Genetically-modified food may soon be a thing of the past on Hawaii Island, the largest island in the state of Hawaii. The island’s governing council recently passed a bill banning the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and banning biotech companies such as Monsanto from operating in the area.
This bill may be part of a growing unease in America about the safety of consuming GMOs. A poll published earlier this year in The New York Times showed that 93 percent of Americans favor labeling foods containing genetically-engineered ingredients , and that three-quarters of Americans say they’re concerned with the safety of such foods.
According to Genna Reed, a researcher at Food and Water Watch, this ban may provide a foundation for further legislation.
“If Hawaii County’s ban is enacted, it will definitely give momentum to the state labeling initiatives as well as additional county or statewide bans,” she said. “Growing awareness and concern about GMO foods might help achieve recognition at the federal level, where changes in the regulation and labeling of GMOs are necessary.”
Stan Johnson, with the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy, was more skeptical.
“I doubt that any outright bans will be passed, and labeling is costly and difficult,” he said. “So, I suspect that voluntary labeling will be as far as the non-GMO people can get in the legislative area.”
Markets are responding to consumer concern at least to some degree, however. Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, pointed out that in 2012, products labeled GMO-free made up America’s fastest-growing category of foods, compared with other health and wellness-related claims.
However, the ban may have adverse effects as well. Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University (and author of the blog Food Politics), pointed out that it could affect the area’s papaya industry.
“Papayas genetically modified to resist ringspot virus are the sole example of a product that benefits consumers,” said Smith. With the GMO ban in place, he explained, “Local papayas would be susceptible to ringspot virus.”
Diana Reeves, executive director of the anti-GMO advocacy organization, GMO Free USA, hopes such bans will increase the variety of foods on the market.
“A recent food industry analysis predicts that GMO-free and organic will grow exponentially in the next half decade,” she said.
Despite such predictions, it seems likely genetically engineered foods are here to stay. Data from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology showed that in 2004, 85 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. were genetically modified. In the same year, 45 percent of U.S. corn was also genetically modified.
Regardless of the outcome of attempts to ban these foods, the upside may be increased public awareness surrounding the issue of GMO foods. As Megan Westgate with The Non-GMO Project pointed out:
She also celebrated increased consumer education on the topic, pointing out that more than 14,000 food products carry her organization’s label, guaranteeing they are Non-GMO Project Verified.