Main meal: woes and GMOs

With recent attention brought to Sodexo over workers rights, more students are rethinking what kinds of food should be available through the universityÕs meal plan that the vast majority of first years and sophomores at UVM are bound to.

And what seems to be coming as response from Sodexo are lots of customer satisfaction surveys, and signs about real food campaigns.

Which brings up the question of what constitutes ÒrealÓ food. According to the Sodexo Real Food Challenge webpage, it means increasing transparency and sustainability in our food system, which is a step in the right direction.

But personally, itÕs hard to imagine a transparent university food system when the overarching system is already clouded and murky.

The Right to Know Project is a collaborative project between NOFA-VT, Rural Vermont, and VPIRG, that is working to pass legislation that will label genetically modified foods, or GMOÕs, in the state of Vermont.

The Institute for Responsible Technology says that GMOÕs are currently found in 80 percent of conventional processed foods, and that there are many dangerous environmental and health impacts that GMOÕs could pose.

And despite numerous studies citing human and environmental health problems, as well as social justice and human rights violations, GMOÕs are not only legal, they are unlabeled in the United States.

We as a country are behind in this matter. More than sixty other countries across the globe have GMO labeling as a minimum, with strict regulations or restrictions in Australia, Japan, and all of the European Union.

Perhaps this pertains to the Òprecautionary principleÓ thatÕs employed in the EU, which details that a product must be proven safe before itÕs distributed or used by consumers. In looking at the history of legality around toxins in flame-retardants, herbicides like Atrazine, and widely sprayed fertilizers, as well as ÔfamousÕ chemicals like Agent Orange and DDT, itÕs pretty apparent the US did not adopt this precautionary principle. San Francisco is the only city in the country to have adopted it.

Wikipedia defines the precautionary principle as an approach that states Òif an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.Ó

Sounds pretty good to me. Especially when 93 percent of pregnant women found genetically engineered toxins in their blood, when polls show that 90 percent of Americans are in favor of GMO labeling, and when the long-term environmental effects of this technology are unknown to us.

Were we to realize that GMO foods are dangerous 10 years down the road, we couldnÕt simply call back modified foods and clean up our mess.

Some arguments in favor of GMOÕs have a social justice bend, but may not be up on the facts of GMOs. While some argue that GMO foods increase yields and thus will work to fight the global hunger crisis, a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (2009), ÒFailure to Yield,Ó showed this not to be the case.

Others cite domestication of plants and animals as being the same as genetic modification, arguing that artificial selection and selective breeding is no different from genetically modified crops.

A study released in June of 2012, GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops,Ó by Michael Antoniou, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan explains that genetic modification ÒÉis recognized in common usage and in national and international laws to refer to the use of recombinant DNA techniques to transfer genetic material between organisms in a way that would not take place naturally, bringing about alterations in genetic makeup and properties.Ó

And yet, despite the growing number of studies that point to the danger of consuming GMOÕs, these campaigns in Vermont are simply asking that consumers be able to find out if their food contains GMOÕs.

This will prove to be extremely difficult The corporate giant primarily responsible for GMOÕs in the US, Monsanto, spent $4.6 million dollars to defeat the labeling bill in Washington State, according to an article on

That is an awful lot of money to put up against a labeling bill. I wonder what it is theyÕre trying to hide?