Today, about one-in-eight people across the world do not have enough food to eat. Addressing this problem of food insecurity today is daunting, and it will become even more so in the future as we face a projected increase of the world’s population to 9 billion by 2050.
In the United States, almost 50 million Americans suffered from food insecurity in the past year. While the magnitude, severity, and consequences of food insecurity differ in the U.S. in comparison to low-income countries, that so many Americans are food insecure continues to be of great concern.
Fortunately, there have been major advances in agricultural technologies over the past 20 years that have enabled higher and higher yields without having to use more of our limited resources. Perhaps the most important development has been in the advances of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Through the use of GMOs, we are able to produce enough food at affordable prices to the world.
We are proud of the fact that America has the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. GMO crops allow farmers to produce affordable food by using less land, water, and pesticides, which reduce farmers’ input costs while also resulting in higher crop yields. GMOs are found in 70-80 percent of the foods we eat already and play a vital role in Illinois’s agriculture, food processing and other industries.
Of critical importance is that GMOs help keep food costs low; if GMOs did not exist, food prices would be dramatically higher in the U.S. and across the world. This is especially critical to low-income consumers who have limited amounts of money to spend on food. If prices were higher – as would occur in the absence of GMOs – this would lead to higher rates of food insecurity across the world, including in the U.S.
Unfortunately, some are not aware of the benefits associated with GMOs nor of their proven safety record, and have asked for state-by-state labeling. This could jeopardize the ability of farmers and food producers to continue producing safe and affordable food for all Americans.
The question of mandatory GMO labeling is about much more than the cost of placing a new sticker on packaging. A 50-state patchwork of labeling requirements would require farmers and food producers to establish costly new supply chains and segregation techniques resulting in thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses — the majority of which will be passed on to consumers. Moreover, this could discourage researchers from developing even better GMOs and discourage farmers from planting GMO crops.
Fortunately, there is a better way for consumers, farmers, food manufactures and our economy as a whole. H.R. 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, is bipartisan legislation that would empower the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to enact federal standards to provide consumers with accurate and consistent information on GMO products.
This legislation would eliminate confusion and provide consistency by establishing the FDA as the nation’s single authority over use and labeling of GMO products. It will also advance food safety by empowering the FDA to review new GMO technologies before they enter the market and to require labeling of GMO ingredients if they find a health, safety or nutrition issue present. Finally, it will inform consumers by establishing FDA standards for companies that choose to voluntarily label their products as containing or not containing GMO ingredients, including a federal definition of the term “natural.”
This legislation is a commonsense solution that will protect consumers by eliminating confusion and help eradicate food insecurity. Illinois’ Representatives in Congress should strongly consider this legislation as a means to help build a national framework for the future of food safety and labeling in the United States.
During the holiday season, we were reminded of the many things we are thankful for. We should all be thankful for the development and use of GMOs – this means millions of more people around the world have food on the table.
Craig Gundersen is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Executive Director at the National Soybean Research Laboratory.