Time to Tell Us What Goes Into Our Food

From Guest Blogger Sarah Atherton:

As a Brit back in the UK, I was quietly confident that the food I bought from a supermarket or ate in a restaurant was all coming from a reasonably safe source. Certainly genetically modified food is labelled, artificial colourings come with a warning and certain major food retailers have a policy not to sell any foods containing artificial colourings, flavourings or hydrogenated fats.

I moved to the U.S. a year ago and assumed that it’s the same deal, surely? I’m hearing that countries such as Peru have officially passed a law banning GM foods anywhere in the country for the next ten years, so surely the States are ahead of them?

Well I’m wrong and I’m quite shocked, especially as for the last couple of months I’ve been starting my baby boy on solids. In the EU only 5% of food sold contains GMOs – a figure that continues to shrink – but in the States it’s closer to 80%!

My concern as a mother and as a consumer in the US is that genetic modification alters the proteins in foods in ways we don’t yet fully understand. Interestingly, the introduction of unlabelled GMO food into the marketplace has coincided with an incredible 400% increase in food sensitivity.  Artificial colourings and preservatives in food have been found to contribute to behavioural problems, and the States don’t see the need to warn parents about these chemicals going into their children’s mouths and these chemicals are in everything!

What is confusing is the two-tiered product approach that large US corporate companies such as Mars, Coca Cola, Kraft and Wal-Mart are adopting. They are voluntarily removing chemicals such as aspartame, artificial colourings and preservatives from products that they sell abroad but not here in the US.

So why the difference between countries? Well, money and power certainly plays a role. The U.S. food, agriculture and biotech industries possibly hold much more power here than they do in the EU.   Laws and legislations are certainly different. The UK operates as part of the EU, which in 2006 switched from a very complicated food safety system to a much more efficient one. European regulators are also far more sensitive to public opinion.

But if these foods continue to be sold and we still don’t know what is in them due to lack of labelling, then surely it’s a violation of right to information? Labelling would simply allow us to make informed choices about what we feed ourselves and our families. Hopefully we can look ahead to a more globalized regulation, but in the meantime we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the U.S. consumer’s voice to help change this situation, especially in the digital age.