I am sure you have heard and have seen the term GMO-free in more and more places these days, but what does it actually mean? "GMO-free" is used on packaged food labels by many companies to indicate a food is free of genetically modified organisms developed through biotechnology. It’s an industry term that’s made its way into common usage, for better or for worse. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food are concern for consumers who are worried about the impact that these organisms may have on their health. As a result, many companies in the late 1990s began to apply the "GMO free" label, indicating that their food does not contain genetically modified organisms. A number of nations legislate labeling, and in Europe, food must be labeled to indicate whether or not it contains GMOs. In the United States, however, labeling is purely voluntary and not regulated by any governmental body or organization.
Since it is not regulated, there has been some question about the validity of the GMO free label in the US. A number of organizations have pressured the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to enact legislation governing food labeling in regards to these ingredients. Many food activists want a label that is standardized, so that consumers who are concerned about this issue can be assured about the content of products they purchase. Most US consumers have foods containing GMOs in their home. The majority of corn and soybeans grown in the US have been modified, as have several other crops. Some research indicates that many processed foods contain such ingredients, so for consumers who are concerned about this issue, labeling would be helpful.
For consumers who want to eat natural, organic foods, knowing that the products they buy are GMO free is often very important. Although there is no federal labeling program in the US, some organic farmers and natural food producers have chosen to start their own certification programs. Getting certified through such programs can be very difficult, but many producers believe consumers will be willing to pay extra for the verification.
The harmful nature of GMOs has been questioned, especially by commercial agriculture producers and seed providers. They say no scientific evidence has been found to suggest that genetic modification of crops is harmful to humans, but something about that just does not seem logical and regardless of that, some consumers feel that it is important to be able to make conscious choices about what they eat, however, and want the ability to choose foods that have no genetically modified ingredients if they so desire.
Some studies suggest that genetic modification may be harmful to agriculture, with cloned species harming the overall biological diversity and modified genes finding their way into wild plants and non-modified crops. This is especially true in the case of corn, where contamination became a major issue in the 1990s.
At this point in time, the health risks of consuming genetically altered foods have not been clearly identified, since few studies have been conducted to evaluate impact of these foods on human health. However, many scientists have speculated that it is likely that these foods will trigger allergic reactions in some people, create new toxins that produce disease, and lead to antibiotic resistance and a subsequent resurgence of infectious disease. The impact on the environment may be even more devastating. Many farmers are concerned that it will be impossible to prevent genetically engineered crops from "polluting" organic farms, as the wind and bees will naturally carry pollen from the genetically engineered crops to nearby organic farms. In addition, farmers and environmentalists fear that foods that are genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides, such as Roundup Ready soybeans, will result in heavier herbicide use, further polluting the groundwater, lakes and rivers. Heavy use of herbicides may also encourage the development of "superweeds" that are resistant to herbicides, which could threaten crops throughout the country. The results of a 1999 study conducted by researchers at Cornell University suggest that genetically engineered crops also endanger wildlife, specifically the Monarch butterfly. These researchers found that nearly half of the Monarch caterpillars that ate milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from genetically engineered corn died within four days. A study conducted one year later at Iowa State University found that plants that neighbor farms of genetically engineered corn are dusted with enough corn pollen to kill Monarch caterpillars.