Should NYU Label Genetically Modified Foods In Its Dining Halls?

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.’”

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5 Comments

  • Robert Wager
    March 27, 2014

    This is the place to start to understand this debate:

    http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/csaph/a12-csaph2-bioengineeredfoods.pdf

  • Stacie Orell
    March 27, 2014

    Maybe you should’ve taken the time to interview some of the many scientists, consumer advocacy organizations, consumers, farmers, food producers, healthcare professionals, and legislators both in NY and outside of it who are pro-labeling before publishing such a one-sided article. I’m happy to provide documentation about studies that show cause for concern about the long-term consumption of GMOs, their known environmental hazards, a statement signed by 300+ scientists disputing the biotech industry’s claim that there is scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs, a 2013 NYT poll that showed 93% of Americans want GMOs labeled, and more. There’s also something to be said for a consumers’ right to know what’s in their food and how it’s made. If GMOs are so wonderful and safe, why are the agrichemical and junk food companies fighting tooth and nail–spending more than $70 million and hiring an army of lobbyists–to keep consumers dining in the dark? A GMO label is not warning labels. They’re no different from labels identifying country of origin, fiber content, whether something has been frozen or is from concentrate. A GMO label is just one more piece of information that those consumers who read labels regularly can use to inform their choices at the supermarket.

  • Robert Wager
    March 28, 2014

    GM is not an ingredient, its a breeding method. Citing anti-GMO activists hardly negates the overwhelming support for GE crops and derived food from every food safety authority, every health authority and every national Academy of Science that have looked at the issue.

  • Sasha Kazachkova
    March 29, 2014

    What would be more important is if they actually posted the ingredients of the food they serve, especially at the buffet style dining halls. Too many times have I gotten sick from some hidden gluten in my tomato soup or meatloaf. A friend of mine has been hospitalized twice due to NYU dining not labeling that they used peanuts in a recipe. NYU needs to be much more considerate of people with dietary restrictions, especially when they actually threaten the safety of its students, unlike GMOs.

  • Frank Flora
    April 9, 2014

    Robert, It’s not a form of breeding. It is indeed an ingredient. The genes are “added” Genetically modified organisms are not “bred” into existence, and their offspring can permanently contaminate even eradicate the original NON GMO plants/animals. I love how GMO is referred to as “conventional”. Scientists literally for example take genes from a toxin producing bacteria and inject or splice them, if you will, into a corn plants genes to produce a plant that produces its own insecticide. That could never happen thru “breeding” as you put it, or hybridization. Does that sound “conventional” to you? This site is scary controlled propaganda.

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