GMO Labeling: Do We Have a Right to Know?

Edible East Bay, May 8, 2012. By Kristina Sepetys.

EEB42-cover-267Genetic engineering promises food crops that can resist drought, insects, and disease; crops that can produce more bountiful yields at lower costs while helping to address hunger across the planet.

But as with many new technologies, there are unknowns and questions. Could genetically altered food organisms pose a threat to human health and the environment? Many argue yes, they could. Some people think consumers should be better informed about the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food and that the best way to communicate this information is through product labeling.

“People should be able to choose whether to purchase food with GMOs or to avoid it,” Chef Tina Ferguson-Riffe says from behind the counter at Smoke Berkeley, a small storefront restaurant that she recently opened on San Pablo Avenue near Dwight Way.

Texas-born Ferguson-Riffe, surely among the sweetest food purveyors you’ll find in this town, turns out tea-smoked salmon, tasty hot and smoky BBQ beef and pork, tangy coleslaw, a tart housemade lemonade, and a prize-winning chocolate pecan pie, among other things. She uses organic produce from Catalán Family Farms, and would like to source organics for more of her ingredients: The challenge is finding cost-effective choices.

Tina’s husband is the filmmaker Jed Riffe, whose much-decorated 2005 documentary, Ripe for Change, explored the intersection of food and politics in California. Tina and Jed are part of the growing chorus of support for state- and federal-level initiatives calling for labeling of genetically engineered produce and prepared foods made with GE ingredients. (GE is shorthand for both genetic engineering and genetically engineered.)

But is labeling the answer? Can it offer a meaningful, effective way of addressing GMO concerns? And is there even good reason to be concerned?

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