By Alexis Baden-Mayer
Organic Consumers Fund
You can’t argue with consumers’ right to know what’s in our food. That’s why 9 out of 10 people support labels for genetically engineered food. But, money talks, and companies like Monsanto that have gotten rich hiding GMOs in our food are already on the attack in California, where a movement to label GMOs is working to get the issue on the November 2012 ballot.
Monsanto found an ally in Dan Morain at the Sacramento Bee who tried to find fault with the CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition. Here are Morain’s points, along with our rebuttal.
- #1 “Although there’s no proof that genetically modified food has caused anyone’s nose to fall off, labeling is not a terribly bad idea. People like to know what they’re eating.”
Guided by common sense, Dan Morain can’t help but to agree with us.
But, then he lets Monsanto’s spin distract him from the simple fact that GMO labels protect our right-to-know…
- #2 The CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition consists of “[r]ich people with a cause [who] cannot seem to resist inflicting their world views on California politics.”
The CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition consists primarily of non-profit sustainable agriculture organizations, as well as natural, organic and non-GMO businesses, many of whom are based in CA, and all of whom have a large base of members and customers in California.
- #3 Voters should decide whether or not to support the Label GMOs initiative based on what they think of $500,000 donor Dr. Joseph Mercola, “an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago and runs a website, Mercola.com, which promotes his alternative, though generally unproven, health-related products and ideas.”
We’re very proud to have the financial and educational support of Dr. Mercola, and we encourage everyone interested in learning more about natural health and the potential health impacts of consuming genetically engineered food to visit Mercola.com. But, that’s not what this initiative is about. It’s about the right to know. All we want are labels.
- #4 The initiative would open farmers and food producers to litigation.
This isn’t about farmers. It’s about packers and processors. Packers and processors have to follow labeling laws.
It isn’t about litigation, either. Consumers already have the right to sue to enforce California’s food labeling laws. This initiative can’t change that one way or the other. All it can change is what gets labeled. Again, 9 out of 10 people think GMOs should be labeled.
- #5 “The initiative wording is ambiguous and could be interpreted to bar companies from calling any product “natural” if it has been subject to ‘processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.’”
Morain thought he had a clever way to undermine support for the initiative proposition that GMO foods should not be marketed as “natural.” He took a talking point straight from Monsanto’s playbook – only he didn’t get the point.
What spokespersons for Monsanto and the agricultural biotech industry usually say is, to require labels on virtually all processed foods as possibly containing GMOs, because of widespread use of genetically modified soy, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beet and alfalfa seed, amounts to meaningless disclosure. Morain must not understand what genetic engineering is. He heard that “virtually all processed foods” would have to be labeled and somehow he figured this was because of the way they were processed. Morain doesn’t get that almost all processed foods contain ingredients that are genetically engineered.
If everyone knew that all the processed food they were eating contains GMOs, labels would be meaningless, but in the United States, a country where virtually everyone is eating GMOs, only about one quarter of the population is aware of it. In this context GMO labels are anything but meaningless.
- #6 “[H]umans have been modifying crops for 10,000 years. Durham wheat, Asian pears, domesticated cattle and many other commodities would not exist without some sort of engineering. Of course, genetic engineering and irradiation are different from cross-breeding of days past. But in very real ways, [professor Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of Life & Health Sciences Research Development in the UC Davis Office of Research] said, new techniques are much more controlled. ‘This is tested so thoroughly,’ Newell-McGloughlin said.
Again, the CA Right to Know/Label GMOs initiative isn’t about the merits of GMOs. If genetic engineering is so great, its proponents should agree that food labels are a good idea. Of course, the fact is that Monsanto and the other agricultural biotech companies don’t want you to know about GMOs in your food because they don’t want you to wonder whether it’s safe.
Newell-McGloughlin’s statement that “[t]his is tested so thoroughly,” would lead the reader to believe that independent scientists who work for public research institutions are carefully safety testing each new GMO before it enters our food. On the contrary, the government’s policy that there is “no material difference” between GMOs and normal foods obviated the need for review. Companys that want to market new GMOs don’t have to prove that they’re safe, only that they are similar to normal foods – and they get to do their own research.
In the case of GMO salmon, for instance, the applicant, AquaBounty, submitted data to the FDA that showed their genetically engineered salmon was less nutritious, more likely to trigger allergies and had higher levels of a hormone linked to human cancers than normal salmon. The FDA noted this, but concluded that it wasn’t different enough from normal salmon to be blocked or even labeled.
But, that discussion isn’t even relevant to this issue of GMO labels. Safety tested or not, genetically engineered food should be labeled.
For more information and to volunteer to help collect signatures for the California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs go to Organic Consumers Fund.
Sacramento Bee removed all the comments from Morain’s article. Please contact them and let them know your opinion on this issue.