Labels keep us safe and help us make choices about the products we buy. The warning labels on the backs of cigarette cartons warn us of the health problems smoking causes. Nutrition labels on our foods help us know if what we’re buying is a healthy choice. However, there is one label that is increasingly appearing in stores that is unnecessary and confusing to consumers: the “non-gmo label.

What are GMOs and why are they labeled?

GMOs, or ‘genetically modified organisms’ may sound scary, but they’re really nothing to be afraid of.

A crop is considered genetically modified, 'GM,' if scientists have altered its genome. This process is completed by identifying and isolating a certain wanted trait in a crop’s DNA into the DNA of another crop. That crop is then reproduced, and voila, you have a GMO! They're designed for better crop yield and durability, helping crops grow in harsher conditions than they are used to and even saving them from disease.

In countries where drought is common or the population is very high, GMOs are extremely useful. Costs are less for farmers because growing GM crops allows them to maximize the amount of food they’re producing. The environment also benefits from greater crop yield and fewer pesticide treatments to GM crops.

Humans have been modifying their crops via selective breeding for thousands of years, but now it’s done in a much more controlled environment.

And for the health effects? There don’t appear to be any. The effects of GM crops on the body are identical to non-GM crops, according to the World Health Organization and other major health experts around the world. Though the leading scientists and regulatory groups aren’t worried, some people expressed concerns, citing everything from safety to religion. This led to the labeling of projects which were not genetically modified.

What good does labeling GMOs do?

With the debate in the media about the safety and necessity of GMOs, at first glance, labeling them doesn’t seem like a bad idea. We label other things if there is a risk. The problem is that labeling products as non-GMO makes consumers think GMOs should actively be avoided when there is no science to back this up. Sticking the non-GMO label next to other labels on health foods such as ‘gluten-free’ and ‘organic’ creates a negative association between GMOs and health, and that makes it harder to clear up the misinformation surrounding the issue.

Labeling most products in the grocery store as not genetically modified is also completely unnecessary because there are only a select few crops that are currently genetically modified. For example, saying a package of strawberries is ‘non-GMO’ is useless because there are no genetically modified strawberries. Every strawberry on the market is ‘non-GMO.’

Even if the labeling was not misleading, it is hardly a means to avoid all traces of GMOs.

A lot of people who actively shop for exclusively non-GMO products are still being introduced to them, although indirectly because they eat animals. Animals raised for food almost always consume GM crops, so if someone eats meat, they are still being exposed to GMOs.

GMOs should not be the priority

The very people who are attempting to stay educated about their health and purchase health foods are the ones who are buying into the myth. Credible, global health groups say GMOs are safe, necessary and often unavoidable. Labeling them doesn’t do anything but help corporations exploit consumers’ fears and turn them away from the facts.

Consumers should instead be focusing on the real health risks, such as red meat’s link to certain cancers, heavy metals in fish and the use of artificial sweeteners in ‘diet products.’ These are the issues concerning scientists and contributing measurably to America’s worsening health. As far as labeling GMOs, there are bigger fish to fry.

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