If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



GM Labeling Conundrum

August 20, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 34

Concerning the labeling of genetically modified foods, most GM corn contains a gene derived from the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This Bt corn requires considerably less application of synthetic insecticides to resist caterpillars versus non-GM corn. Which is the better alternative, GM corn or using incremental insecticide? Moreover, it’s ironic that naturally occurring Bt bacteria are directly (and legally) used by some organic farmers to reduce caterpillar infestation—a process similar to that used to control gypsy moth infestations (C&EN, June 4, page 3, and July 9, page 2).

What if processed food items such as chocolate are produced with a small amount (0.5–1.0%) of lecithin (from GM soybeans) to bolster the product’s stability? Would the chocolate need to be labeled GM? How about sweetened soft drinks like Coca-Cola? They typically contain high-fructose syrup made from GM corn.

What if some states enact differing GM labeling laws? Cans of beans or soda destined for one state might require different labeling from those destined for others. Maybe it’s best that the Food & Drug Administration, not individual states, bear the responsibility for food labeling.

Do people have a right to know? Certainly. But do consumers know how to evaluate the merits of GM versus non-GM foods? Are GM foods less healthful? No one knows with 100% certainty. FDA says GM foods do not present greater safety concerns than do their conventional counterparts.

If various GM labeling laws are passed, food processors/producers will simply label every nonorganic item as follows: “This food product might utilize ingredients that have been genetically modified.” If citizens are worried about consuming foods containing GM ingredients, they should insist on buying organic foods so labeled: The product is either GM or organic, and hence GM labeling would be redundant.

If the demand for organic foods soars as a result of GM avoidance, the cost of organic food would skyrocket, as would the cost of living! Along these lines, it might be an interesting exercise for analytical laboratories to ascertain whether certified organic foods, especially produce, truly meet the specifications. Slipping nonorganic varieties into the organic channel would be a way for growers to bolster profits, albeit illegally.

By William R. Young
Stamford, Conn.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.