) crops combine genes in a way that does not, and could not, occur naturally. The first GM crops were introduced for commercial production in 1996. Now, the overwhelming majority of soybeans and cotton, half of all papayas and a rapidly increasing percentage of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified. GM crops can cause harm to other organisms, cross-pollinate unintentionally, cause the development of superweeds and pests, increase risks to those with food allergies, unintentionally expose vegetarians to animal genes, and potentially have other long-term effects. The U.S. government does not require data on the safety and nutrition of GM crops, nor does it require labeling alerting consumers to the presence of GM crops in food products.

The Wows

More than 130 countries signed a trade agreement known as the Biosafety Protocol on labeling GM foods. Although the United States did not sign this agreement, many countries with whom we trade, such as Canada and those in Europe, did. These countries require labeling of GM food and can refuse to accept GM food, thereby forcing U.S. companies who trade with these countries to consider their requirements. Here at home, certified organic farms are not permitted to grow GM crops. The growth of the organic marketplace helps to maintain these farms.

What You Can Do Now

1. Decide where you stand on this issue.
2. Read current labels.
3. Raise your voice for increased and continual transparency in labeling so you can make informed choices.


FoodShed appears every Tuesday and Thursday in Divine Caroline. See my profile here

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