Prince Charles of Britain has stated that genetically-engineered foods take mankind into "realms that belong to God." The Center for Food Safety, an independent food watchdog group, says GM crops can cause health problems including cancer, and suppressed immune systems.
Seed companies and farm lobby groups say the technology holds the promise of ending world hunger, and generating big profits.
WGLT's Jim Browne has a report on a proposal to require food sold in Illinois have a label if it contains any genetically modified ingredients:
Democratic state Senator Dave Koehler of Peoria says he's introduced a bill to require GMO foods be labeled as such. Koehler says the bill will most likely resemble a measure in a California referendum, which was defeated after opponents mounted a $46-Million assault against it. Koehler says he just wants consumers to know what they're buying:
"This is ah, comes out of concern by consumers just to beware, uh that they know what're in the products that they are purchasing."
But the concept already has opponents, including the Illinois Farm Bureau, which says there's no room on food labels for additional information. Tamera Nelson is the Senior Commodities Advisor with the Illinois Agriculture Association, based in Bloomington. She says the foods have been on the market for a quarter century with no problems. She says labeling GMO foods would only be confusing:
"They're not shown to be any different by science or doctors, so since they're not different they don't require a label. If they were different like had a tendency to produce an allergy, they would have to be so labeled."
Nelsen says people already know what they're eating under current guidelines, but do they? Let's go shopping. With us are a couple of nutrition experts from Illinois State University.
"I'm Julie Schumacher, and this is...Kaitlin and she's a dietetic master student."
We motor along to a grocery store not far from the I-S-U Campus in search of non-GMO food in the aisles. As we head down the aisles, we stop at shelves of canned food, including a store brand labeled as 'organic.' Julie Schumacher looks over one can of green beans:
"It's really hard to tell if a veg etable, a canned vegetable, canned soup, any food product is genetically modified or not. (jpb-Well, I, I don't see anything on the label) There's no labeling laws currently that a food is, or is not genetically modified."
Then we take a left, toward the produce section.
"This would probably be probably your best bet is the fresh fruits and vegetables in the store. When you get into the processed foods, canned foods, likely some of those ingredients within could be, but we don't know, but could be genetically engineered. "
And while that fresh produce may look great, and be labeled "Organic," it may not fill the bill if you want to avoid GMOs
"Something to keep in mind, organic does not equal not genetically modified."
That is not how Farm Bureau's Tamara Nelsen sees it:
"You can buy something that's organic that automatically, because that's the way the process works, contains no GMO's"
Turns out, they are both right. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods can bear "organic" labels and still have GMO content, but foods with the "USDA Organic Seal" are both organic, and GMO free. That's according to the Food and Drug Administration which oversees food safety.
Democratic State Senator Dave Koehler of Peoria, who's introducing the measure in the state legislature, says the bill mandating the labeling of GMO food encourages local, organic produce, and small farms:
"It would create a market for locally grown product that are organic or are naturally grown. Remember that we have an emerging market of small specialty vegetable and fruit growers that would really see an added value to their products."
Julie Schumacher points out Department of Agriculture researchers have found no evidence of problems with GMO products, but says if you're looking for non-GMO foods, the meat counter may be a pretty good place because:
"In the United States they do not allow genetically engineered meat products. So, if you're looking for avoiding genetically engineer products, meat is going to be O.K."
State Senator Koehler says he's aware of the defeat of the GMO labeling measure in California, and claims scare tactics defeated it. Farm Bureau's Tamara Nelsen says if the measure is introduced in the Illinois capital, her group is ready to defend the status quo:
"We would probably largely start the way they did in California which is with an informational campaign. I think that sometimes if people just know that you can buy things now that are not genetically modified, you simply look for this, or you simply don't buy something that's processed that has corn or soybean oil, or cottonseed oil in it."
Senator Koehler agrees with Nelsen, to a point. He says more precise information could help shoppers make that call:
"It's clearly an issue of labeling, just so consumers can know what's in the product and then they make a choice as to whether the purchase it or not.
It's a choice many in the U.S. apparently don't want to deal with. While in Europe GMO's have aroused fear and resentment, the technology hasn't seemed to create much more than a ripple of interest in this country. The lines are drawn for a showdown in Springfield on genetically modified food labeling. Judging by the results in California, the side that can pony up the most cash is the odds-on favorite.
Farm Bureau maintains there is nothing wrong with genetically modified foods, but is ready to fight a labeling requirement. Tamera Nelsen says it's part of their policy:
Consumer science expert Julie Schumacker of Illinois State University says the jury's still out on any negative consequences of wide spread GMO consumption:
Senate Bill 1666:
Creates the Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act. Sets forth the General Assembly's findings and the purpose of the Act. Provides that beginning on the effective date of the Act, any food offered for retail sale in this State is misbranded if it is entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering and that fact is not disclosed in a certain manner. Provides that the Act shall not be construed to require either the listing or identification of any ingredient or ingredients that were genetically engineered, nor that the term "genetically engineered" be placed immediately preceding any common name or primary product descriptor of a food. Provides that until the effective date of the Act, any processed food that would be subject to the provision concerning the labeling of genetically engineered foods solely because it includes one or more materials produced by genetic engineering is not misbranded provided that the engineered materials in the aggregate do not account for more than a certain amount of the total weight of the processed food. Sets forth provisions concerning applicability and the right of action for violations, damages, and attorneys' fees. Provides that the Department of Public Health shall adopt rules necessary to implement the Act. Contains a severability provision.
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