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 label genetically engineered foods?

Why did Jackson County vote to ban genetically engineered crops?

Why are people worried about genetically engineered foods?

Is changing labels difficult or expensive?

What does this initiative do?

Who makes genetically engineered foods?

Why are companies that manufacture genetically engineered foods 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 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?

Can’t people just buy organic or “non-GMO” products?

 

What are Genetically Engineered Foods?

The term “genetically engineered foods” (also commonly known as “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs) applies to foods or food ingredients whose DNA has been fundamentally altered in a laboratory through engineering or biotechnology. These 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 are altered in a laboratory where a “new trait” is inserted into the DNA of a plant or animal.

The same chemical corporations that made the herbicide Agent Orange and insecticide DDT and wrongly claimed they were safe are now genetically engineering food to survive high doses of the pesticides they sell. We don’t know the long-term health effects of genetically engineered foods and can’t trust chemical corporations to tell us whether the food we’re eating is safe. Hopefully it’s safe but we should label so shoppers can decide for themselves.
It’s important to note that these foods do not exist anywhere in nature, nor could they. These are patented, engineered products that have only existed since it became possible to alter DNA in plants and animals, and have only been around in common usage for about the last 20 years.

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Are they the same as GMOs?

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

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Why label genetically engineered foods?

We have a right to know important information about the food we eat and feed our families and that includes knowing whether the food we buy is genetically engineered. Sixty-four other countries, including all of Europe and Japan, require labeling and U.S. food companies already label it in those countries. They should do the same for us.

Genetically engineered food includes corn altered to make its own insecticide within the plant, and will likely soon include salmon spliced with eel-like genes, and sold unlabeled as regular salmon. We need to label genetically engineered food so we know what we are buying and eating.

Labeling genetically engineered food is a simple, common sense way to create transparency so shoppers can make informed choices about what they eat. There are so many things out of our control, but knowing what’s in the food we eat and feed our families should be something we do have control over.
The only way for us to be able to make an informed choice about whether or not we eat these foods is if they are labeled.

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Why did Jackson county vote to ban genetically engineered crops?

Led by local farmers, Jackson County Oregon voted overwhelmingly to ban genetically engineered crops because they can contaminate and ruin other farmers’ crops. If they voted to ban them, we should at least label them because it makes it easier for Oregonians to tell their traditional, local crops from crops genetically engineered by out of state corporations.

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Why are people worried about genetically engineered foods?

There are several reasons to be concerned about the spread of genetically engineered crops.

For one thing, scientific evidence is mounting that the use of these crops – the vast majority of which have been engineered to have a higher tolerance for harmful herbicides or to manufacture their own pesticides – is harmful to our environment. Since 1996 crops have been genetically engineered for resistance to the herbicide Roundup. This has led to substantially higher amounts of the herbicide being used, which creates negative impacts on human health and the environment. One of the most worrying side effects of increased herbicide use related to genetically engineered crops is the proliferation of superweeds. Superweeds are created when, over time, ordinary weeds develop a resistance to the herbicide they are doused in. To combat superweeds plants are now being engineered to also be resistant to even the more toxic herbicides. This creates a vicious cycle resulting in even higher usage of ever more toxic herbicides, leading to even more health and environmental problems, and in time to the evolution of more resistant superweeds.

Bees are critical to our food supply and our survival and we need to know if the way we grow our food in Oregon is harming them. Evidence is emerging that coating genetically engineered seeds with pesticide and then over-spraying weed killer on engineered crops engineered to withstand pesticide could be responsible for killing millions of bees in Oregon. The use of these crops is also now linked to threats to the Monarch butterfly. Ecological concerns like these are why so many people across our state who care about the environment want to know if the foods they eat contain these genetically engineered products.

For others, the concern is that we really don’t know the long-term health impacts of genetically engineered foods. Because these foods are patented products, they are not independently tested before being put on the market. And they haven’t been around long enough yet for us to be sure they are fully safe in every case – that’s why it makes sense to label these products so those who do have concerns can decide for themselves whether to purchase these foods.

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Is changing labels difficult or expensive?

Sixty-four countries – including all of the European Union member nations, Japan, and Australia – already require labels for genetically engineered foods. When those countries added the labeling requirement, there was no increase to consumer’s food bills.

