What is a GMO?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. This term applies to any food that has been produced with techniques that alter that organism's DNA in a way that could not happen naturally. Genetically modified (a.k.a. "genetically engineered" or "GE") crops were introduced commercially in the U.S. in 1996. Today, it has been estimated that 70-80% of processed foods contain materials derived from genetically engineered crops.
Environmental and Health Concerns
In agriculture, genetic engineering has been overwhelmingly used to create crops that are herbicide-tolerant, insect-resistant, or both. Herbicide-tolerant crops have resulted in more herbicides being used to control the resulting evolved "superweeds." This increase in herbicide use can impact nearby surface waters, harm pollinators and other non-target insects, and pose serious health risks to consumers and farm workers. Organic and conventional crops have also become cross-contaminated with GMO crops, leading to a permanent loss of biodiversity.
The cultivation of GMOs and the resulting increased widespread application of these pesticides are leading to a scenario of constant exposure. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in "Roundup," which is the most widely used herbicide on GMO crops, was found in 75% of all air and rainfall samples collected in a recent U.S. Geological Survey study. This is particularly concerning given the World Health Organization's classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
The long-term health effects of genetically engineered foods are still not fully understood, although there is growing scientific evidence that they may be toxic, allergenic, and less nutritious than natural crops. GMO foods have been approved for consumption without rigorous long-term safety testing. In fact, because of copyright restrictions surrounding GMO patents, independent research is limited, and the proof of safety is left in the hands of the manufacturers. Ultimately, there is no consensus on the safety of GMO foods.
Your Right To Know
Sixty-four countries across the globe, representing over half the world's population, have exercised their right to enforce the labeling or the banning of GMOs within their borders amid growing concerns over health and environmental safety. In the U.S., no federal law requires food producers to identify whether foods were produced with genetic engineering.
National polling shows that more than 90% of Americans want the right to know if their food contains GMOs. New York has the opportunity to join Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine in passing laws to mandate GMO labeling. Labeling genetically engineered food increases transparency and gives New Yorkers the ability to determine what products they are eating and feeding to their families.
updated by bsmith 3/25/16