GMO Food Labelling Research Paper Example
Genetically modified organisms are those created through transgenic modifications – “transferring genetic material between non-similar organisms” (Evenson and Santaniello 201). Transgenic modifications originated with the discovery of the recombinant DNA (rDNA) in the 1960s that prompted aggressive scientific experiments on the genetic structure of organisms through biotechnology. Evenson and Santaniello define biotechnology as the use of biological organisms to address human problems” such as food shortages due to the burgeoning global population (201). This technology faces criticism on the basis that GMO foods may pose irreversible dangers to health and the environment. The lack of transparency regarding genetic modification has created a negative perception towards GMO foods, with activists advocating mandatory GMO food labeling. This paper highlights the GMO stigma, its causes, and impact of GMO food labelling. In addition, it recommends indiscriminate mandatory labelling of all foods to eliminate the negative perception surrounding GMO labelling.
GMO labelling and stigmatization
Stigma refers to “misconceptions or a misrepresentation of risk” (Lotte and Roeser 210). Stigma is a negative connotation that identifies a product as different or flawed. The majority of people perceive GMOs as a risk to both humans and the ecosystem. The causes of this stigmatization include asymmetrical information, media sensationalism, and ethical considerations. Asymmetrical information is where information is privately held as a closely guarded secret by few individuals. The history of GMO crops traces back to the ruling made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 that legalized the patentability of living organisms (Evenson and Santaniello 3). The decision gave multinational companies the opportunity to exploit transgenic organisms for profit. From that time, they zealously guarded their genetic innovation secrets against competitors and in the process sidelined consumers by impeding their right to make informed purchasing decisions. The absence of transparency led people to believe the allegations against GMO foods. As a result, any form of mandatory labelling regulation by the federal government will likely signal that the products are indeed harmful, and consumers will avoid them. Furthermore, GMO manufacturing companies argue that labelling is costly and will shoot up food prices, adding to the already damaging GM food reputation.
Media sensationalism plays an enormous role in propagating the GM stigma. It does this through prejudiced reporting and displaying disparaging GM images. In contemporary society, media houses concentrate on making news sales rather than informing the people. In the process, they distort facts, hence creating unnecessary anxiety in the populace. Moreover, they remain untrustworthy because their allegiance keeps shifting from one faction of the debate to the other depending on who finances them through hefty advertising fees. Asveld and Roeser reiterate that images are very powerful and can evolve to become “independent of the contexts in which they were formed”. For instance, some images on the internet depict anti-GMO activists wearing protective clothing such as lab coats while entering fields where GM plants are cultivated. The coats insinuate the existence of the danger of contamination of proximity to the plants. The partiality of these images is appalling, and most consumers believe them without conducting any form of research. This ignorance and mass mentality are clearly echoed in the thoughts of the callers of the talk show dubbed ‘All things considered’ by the NPR News. One unidentified male caller said he would support mandatory labelling in Washington even without any scientific justification. From the radio talk show, it is obvious that the GMO stigma is so endemic that people assume everyone else is in league with such as stance on GM labelling.
Lastly, ethical considerations regarding genetically modified foods also play a part in their stigmatization. The bone of contention is the rDNA that has made transgenic modification possible. The issue is very controversial because it violates the fundamental religious and moral tenets that most cultures venerate. Most religions and individuals recognize the DNA as the foundation of all life. As such, any form of scientific power over this element scares people as to the morality of interfering with the basic element of nature. Some activists have actually tagged GM foods as “Frankenfoods”, a metaphor alluding to the mythical creatures of the past ages created by scientists who tried to manipulate the very essence of life (Evenson and Santaniello 9). Such lines of reasoning are dangerous because they produce fanaticism that spurs people to self-righteous violence. For instance, a group of vigilantes vandalized the test fields containing the genetically modified “Golden Rice” at the “International Research Institute in the Philippines” (Miller). Other cases of vandalism and assault on GMO researchers have been reported, with Miller arguing that such crimes contribute to the delays and unfeasibility in genetic engineering.
Solving the GMO food labelling stigma
Available statistical evidence about the impact of mandatory GMO food labelling in Europe and Japan indicate a positive correlation between mandatory labelling and GMO stigmatization. The European Union requires GM labelling for products with more than 0.9% genetically modified ingredients (Huffman and McCluskey). Fearing the loss of sales resulting from consumer boycotts, retailers removed all GM products from their shelves and replaced them with conventional and organic products. However, this reaction was purely emotive rather than an actual market condition because the preemption of consumer behavior by retailers stemmed from the negative connotation that GMO food products carry. There is no doubt that labelling enhances consumer choice and autonomy. However, the labelling regulation should be applied across the board to ensure that no favoritism is perceived on the part of the federal government. The key solution to eliminating the stigma surrounding genetically modified foods is through transparency. This paper proposes mandatory labelling of all food products in the market – conventional, GMOs and organic products. These products should indicate their chemical compositions, including their pesticide or herbicide contents. In recent years, the health movement across the globe has ushered in the proliferation of organic food products. The producers of these products claim that organic foods are an alternative to the conventional and GMO foods because they are grown under natural conditions without no artificial influence. Huffman and McCluskey, however, argue that having a zero presence of GMOs in foods produced in the U.S. is virtually impossible due to the high probability of contamination along the food chain.
