if everything were labeled like GMOs

GMOs & Informed Consent, Rights & Responsibilities

When purveyors of junk food are taken to task for their contributions to obesity and chronic ill health, you often hear their spokespeople, lawyers and other apologists invoke the concept of “personal responsibility.”

The problem is never with their sugary, chemical-infused, hyper-processed products. The problem, they tell us, is ours. We exercise too little. We don’t make good choices. We consume too much – even as their marketing arms do everything possible to manufacture desire and get us to consume ever more.

It’s not that these things aren’t true. They’re just not the whole story.

But let’s pretend for a moment that they are – that personal responsibility is the only thing that matters. In order to take it, though, we need to have access to complete and accurate information about the food we eat. If you don’t know where it comes from, how it’s grown or made, or what it’s made of, how can you even begin to make an informed choice?

if everything were labeled like GMOsThis is maybe the most fundamental reason why GMOs should be labeled: So we can know what we’re buying. And everyone potentially benefits. Those who think GM products are great and necessary can buy them and support that kind of agriculture. Those who prefer to take our food as nature intended – not engineered to meet the desires or convenience of human beings – can know what to avoid.

Win-win.

And the simple truth of the matter is that people want labeling. According to an AP/GfK poll taken late last year, 66% of American adults favor it. Only 7% are opposed. (The rest are neutral.) Ask health care professionals, and you’ll get essentially the same story. A recent – albeit non-scientific – poll of physicians found 68% in favor of mandatory GMO labeling.

That 68% is a number worth heeding. After all, these are the ones who will be – and in some ways already are – dealing with any health-related effects of GMOs.

And it’s not just about harm from the GMOs themselves – though there is evidence for that. Of special concern is the increased use of pesticides, including those containing glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide and a pernicious toxin. We’re also seeing the rise of superweeds and superbugs, prompting industrial agriculture to use even more synthetic chemicals to combat them.

When we eat foods grown in such ways, we ingest traces of these chemicals, too – just as we ingest antibiotic and other residues from animal products we may choose to eat, meat and dairy alike.

In dentistry as in medicine, informed consent is a fundamental patient right (the vaccine law just passed here in California notwithstanding). The dentist or physician has a responsibility to provide their patients with enough information about the benefits and risks of their treatment options – including the option to have no treatment at all – so the patient can choose intelligently among them. This right is outlined by both the American Dental Association and the American Medical Association (among others).

Of course, as in the case of the food industry, this isn’t always a given. A dentist who places mercury amalgam fillings, for instance, may see no need to talk with their patient about the potential systemic effects of mercury – a potent neurotoxin – being released from fillings slowly over time. They might not mention the possibility of oral galvanism – the creation of electrical currents in the mouth when different metals are near each other. They might not even mention the mercury at all, calling them “silver” fillings instead.

Even today, most Americans don’t know that “silver” fillings are mostly mercury. And according to a Zogby poll conducted last year, only 11% say they were ever told that fact by their dentist. Nearly 2/3 say they are not given enough information about amalgam or alternatives to make an informed decision.

We deserve to know – and to use that knowledge to make decisions that best suit our goals, values, priorities and desires.