Oregon Right to Know

We have the right to know what's in our food!

Frequently Asked Questions about Genetically Engineered Foods

What are Genetically Engineered Foods?
Are they the same as GMOs?
Why should we label genetically engineered foods?
Is changing labels difficult or expensive?
What does this initiative do?
Who makes genetically engineered foods?
Why are GMO companies fighting against food labels?
Will labeling genetically engineered foods lead to higher food prices?
What foods are genetically engineered?
Are genetically engineered foods safe?
Who is backing this GMO labeling initiative?
Does the initiative require labeling of meat or dairy?
Does the initiative require labeling of genetically engineered animals?
Don’t GMOs increase crop yields, thus helping us to produce enough food to feed billions of people around the world?
How is genetic engineering different than grafting trees, breeding animals, and hybridizing seeds?
Do genetically engineered foods increase pesticide use?
If I think genetically engineered foods are safe why should I support labeling?
Isn’t a patchwork of different state laws inefficient, versus a uniform federal standard?
Why isn’t voluntary labeling the answer; can’t people just buy organic or “non-GMO” products?

What are Genetically Engineered Foods?

Genetically engineered foods are created by mixing plant, animal, bacterial or viral genes in combinations that do not occur in nature, in order to produce certain traits. These foods are not like hybrid varieties of plants, which have been around for thousands of years and can be propagated in a home green house. These foods must be altered in a laboratory where a “beneficial new trait” is inserted into the DNA of a plant or animal.  Over 99% of GMOs are engineered to tolerate high doses of pesticide and/or produce their own insecticide. 

It’s important to note that these foods do not exist anywhere in nature, nor could they. They have only existed since it became possible to alter DNA in plants and animals.

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Are they the same as GMOs?

Genetically engineered foods are also knows as genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

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Why should we label genetically engineered foods?

It’s just common sense that we should have a right to know what is in our foods so we can make our own informed decisions about what we chose to eat and feed our families.

Currently 99% of genetically engineered foods on the market have been created by pesticide companies to resist weed killer products like RoundUp, or produce their own insecticide.  GMO salmon is about to be introduced unlabeled to the market made with eel-like genes.  Other GMO foods are on the way.  The only way for us to be able to choose whether we eat these foods is if they are labeled.

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Is changing labels difficult or expensive?

No. Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, found that labeling genetically engineered food would cost less than $2.30 per person, per year. That’s less than a penny a day.

Food manufacturers routinely change labels.

US food manufacturers are already labeling food for consumers around the world. Sixty-four countries – including all 15 European Union member nations, and Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China and India  – require labels for genetically engineered foods. There was no increase to consumer’s food bills.

Here in the US, Cheerios recently decided to stop using GMO ingredients and changed their label to say so. There was no cost increase.
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What does this initiative do?

Oregonians have a right to know important information about the food we eat and feed our families – such as sugar and sodium levels, whether flavors are natural or artificial, and if fish is wild or farm-raised. We also have the right to choose whether we want to buy and eat genetically engineered food, just like sixty-four other countries already do, including all countries in Europe, Japan, and other major trading partners.

Under this initiative, genetically engineered foods, including salmon, corn or soy, or foods with genetically engineered ingredients like chips, cereal and candy would be required to be labeled noting that the food has been genetically engineered. That’s all we are asking. Let’s increase transparency in our food supply by labeling genetically engineered foods so that Oregon families have more control over their shopping decisions.
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Who makes genetically engineered foods? 

GMOs are primarily created by six chemical companies – Monsanto, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and DuPont – who have spent tens of millions in other states to block consumers from getting information on food labels that discloses whether the foods they eat are genetically engineered. These companies are trying to do the same here in Oregon, and you can be sure they will spend millions to try to block this initiative.

Plain and simple, these companies want to keep Oregonians from finding out which products contain genetically engineered foods, and which don’t.

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For more info on these companies, visit here.

Why are GMO companies fighting against food labels?

Good question. The thing we do know is that in Washington state alone the industry spent $22 million to defeat labeling; double that in California.

Changing labels costs nothing, so why spend millions to stop it?  Makes you wonder what they’re hiding.

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Will labeling genetically engineered foods lead to higher food prices?

Label updates are a routine part of business for the food industry and don’t result in additional costs to shoppers. For example, food companies re-label soda cans and cereal boxes all the time and it doesn’t affect cost. Food manufacturers already label for sugar and fat content, ingredients and numerous other things, so there would be no cost in labeling genetically engineered foods.

