GMO Labeling: Do We Need It?

By on April 5, 2013

GMO Labeling Panel Meets at NYU Wagner School

To consider: GMO Labeling: Do We Need It?


Photography by Onur Ozkan


Thursday, April 4, 2013

06:30 PM – 08:30 PM


NYU Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life

Sponsored by GMO Free New York


Polls show 90% of Americans want the right to know what’s in the food they buy. The biotech industry maintains GMOs pose no special risk and so labeling is unnecessary; The New York Times Editorial Board agrees. Labeling proponents counter that existing research studies on GMO safety are industry-conducted and inadequate; human health risks remain unknown. Labels will allow consumers to make informed decisions.

So, to label or not to label?

gmo conference wagner school nyu photo by onur ozkan 4 4 13


Photography by Onur Ozkan

Spurred on by moderator Frederick Kaufman’s provocative questions, the panel of experts discussed this hot button issue. (see* for panel members names and interests)

Just What is GMO? And Who Cares?

A genetically modified organism will never be found in nature organically.  GMO’s are developed in a lab and then shipped out to be developed and harvested.  Once they are harvested, they are consumed by the unsuspecting general population because the United States requires no labeling.

According to Professor de Jong, genetically modifying a food – his particular interest is potatoes – means to pluck a gene from an animal or virus and paste it onto the gene string of a plant.  The purpose is usually to make the plant more hardy, to make it resist insect and virus attacks, and to make it create a better yield.  Professor de Jong says,”I don’t much care where the desirable gene comes from: virus or animal, so long as it improves the gene string of the plant I’m working on.”

If genetic engineering makes for hardier, more prolific plants with less effort on the part of the farmer, shouldn’t we all be glad?

We really can’t make an informed decision until the considerations of health and safety are studied, and currently, there is little incentive on the parts of scientists to conduct such studies.

However, if a food product is labeled 100% organic and is labeled with and USDA Organic seal, it must be completely free of genetically modified products by government regulations. On the other hand, foods that are labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients” or simply “Organic” are not as tightly regulated and can contain GMOs. To be sure your food is GMO-free, buy USDA certified 100% organic food.

Where Are GMO Foods Found?

90% of the agricultural crops grown in the U.S. today are GMO. Corn, canola, soy, and cotton are the big GMO crops found in the American food supply for both humans and animals.  Cotton is used for clothing. This means if you choose conventionally produced beef, poultry, pork, or farmed fish, you are eating GMO grains.  If you buy canola oil, all American soy products including soy milk, burgers, and food additives, you are eating GMO foods.

How Can You Avoid GMO Foods?

Choose organic products,  pasture-raised meats,  wild fish, free range chickens and organic eggs and dairy.  It’s really not that hard.

But won’t these cost more?

Market forces have a huge impact here.  Think about organic milk in the supermarket.  When this product was first introduced it was quite expensive, but now as this category has gained market share,  there are at least four brands in supermarkets across the country and they keep their prices as low as possible.

Wild fish is rarely any more expensive than farmed fish.  The big kahuna in the GMO meat category is GMO salmon which may be approved any day now.  But the easy way to show your disapproval is simply never to choose it.  You can always find wild fish of some kind, and fish is labeled not only whether its wild or farm-raised, but also by its country of origin.  Consumers are informed here.

What are the health implications of GMO foods?

The bottom line is we just don’t know.  Why?  These factors haven’t been studied because since there is no demand for labeling or further regulation,  scientists can find no funding or support for such studies.  But here’s what we know now:

Genetically modified (GM) crops and food are being grown and consumed by Americans even though:

•there is little scientific study about their health risks

•safety test technology is inadequate to assess potential harm

•they can carry unpredictable toxins

•they may increase the risk of allergenic reactions

When you consider all the unknowns,  what is your choice?  Do you want Genetically Engineered foods to be labeled?

I know I do.  I want to make informed decisions in the supermarket and I can only do this if the law requires food manufacturers to properly label their products.


Read More About GMO Efforts Here:


Learn What You Can Do: take action and learn more.


11 Steps to avoiding GMO foods


Want to know what food products are GMO free? Here’s a list.


*The Panel:

Frederick Kaufman, Panel Moderator
Author, Journalist, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Frederick Kaufman, author of Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food

Walter S. De Jong, PhD.
Geneticist and Professor of plant breeding: Cornell University Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics

His research focuses on the genetic improvement of potato, both by conventional and molecular genetic means. The highest priority of his breeding program is to develop agronomically-acceptable varieties that are resistant to the golden nematode, a soil-borne pathogen present in NY but no other state.

Carolyn Dimitri, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Food Studies
NYU Steinhardt, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health
She is recognized as the leading expert in the procurement and marketing of organic food, and has published extensively on the distribution, processing, retailing, and consumption of organic food.

Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiaves
Consumers Union, Food Policy Initiatives

She has worked on food safety and sustainability issues at Consumers Union for the last 25 years. She frequently speaks at conferences and to the media, who tap her expertise on subjects ranging from mercury in tuna fish to pending food safety legislation

Patty Lovera, Assistant Director
Food and Water Watch

She coordinates the Food Team. Food & Water Watch is a non-profit organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water.

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About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”


  1. Walter De Jong

    April 8, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    While there were not many studies published on the safety of eating GMOs in the 1990s – when the controversy began – that isn’t true anymore.

    For example – the review article linked below summarizes 12 long-term feeding studies, as well as 12 multi-generation feeding studies.

    I wish the article was free – so you wouldn’t have any barriers to reading it – but at least you can read the abstract. As you can see for yourself, the abstract concludes with: “The studies reviewed present evidence to show that GM plants are nutritionally equivalent to their non-GM counterparts and can be safely used in food and feed”.

    Article title in case the link doesn’t work: “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term
    and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review”. By Chelsea Snell et al. 2012.

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