Genetically Modified Labels: The debate over labelling GMOs

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - You see more labels in stores that tell you whether a food is "Non-GMO."  In other words, that it does not contain anything that's been genetically modified.  Right now, there is a push in the state of Florida and across the country to require those labels.

At the new store Bee Organics in downtown West Palm Beach, everything is organic and free of GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms.

"Everything is vegan on our menu and it's all organic, everything in this store is organic," explained manager Virginia Raich.

Throughout her lifestyle, Raich watches what she eats and she tries to avoid foods that have been genetically modified.

"I really try not to eat any processed foods.  I can't say I'm 100% organic, but I try to be," she said.

Becky Mercer, PhD is the Director of Biotechnology at Palm Beach State College.

"The whole idea of a GMO in the science field is to manipulate the genome of that organism to produce some result to benefit humankind," she explained.

GMOs have been used to fight drought, disease and hunger.  Scientists take a gene from a bacterium, a virus, or a different yet similar species such as another plant. That gene is then put into an organism to make it stronger or alter it in some way,  The science of genetically modified foods has been around for about two decades.  Now, nearly 90% of corn and almost all soy is genetically modified.  It can be difficult to avoid GMOs, as they are found in nearly every aisle of most grocery stores.  Labels are not required.

"I think overall, it comes down to a customer's right to know," said Jeremy Jones with Whole Foods, while standing in the grocery's store in Wellington.

Whole Foods markets plan to make sure all foods sold in its stores have a label telling consumers whether products contain GMOs by the year 2018.  Already, the store has rows of foods without GMOs and labeled as such.

If food is not labeled, it can be difficult to know where it comes from or how it's made.

In Florida, some have proposed a new law that would require labels on GMO foods.  Florida's efforts failed.  Opponents of GMO labels say it will drive up the cost of food.  Opponents also argue that the food has already been ruled safe.

"Customers are concerned about what's in their food.  Whether it be beef, whether it be chips, whether it be cereal.  Whether it be milk.  They want to know," said Jones.

Dr. Mercer says the science will help to determine the long term effects of eating genetically modified foods.

"I am a proponent of GMO, personally and professionally, I think that the science is here to help us and to make our world better," she said.

There are several groups that are aimed at different parts of the debate.  Some have created apps for smart phones that allow users to scan products to see if they are GMO-free.

If you want to know about an item without a label, there are apps you can get for free on your phone to scan the code at the grocery store. One app is called ipiit,  " The Food Ambassador." 

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