Many U.S. food companies operate in those countries and they have had no difficulty disclosing genetically engineered ingredients on foods they sell in those countries. The truth is that food manufacturers routinely change labels without creating any significant cost increases. If the food companies can provide these labels in Europe and Japan, they should do the same for us.

One other example: here in the United States, 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?

This is a simple initiative. All it requires is that genetically engineered foods or those containing genetically engineered organisms make a small disclosure that they were produced with genetic engineering.

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.

And contrary to the falsehoods and misleading claims coming from the big out-of-state chemical corporations are spending millions of dollars trying to confuse you about this measure because they are more interested in protecting their bottom line than in protecting us, this initiative is carefully drafted. It specifically protects our farmers from any labeling-related lawsuits and applies only to foods intended for human consumption – not to dog food as opponents have claimed.

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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 doing 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.

For more info on these companies, visit here.

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Why are companies that manufacture genetically engineered foods fighting against food labels?

These companies are only interested in their own profits, not what is good for Oregonians. They would rather you didn’t have the information to distinguish between foods that are engineered in a lab and those that are produced naturally. They are spending tens of millions to block labeling laws nationally and in other states, and they will do the same here. In Washington State alone the industry spent $22 million to narrowly defeat labeling; double that in California.

But our growing coalition of concerned Oregonians believes that the voters of our state will see through the hype and distortion coming from these self-interested companies and will vote to ensure that we have the information we need to make good decisions about what we eat and feed our families.

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Will labeling genetically engineered foods lead to higher food prices?

No. This is a common falsehood spread by labeling opponents, but the reality is that 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 labeling genetically engineered foods. When such 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 big industry players. Consumers Union, the trusted independent voice that publishes the respected Consumer Reports magazine, has studied this question and they found that there is no evidence that labeling GMOs will raise food prices.

American food companies already label genetically engineered foods for foreign markets. Disclosing information on labels costs next to 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 now upwards of 75 percent 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?

The short answer is that we do not know for sure.

The companies that manufacture genetically engineered foods have refused to allow independent testing of any kind, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relies only on data produced by the companies themselves in allowing these products onto the market.

And genetically engineered foods have not been around long enough to know for sure whether there could be any long-term health effects related to consumption of these foods. Genetically engineered foods have only been around since the 1990s 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. Hopefully genetically engineered foods will prove to be safe, but until we know the long-term health effects it makes sense to label them so shoppers can decide for themselves what to eat.

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Who is backing this labeling initiative?

Oregon Right to Know is a broad and diverse coalition of consumer advocates, environmental groups, food safety organizations, and thousands of Oregonians who want to know what is in the foods they eat and feed their families. Initiative backers include trusted organizations like the Consumers Union (which publishes Consumer Reports), the 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 – like the salmon inserted with a gene from an eel-like fish that the FDA is about to approve for sale – 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. That is because 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. We need to be really careful when we start messing with nature. Many people find it troubling when we start changing the genetic composition of plants and animals, like inserting fish genes into a tomato or inserting genes from an eel-like fish into salmon. We have a right to know if the plants or animals we are eating have been genetically engineered in a lab.

The genetically engineered salmon that contain genes from the eel-like ocean pout will be labeled under this initiative when it is approved for sale. Alaska already passed a law in 2005 to require labels on genetically engineered fish and seafood, and Oregonians deserve the same information.

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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 – and that has negative environmental impacts.

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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 farmers who plant non-genetically engineered seeds and who instead 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. The State of Vermont just recently required labeling of genetically engineered foods. By passing this initiative here in Oregon we can help lead the way to give people the information they need to make informed choices about the foods they buy, and to create a healthier and more sustainable food supply for people across the country.

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Can’t people just buy organic or “non-GMO” products?

While there is some overlap between non-genetically engineered foods and organic foods, they are not the same. Organic foods are produced according to a very specific criteria, many of which don’t pertain to genetic engineering and which can lead to higher costs for those foods. Besides, more information, and more choices, is better. Oregon families should be able to make more informed choices about what they eat and feed their families, and to have the option of choosing either organic foods or non-genetically engineered foods.

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