Risk Taking

In the U.S. it is extremely difficult to avoid eating genetically modified organisms.  88% of the corn and 93% of the soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides and/or to incorporate pesticides into the plant.  Almost all processed food in this country contains derivatives of corn, soy or both.  And 90% of the food Americans eat is processed.

So, like it or not, the vast majority of us are eating GMOs.

The USDA and the agricultural industrial complex insists that GMOs pose no health risk to humans.  The rest of the developed world disagrees.   In Europe, for example, wherever GMOs are not entirely banned, foods containing them must be prominently labelled.

Europe is practicing the “precautionary principle.”  The priniciple requires that if there is evidence that a product or practice is harmful, then the burden of proof is on the company offering the product (or engaging in the practice) to prove that it isn’t.  The U.S. follows the opposite approach.  In the U.S. the burden of proof is on those objecting to the product.

The evidence on the safety of genetically modified foods is controversial.  And those who object to them argue that in the absence of evidence of long-term effects of eating GMOs, it is too risky to introduce them into the food supply.

But in the U.S. that ship has sailed.  If there are long-term dangers from consuming GMOs, then most Americans have already been sufficiently dosed that it may be too late to undo the damage.  We’ll have to wait and see.

But it is interesting, and revealing, that despite the fact that our food supply is dominated by GMOs and that as a society we seem to have chosen to take the risks that accompany them, this is not a decision made by an informed public.

According to a Zogby poll taken in March 2012 only 37% of Americans think GMOs are safe for human consumption.  39% say they are unsafe and 24% are unsure.  The survey showed substantial majorities of Americans are suspicious of GMOs and try to avoid them.   87% agree that products containing GMOs should be clearly labelled (there is no such requirement in the U.S.), 65% say they are less likely to buy genetically modified foods and 68% are concerned about the regular growing of GMO foods.

Yet, in ignorance, Americans consume mountains of these foods every day.

Organic foods, by definition, contain no GMOs.  You can safely assume that nearly every processed food product does.

For the substantial majority of Americans who are concerned about these foods there are two choices:  1) avoid them by eating organic foods and by not eating processed foods or 2) continue eating them and hope the industrial food scientists have guessed right about the consequences of doing so.