Mandatory labelling of all foods will level the playing ground in the food market. Firstly, the cost of chemical labelling and traceability of food products will be borne by all manufacturers. Organic and conventional food producers will also incur costs associated with analyzing ingredients and their composition in foods. In fact, such analysis will likely reveal that the organic alternatives are not as safe as they are assumed to be. It will be interesting to note consumer reaction to making such discoveries since transparency will eliminate the effects of asymmetric information. For decades, renowned multinational companies such as Coca-Cola have hidden the composition of their products despite the evidence shown by current scientific research about the adverse effects of soda on human health. It is ironical that activists are fighting the use of GMOs that have no known health risks, yet fail to advocate the same stringent regulatory measure for sodas whose risks are known. This double standard implies a hidden agenda behind the vilification of genetically modified foods.
Secondly, it will create awareness on the improved nutritional content of second generation genetically modified foods. Newer strains of crops have enhanced levels of antioxidants and vitamins that will benefit the poor who have no access to the expensive, organic foods. A research conducted in the United States about the consumers’ perception of genetically modified foods and the information contained on the label indicated that although they were willing to pay more for non-genetically modified products, their preferences largely depended on the best price in the market (Sebastian-Ponce, Sanz-Valero, and Waden-Berghe). Thus, mandatory labeling might benefit GMO food manufacturers as the nutritional attributes of their products will be highlighted. When consumers perceive no quality difference between GM foods and organic products, their purchasing decisions will mostly depend on price, making them choose GM products that offer superior quality at lower prices.
GMO stigmatization is a reality among the U.S. populace. Mandatory labelling for all food products is the key to eliminating the controversy surrounding GMO foods. The transparency created through labelling will benefit multinational food companies because consumers will perceive them as having nothing to hide. Labelling also gives them the opportunity to educate consumers about the possible health benefits of GM foods with boosted nutritional contents. In fact, their marketing strategy should focus on awareness creation rather than spending millions on efforts to thwart any labelling regulation proposed in different American state assemblies. Moreover, mandatory labelling will finally uncover the contents of the much praised organic and natural products so that consumers will finally judge for themselves which products to purchase. Lastly, the federal government will appear more credible, impartial and trustworthy in its efforts to safeguard the health of its citizens.
"All things considered." The Salt. Prod. Audie Cornish. NPR News. Seattle. 16 Oct. 2013. Radio. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/10/16/235525984/so-what-happens-if-the-movement-to-label-gmos-succeeds>.
Asveld, Lotte, and Sabine Roeser. The Ethics of Technological Risk. London: Earthscan, 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=s68eBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA211&dq=STIGMATIZATION+OF+gm+FOODS&hl=en&sa=X&ei=pXcoVcbwD4PhaK3bgrAI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=STIGMATIZATION%20OF%20gm%20FOODS&f=false>.
Evenson, Robert E, and V. Santaniello. The Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology. Wallingford: CABI Pub, 2004. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=Qrwd-UUxbzIC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=STIGMATIZATION+OF+gm+FOODS&source=bl&ots=GM4ZNL2Wdy&sig=MQ6Cn2_4z3vRa8bZgbo24cEdGTc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=33soVZvOKJbdarfUgZgK&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=STIGMATIZATION%20OF%20gm%20FOODS&f=false>.
Huffman, Wallace E., and Jill J. McCluskey. "The Economics of Labeling GM Foods." AgBioForum 17.2 (2014): 156-160. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <http://www.agbioforum.org/v17n2/v17n2a06-huffman.htm>
Miller, Henry I. "The GMO stigma." Project Syndicate. N.p., 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/henry-i--miller-on-the-meaningless-distinction-between-genetically-modified-organisms-and-their-conventional-counterparts>.
Sebastian-Ponce, Miren I., Javier Sanz-Valero, and Carmina Waden-Berghe. "Consumer reaction to information on the labels of genetically modified food." Rev Saude Publica (RSP) 48.1 (2014): 154-169. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4206125/>.
GMO food has faces a backlash from consumer watchdog organizations, environmental agencies, and NGOs regarding its perceived adverse effects on both human health and the environment. This criticism has propagated the stigmatization GM crops, a condition exacerbated by the implementation of GMO food labelling.
Definition of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Definition of biotechnology
GMO labelling and stigmatization
Definition of stigma
Causes of GMO labelling stigmatization
Asymmetric information, which impedes transparency and consumers’ purchasing decisions
Media sensationalism, which distorts the truth through biased reporting
Ethical considerations, which question the morality of messing with the basic element of all life (i.e. the DNA)
Solving the GMO food labelling stigma
Mandatory labelling of all food products
Distribute costs among all producers – organic, conventional and GMO
Create awareness on the improved nutritional content of GMOs