Group trying to raise awareness of GMO foods

By Kelly White

Genetically engineered foods have been grasping the attention of the public in recent years, and a group that touts itself as a public interest organization is working actively with surrounding communities to inform residents exactly what genetically engineered foods are and how and why they may be harmful to the human body.

An information and movie night was held Feb. 2 at the Oak Lawn Library, and Food and Water Watch featuring guest speaker State Rep. Kelly Burke will be at the Green Hills Public Library, 8611 W. 103rd St., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 9.

"Even though I am only a volunteer, it feels great to be helping out this much," said Gerri Kathan, a volunteer with Food and Water Watch, which was founded in 2005 by 12 former members of the nonprofit group Public Citizen.

Kathan has prepared and donated Food and Water Watch tshirts to distribute for supporters of genetically engineered food labeling, with the hope of raising awareness of the matter.

Genetically engineered or genetically modified foods are derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as genetically modified crops or fish. GMOs have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques.

If genetically engineered food labeling passes on the March ballot, the measure primarily would affect packaged food. It would exempt dairy and meat products, as well as alcohol and food sold in restaurants.

Genetically engineered foods have been part of the American diet since the 1990s, when farmers began growing corn and other crops with seeds that are genetically engineered to repel pests or withstand herbicides. Today, about 80 percent of packaged foods sold in the United States including cereal, cookies and soda products contain genetically engineered food, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

"The public has the right to know what they are buying and consuming on a regular basis, anything less is misleading and leaves consumers in the dark about the food that they're eating," Kathan said. "Genetically engineered food is pervasive, untested, potentially unsafe, and completely unlabeled. [Food and Water Watch] are fighting for transparency in the food system."

The Palos Hills City Council last November adopted a resolution supporting the mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered food products.