Keith Kloor, an environmental journalist and NYU professor, sighs into the recorder. “The studies have not shown that organic food is any more nutritional. It doesn’t have a higher nutritional…value than conventional foods,” he says, in response to a series of questions concerning the healthiness of genetically modified food.
The fight to label genetically modified organisms in food has been big news for over two years in the United States. Maine and Connecticut recently approved legislation requiring the labeling of GMOs, but neither state has implemented said legislation yet. Twenty-six other states introduced bills to label GMOs last year, but in many states, such as Texas, proponents of GMO labeling seem to be making little headway.
NYU does not currently label GM foods in its dining halls. Ann Marie Powell, Director of Dining Services at NYU, says that “the only option to ensure foods do not contain GMOs would be to purchase foods and products that are 100% USDA Organic or verified as non-GMO by organizations, such as the Non-GMO Project. Due to the large quantity and variety of food needed to serve the campus, the options are very limited.”
Powell also makes sure to mention that “GMOs are not easily identified on labels, and there is legislation pending to require labeling,” which is to say that NYU is completely within its rights to withhold labeling in its dining halls.
However, should students really care whether or not their food has been genetically modified?
In an article about the biotech giant Monsanto published in a February special edition of Cosmos, Kloor states that studies conducted by The European Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Royal Society in Britain, The World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association all conclude that eating GM food is “no riskier” than eating non-GM food.
Powell, for her part, seems to think that NYU serves highly nutritious, and decidedly non-harmful, food to its students. “We use fresh, quality foods and cook from scratch,” she says. “One of dining services’ top priorities is to ensure the integrity of the food served to our customers.”
This last quote brings up an important question: shouldn’t the “integrity” of the food served in NYU dining halls have a lot to do with transparency? In other words, for a dining service to maintain its integrity, shouldn’t it be required to inform its customers about exactly where the food they are consuming is coming from?
Most respectable scientists, and science journalists, for that matter, will tell you that GM foods are both perfectly safe to consume and vitally important to the production of food on a global scale.
In his article “Risky Business,” David Ropeik claims that people subconsciously link GMOs to companies such as Monsanto, which they perceive as evil. Ropeik writes that the “common fear of ‘chemicals’ and ‘pesticides’ and widespread mistrust of ‘chemical companies’” makes GMOs “represent something that feels scary.” In other words, it is not the nutritional value or health affects of GM foods that make people view them as harmful, it is the public image of big corporations such as Monsanto. The fear that many people feel in response to consuming GM food is simply a byproduct of the subconscious association between GM food and the big, bad, soul-sucking corporation.
So, we return to the question: given that GM foods are not harmful to consume, should NYU students care about labeling them? The answer comes down to ethics. If the customer wants to know exactly what goes into making a product, but the make-up of the product has no bearing on its use, does the customer still have the right to know what goes into it? In Kloor’s words, “I’m all for transparency, in terms of what’s on food labels…but there’s nothing in science that tells us why you would label something as ‘genetically modified food.’”