In fact, 64 countries around the world have already required GMO labeling. When GMO labeling was introduced in Europe in 1997, it did not result in increased costs, despite the exact same kinds of prices-will-rise predictions from the GMO industry. Consumers Union, which publishes the popular Consumer Reports studies, found that labeling genetically engineered food would cost less than $2.30 per person, per year. Or less than a penny a day.

American food companies already label genetically engineered foods for foreign markets.  Disclosing information on labels costs nothing. Labeling genetically engineered foods is not hard or costly to do – and we all benefit by increasing transparency and empowering shoppers.
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What foods are genetically engineered?

It is estimated that upwards of 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves – from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain ingredients that are derived from corn, soy and canola crops that have been genetically engineered.

The Food & Drug Administration is expected to soon approve two new genetically engineered foods: a salmon engineered with genes from the eel-like ocean pout to grow abnormally fast, and a genetically engineered non-browning apple that is causing serious concern among many apple growers in the Pacific Northwest.
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Are genetically engineered foods safe?

Depends on who you ask.

The companies who make and own genetically engineered organisms say yes.

These same companies have refused to allow independent testing of any kind, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved them anyway.

Genetic engineering mixes plant, animal, bacterial, or viral genes in combinations that do not occur in nature to produce new substances in our food. GMO’s entered our food stream in the 1990’s when chemical companies successfully broke down laws prohibiting non-food substances to be included in our food.

By human standards GMO’s are seconds old and we have no idea what the long-term implications might be. That’s why so many of us want these foods labeled so we can decide for ourselves whether to eat the or not.

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Who is backing this GMO labeling initiative?

Oregon Right to Know is a broad and diverse coalition of consumer advocates, environmental groups, food safety organizations, and consumers. Initiative backers include trusted organizations like the Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, among many others.

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Does the initiative require labeling of meat or dairy?

Meat and dairy from animals that are themselves genetically engineered would be labeled under this initiative. But meat and dairy from animals that are not genetically engineered that are fed genetically engineered feed would not be labeled under this initiative. This initiative was carefully crafted to ensure that it conforms with well-established global labeling standards that food manufacturers already follow. 

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Does the initiative require labeling of genetically engineered animals?

Yes. For example, genetically engineered salmon that contain genes from the eel-like ocean pout, which the Food and Drug Administration is likely to approve for sale soon, will be labeled under this initiative. Alaska already passed a law in 2005 to require labels on genetically engineered fish and seafood.
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Don’t GMOs increase crop yields, thus helping us to produce enough food to feed billions of people around the world?

No, the claim that genetic engineering increases crop yields is a myth. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ April 2009 report “Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops,” genetically engineered crops have failed to significantly increase crop yields.

The truth is that the two main genetically engineered traits in over 99% of GMO foods are about increasing pesticide tolerance of plants or modifying plants to produce their own pesticide.
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How is genetic engineering different than grafting trees, breeding animals, and hybridizing seeds?

Genetic engineering is completely different from traditional breeding. With genetic engineering, scientists alter the DNA of the plant or animal in a way not possible in nature. For example, they have spliced fish genes into tomatoes. The results are plants (or animals) with traits that would be impossible to obtain with natural processes, such as crossbreeding or grafting.
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Do genetically engineered foods increase pesticide use?

Yes, the USDA has reported that pesticide use on the three major genetically engineered crops grown in the US – corn, soybeans and cotton – increased by more than 527 million pounds from 1996 to 2011.

Most of the increase resulted from growing reliance on the herbicide Roundup (the most common herbicide used around the world). One study of more than 8,000 university-based field trials suggested that farmers who plant RoundUp Ready soy crops use two to five times more herbicide than non-GMO farmers who use integrated weed-control methods.

Here in Oregon, we treasure our environment and the natural world and we have a right to know whether or not the foods we are consuming promote sustainable agricultural practices.
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If I think genetically engineered foods are safe why should I support labeling?

So all consumers know what’s in the food we eat and can decide for ourselves. You might decide to eat more GMO foods once you can identify them and others may decide to eat less. But we’ll all be able to decide for ourselves.
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Isn’t a patchwork of different state laws inefficient, versus a uniform federal standard?

While a federal labeling standard is a goal for many of our supporters, as is often the case the federal government needs citizens to lead the way.  By winning here in Oregon we can help lead the way.
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Why isn’t voluntary labeling the answer; can’t people just buy organic or “non-GMO” products?

Then we truly will have a labeling hodge-podge. The only way to have the information on 100% of our food is to pass a law.
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