By Nadia Barnett
UJW Staff Writer
Navaal Madhi, 17, strives to eat organically as much as possible and tends to view genetically modified products as “harmful” and “detrimental in the long run because of the hormones they have.”
Madhi was happy when Whole Foods Market announced in March that by 2018 it would label all genetically modified products throughout its North American stores.
Whole Foods Market is the first grocery chain in the US and Canada to adopt this policy, known as genetically modified organisms transparency or GMO transparency. In April, the U.S. Congress introduced federal legislation that would require the labeling of genetically modified food. Currently, the U.S. has no such regulations.
“Its really smart because people get to choose not to eat them and I think if people see that label they’ll be able to tell that something is wrong with this food that they’re actually eating,” Madhi said.
Genetically modified organisms were created to increase crop yield, protect plants from herbicides, and reduce their allergenic potential, according to the World Health Organization. But there has been debate over possible long-term health risks that genetic engineering poses to consumers and to the environment.
Whole Foods Market said it adopted this policy to help its customers make informed choices about its genetically modified products.
A poll by the Mellman Group reports 91 percent of Americans support government regulation of genetically modified food. In addition to the pending federal legislation, several pro-labeling initiatives have arisen in many states.
During the November 2012 election, Proposition 37 of California attempted to force grocery stores to label genetically modified products in order to promote consumer awareness, according to Yes on 37 For Your Right to Know, a political advocacy group. In March, the Vermont House Agricultural Committee passed a policy of this nature, which is expected to go into the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Similarly, in Connecticut, the Public Health Committee approved a bill with this policy, but suspended further action until a similar bill or regulation is passed by two of its adjoining states.
“It’s important for [grocery] stores to give their customers that opportunity” to decide if they want to purchase a product that has been genetically modified, said Elisabeth Freeman, 42, while shopping at the Silver Spring Giant.
Citing “unforeseen adverse effects on human health, animal health or the environment,” the European Parliament and of the Council in September of 2003 passed legislation to ensure genetically modified product transparency,” according to Europa, a website maintained by the European Commission, an arm of the European Union that drafts proposals, implements policies and manages spending practices.
More than 60 countries around the world, including the European Union, now have upstanding laws requiring “GMO transparency,” according to The New York Times.
At least two international organizations, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, are wary of the effect of genetic engineering on food. Regardless of the benefits, there are unknown consequences to altering an organism which not only pose possible health risks to human consumers, but to the environment, according to The World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggests that “careful monitoring of the post-release effects of [genetically modified] products” is necessary because “the biosafety of each product or process prior to its release” varies from case to case.
At Whole Foods, customer Michelle Pasalagua, 30, stated her position bluntly: “I like stuff labeled.”
Pasalagua, who on average “tries to eat as much fruits and veggies as possible,” believes the store’s decision “will make consumers more aware of what you are actually putting in your body.”
“Because right now you have to look at the label in the back and educate yourself,” she said, “and you are not as consciously aware of what you are putting in your body.”
But customer John Ruiz, 23, is unsure if genetically modified organism labeling is worthy of government attention.“It’s not like people eat healthy anyway,” he said.