Why care about GMOs?

John Turenne FCSI offers a personal perspective on the genetically modified foods debate


There seem to be as many opinions about the merits and/or consequences of the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food chain as there are fish in the sea. Note of irony: some of those fish may actually have had their genes scientifically altered by humans.

From the perspective of a foodservice professional, and as a parent concerned about my children’s future, I have a strong view about GMOs. Apparently I’m not alone. At the last count more than 92% of Americans polled want genetically-engineered foods to be labelled and 60 countries have passed laws to label GMOs. Hopefully, as Amelia Levin’s article in Foodservice Consultant magazine’s Q3 edition mentions, my own country has begun taking steps to do the same.

But just what is all the fuss over GMOs? As we debate and consider the issues, I’ve found the following points helped me to understand and make educated decisions.

The biological process

Humans are meddling with biological states that in the past have evolved naturally over long periods of time. What might be the long-term effect of this genetic manipulation?

Effect on the food chain

There is scientific fear that these new organisms could introduce new allergens and antibiotic resistance. There has not been enough time and research to determine the long-term effects of man’s control over natural evolution.

Labelling, patent and property rights to food

The largest corporations in the world will now own the rights to food.

Transgenic organisms

What about cross-pollination and breeding with conventional organisms? Traditional means of growing crops and raising animals never crossed the natural boundaries of different species.

World hunger and terminator genes

Developers of GE foods also claim that mutated foods are the answer to the dilemma of world hunger. Yet one of the largest biotech companies has developed the ‘terminator seed’, in which the seeds produced are sterile. Farmers using this seed would have to purchase their seed annually instead of saving it from previous crops. Farmers would be at the mercy of these biotech companies. Far from seeking a solution to world hunger, it would seem that these companies would hold the world’s poorest farmers hostage in the interest of greater profits.

Environmental impact

Crops such as GE Corn have been developed to resist the effect of pesticide application, therefore GE crops can withstand increased amounts of pesticides –the very pesticides the biotech companies seek to sell!

The great thing about being US citizens is we have the right to make our own choices. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that like many of the countries around us, we should have the fundamental right to know what is in our food? I feel we should be able to make informed choices about what we feed our families. As the state of Connecticut recently demonstrated, the people are speaking up and out against corporately influenced government food policy. The future is real: real choices for real food.

For more information about the GMO Labeling initiative see: justlabelit.org or gmofreect.org

John Turenne FCSI is president and founder of Sustainable Food Systems, LLC – a sustainable foodservice consulting firm helping institutions consider social, ecological and delicious differences in their business through the food they serve. John has also worked as consulting chef for Jamie Oliver on the Food Revolution TV show; for Michelle Obama in developing her Chefs Move to Schools initiative, and created the internationally recognised ‘Yale Sustainable Food Project’ as the executive chef at Yale University.