Food experts agree genetically modified foods need labeling

Video is for reference only. No photos were taken from the event

By Dennis Clemente

A one-hour talk about the future of food is too short but food experts at the “Future of Food” talk att the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) had one agenda: why genetically modified foods needs to be labeled.

Three days later, Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain selling mostly organic foods, had its way. It became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, as reported by the NYTimes.

The meetup was clearly prompted by Whole Foods Market’s new store policy.  The speakers were plant geneticist Paul Gepts, ethicist Paul Wolpe and intellectual property lawyer Rochelle Dreyfuss with Frederick Kaufman, author of “Bet the Farm,” as moderator. The talk was in conjunction with the museum’s one-of-a-kind exhibition, “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture.”

Gene-modified food has become one of the most hotly contested issues of our time. There are so many gray areas that everyone in the panel also think there should be further evaluation–not just about the genetic engineering of crops, but also how animals are used for “modern biotechnology” and “gene technology” purposes.

Said Gepts, “Current genetically engineered crops could be improved by a stronger regulatory process based on improved testing protocols.”

The need for genetically modified labeling is for people to understand where they’re food is coming from. Gepts raised some points for the audience who were not aware how meats may be derived from animals that were fed genetically engineered crops, such as corn, but that the animals themselves may not be genetically engineered.

Dairy products may use bovine growth hormone to increase lactation dairy cows or use genetically engineered rennet to produce cheese. There are snack foods that contain or are derived from corn, cotton, soybean or canola.

Gepts said papaya production in Hawaii is partly genetically engineered to resist a plant virus.

The need for labeling gene-modified foods relates to our health and well-being, if “diseases are created” as a result of it, not to mention how modification can introduce allergies. Combining peanuts with tomatoes can cause a problem if one is, Wolpe says, allergic to one or the other.

The talk certainly presented itself as a prelude to wide-ranging issues as the speakers hinted at the legal and ethical considerations; how biotechnology could affect our food systems; if we’re headed to “patenting” nature, and if genetically modified foods are the answer to limited food supplies. The speakers didn’t delve too much on these points or the obvious: most of the food we eat have undergone some genetic modification.

Trying to cover as much ground in one hour, the talk veered off topic many times, as is the characteristic of meetups in this city; they are spur-of-the-moment, cafe-like talks.  Still, this first informal talk could hopefully add more personalities and experts to the table–foodies, lawyers, ethicists, environmentalists, and various food companies, all seemingly headed for a serious collision.

There’s what Kaufman called the “wall” between food activists and scientists that may need to be knocked down and what Dreyfuss thinks will make her a mediator to an issue that is going to breed all sorts of reactions and intense debates for sometime to come, especially when other First World countries already have gene-modified food labeled.

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Dennis Clemente

Shuttling between New York and other US cities, Dennis writes about tech meetups when he's not too busy working as a Web Developer/Producer + UX Writer and Digital Marketer.

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