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Why it makes sense to label GM foods

By Dr. Michael Roizen, M.D. and Dr. Mehmet Oz, M.D.

In a new survey, 72 percent of Americans said that avoiding genetically modified food is important to them. But that’s not easy! An estimated 60 percent to 80 percent of packaged foods in your supermarket contain ingredients derived from genetically modified crops. That’s because 90 percent of all feed corn, 93 percent of soybeans and 95 percent of sugar beets are genetically modified.

These foods are mostly turned into ingredients like high fructose corn syrup from GM corn, sugar from GM beets, and oil from GM canola, cotton and soybeans. It’s then tucked into processed, packaged foods. An eye-opening new study of 80 edibles labeled “natural” — including breakfast cereals, chips and infant formula — indicated that every one of them had a GM ingredient, usually corn or soy.

We believe you deserve to know as much as possible about the food you put on your plate and feed your families. That’s why we’re in favor of labeling GM foods. Some 61 countries around the world, including most of Europe, do … but not the United State or Canada.

We say bravo to lawmakers who are introducing GM labeling bills in 20 states this year. Before the November elections, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine already had label laws waiting to be activated: Vermont’s is set to go into effect in 2016. GM labels will appear in the other two states when neighboring states sign on, too.

We’re not fear-mongering. We eat GM foods every day, without fear. So far, science says GM foods are not harmful to our health. The best evidence: In a definitive 2013 review of 1,763 genetically modified organism studies, Italian researchers found “no scientific evidence of toxic or allergenic effects.” And more than 130 research projects funded by the independent European Commission (not by pro-GM forces) concluded that GM foods pose no unique health threats.

Meanwhile, a brand-new University of California, Davis, study of 100 billion farm animals found no differences in their health before 1996 (when feed was all non-GMO) and today (when most is). But if all GM foods were labeled, it would be easier to spot future problems and to provide future proof of safety. So here’s our hype-free update on three things you should know about the GM food controversy:

We’re concerned about the environmental impact. GM crops have triggered the rise of superweeds that are resistant to weed-killers used on GM cotton, soybeans and corn. Washington State University scientists warn that as a result, weed-killer use has risen 25 percent annually in recent years. In some parts of the Midwest, a major corn pest called the Western corn rootworm is developing resistance to the insecticides engineered into GM corn, so growers are spraying more.

We don’t want you to fall for anti-GMO hype about health dangers. The Internet’s jam-packed with scary, misleading untruths about GM food. Case in point: The claim that they boost cancer risk. Turns out that claim was based on a study in rats, and it was retracted in 2013 (for weak evidence) by the journal that originally published it. And what about the Internet warning that GM foods trigger gluten intolerance? It’s been dismissed by experts at the Celiac Disease Foundation.

You can avoid GM ingredients, if you know where to look on the label. Don’t rely on the word “natural.” Do look for foods labeled organic. They’re free of GM ingredients and synthetic pesticides. Or look for foods with the nonprofit Non-GMO Project’s “verified” seal. It’s a sign that a food maker has gone through the group’s voluntary certification process used on foods in the United State and Canada.

Check out the The Environmental Working Group’s Shoppers Guide for the full list. And remember: With the exception of most papaya, a few varieties of zucchini, and a tiny percentage of sweet corn, fresh fruits and vegetables are non-GMO. Filling your plate with organic or well-washed nonorganic fresh produce — a great eating strategy for good health — is a good way to sidestep many GM ingredients. So eat your fill, without fear.