I once heard a scientist say:  if GMOs are patented because they are different from conventional (normal) crops, why do the companies producing them put a lot of effort into stopping the labelling of goods that use them as ingredients?  This doesn’t really add up, does it?

If the companies producing GMOs and the scientists under their wing would have their way, consumers will be left in the dark about the risks and negative impacts GMOs have on human health and the environment.  They spend millions of dollars for propaganda and for countering studies that show the negative impacts of GMOs.  Not to mention, former employees of these companies end up in important government regulatory bodies for GMOs, particularly in the United States.

Up until now, there is no consensus on the long-term safety of GMOs.  This has been made clear by several scientists in Europe[1] citing that “We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.”

Aside from this, current methods of evaluating or assessing GMOs prior to releasing them into the environment and using them in food production is inadequate, hence the need for precaution.  And yet in the Philippines alone, more than 60 different kinds of GMOs such as corn, soya, canola, sugar beet, potato and alfalfa have been approved for importation for use in food, feed and processing[2], while 8 different kinds of genetically modified corn are allowed for commercial planting. 

These were approved without the knowledge of most Filipinos, and yet we are all faced with eating food containing these GMOs without having a choice.  And if these companies say that there has been no reported case of anyone getting sick from eating GMOs since they have been commercialised more than 15 years ago, the question is: are there really studies looking into the long-term impacts of GMOs on human health?  The answer is—you guessed it—there are none.

 

So why, then, are consumers so disempowered when it comes to choosing healthier food?  Blame it on the flawed regulation that considers GMOs as “substantially equivalent” to their non-GMO counterpart.  This means that when risk assessments are being done for a particular GMO, the changes in the organism because of genetic engineering are often overlooked and not investigated. This has been questioned time and again by scientists who are pushing for more rigorous and independent tests for GMOs, so as not to rely on the studies conducted by the companies producing them. 

With no labels or clear differences between GMO and non-GMO products, consumers’ rights are curtailed. And ultimately, it's the consumers who will suffer the consequences of not being able to choose the food they eat. 

This lack of choice is further undermined when GMO crops contaminate[3] normal crops.  In the end, because of contamination, the rest of our food supply will contain GMOs whether farmers choose not to plant them or consumers would want to refuse to eat them.

As we’ve just celebrated World Consumer Rights Day, don’t we owe it to ourselves to question why our government is not doing its job of protecting our right to eat healthy and safe food, as well as our right to a healthy environment? It's time to push our leaders to support ecological agriculture which promotes biodiversity, protects our health, and does not harm the environment.

 

Daniel Ocampo is the Sustainable Agriculture and Genetic Engineering Campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.