I'm disappointed that California voters didn't pass proposition 37, the bill that would require labeling of products containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's). Fear was the impetus behind companies spending 45 million dollars on misleading ads to defeat the bill. They are afraid to let consumers know what is happening to their food supply. The vote was close; 47% of California voters spoke in favor of wanting GMO labelling.
Here, courtesy of Wikipedia, is a concise definition of GMO’s (click here to read more of this article):
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food. The term GMO is very close to the technical legal term, 'living modified organism' defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which regulates international trade in living GMOs (specifically, "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology").
The European Union requires labeling of genetically modified products. China, India, and 47 other countries also require labeling. Click here for the Green America list of countries requiring GMO labeling. Why not in the USA? Shouldn't we, too, have the right to know what is in the food we buy and eat?
Requiring labeling would reveal that much of the food on grocery store shelves are or contain genetically modified ingredients. Much of the corn grown in the U.S. comes from seeds that are modified (think high fructose corn syrup). Soy, canola and cotton crops are dominated by GMO plantings. Alfalfa is one of the latest crops under siege, and will be a staple in the diet of beef cattle. Sweet corn seems to be next.
I took a look at the list of companies that contributed to the "we don't want the public to know what we are putting in their food" advertising blitz. (Click here for the list of companies voting "no"). There are the usual suspects. Monsanto (who also gave us Agent Orange), Dupont, Pepsi-Cola, Kellog and Heinz. I was surprised to see some names of companies who make organic products. Further inquiry told me that some of these natural and organic companies are owned by conglomerates that are full fledged GMO users. Odwalla, Honest Tea and Simply Orange are owned by Coca Cola. Naked Juice is owned by Pepsi Cola. General Mills and Smucker also own companies using natural or organic labels.
With these GMO-using companies hiding their contributions behind their more healthy-sounding subsidiaries, some of the public was duped into thinking that these companies were against the labeling of genetically modified products. I have to believe that the smaller companies would have supported Prop 37 if they had not been bought by the larger conglomerates.
There were some even bigger surprises on the list. (Click here for an Organic Consumers Association article on this). Kashi, who has products in health food stores, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, is on it (owned by Kellogg). Then there was the biggest surprise of all. Say it ain't so; Ben & Jerry's. I guess my boycott will have to include Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey. (Unilever, who contributed $467,000 is the parent company owning Ben & Jerry's).
So, what can I do as a citizen concerned about the contents of the food I shop for? First, I can buy organic products whenever possible. One of the requirements for foods to be certified as organic is that they are free of genetically modified ingredients. Second, I can boycott products made by companies that contributed to the 45 million dollar ad campaign.
And third, the best solution of all, is that I can grow as much of my own food as possible. I can use heirloom seeds, and save seeds from year to year, helping to preserve the genetics of these old varieties. -G.H.