Do You Really Know Enough About Genetically Modified Food?


Genetically modified food is a hot button issue. But state labeling bills keep failing to pass. Could it be that we’re not as informed about the issue as we think? 

While Oregon is still counting ballots from the vote earlier this month that was favored to win, Colorado’s GMO labeling ballot initiative lost by a landslide. Much of that has to do with the millions of dollars spent by Big Food and Ag to defeat the measure. But we can’t blame them entirely, can we?

A few weeks ago while shopping at my local farmers market, I overheard a conversation that stopped me in my tracks:

Woman: Are these avocados genetically modified?

Vendor: No, ma’am, they’re certified organic. See the sign?

Woman: Yes, but how do I know they’re not GMO? There’s so much genetically modified food out there.

At this point, I politely butted in and told the confused woman that for one, there are no genetically modified avocados commercially available, and second, the organic certification ensure customers that whatever food they’re buying is not genetically modified. The seller looked relieved but the woman became even more confused and challenged my response: “Why should I believe that there are no GMO avocados? Basically everything we eat is GMO.”

I knew it was a losing battle, so I took my organic avocados and suggested she spend some time researching it. But I couldn’t get the conversation out of my head. It reminded me of another chat I had with an acquaintance several years ago. She has celiac disease, the condition that makes digesting gluten somewhat of a nightmare. She casually told me the reason she developed the disease was likely due to all the genetically modified wheat. Which, I gently told her, doesn’t actually exist. She also refused to believe me, so I changed the subject, not wanting to press the issue.

In Jeremy Seifert’s award winning film, “GMO OMG”, he polls random people about what GMOs are. Jimmy Kimmel recently conducted a similar stunt, and the results are funny but also really sad because they illustrate that not only do Americans have no idea what they’re eating, they don’t really seem to care very much. They may say they want to avoid eating GMOs with firm resolve, but when it comes down to explaining in the simplest terms what a GMO is, most people are stumped, confused and misinformed.

But if we really want “the right to know” what’s in our food, we have to be better informed. We should know the most common culprits for GMOs (soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, cottonseed oil, meat, eggs, dairy). We should also know which foods are generally safe, like whole, unprocessed foods, like avocados, organic or not.

It’s also probably in our best interest to not lambast Monsanto ad nauseum, even though the company is hegemonic and largely responsible for genetically modified food and the herbicide (Roundup) most often used on the crops. But it’s not the only company producing GMO seeds. Others, like Syngenta, Dow, Dupont and Bayer CropScience are creating numerous genetically modified seeds and companion pesticides and herbicides that threaten our food, health and environment. To localize our frustration on one company can prevent us from seeing the damage these other companies are causing until it’s too late.

We can’t assume that illuminati-affiliated evil overlords are producing all of our food. Victimization can be crippling. We do still have choices – lots of them. And if we want to see GMO labeling ballot initiatives pass, we have to peer past the fear-mongering of sites like Natural News and Foodbabe just as much as we have to look past the Big Food and Ag companies telling us their products are perfectly safe, sustainable and environmentally sound.

Fifty years ago we really could be misinformed. A lot of that cluelessness has led us to this point in the first place. We’ve given corporations too much wiggle room, and now they’re intent on taking even more. But we’re too connected now to be misinformed. There’s too much at stake. Do we want to be actively engaged in deciding what type of future our children will inherit or do we want to play Words with Friends?

A revolution doesn’t have to be an uprising. It can be a slow shift over time, successful mostly as a result of our spending power. But we tend to look at revolution like other things that are healthy for us – like that juicer sitting in the cabinet. It’s right there. We know it has the power to change our lives, but all we can think about is the hassle of taking it all apart, cleaning it out and then putting it back together. But now more than ever, we need to do what we can to get informed on the issue of genetically modified food. Then, we need to vote for labeling every time we can and be able to talk with our friends and family about this issue. It’s everyone’s right to know and everyone’s responsibility.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Nigel Hanlon

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.