The Right to Know What is in Your Food

GMOsby Jan Woods –

GUEST COMMENTARY – People want the right to know what is in their food.  But powerful interests with long histories of deceiving the public, endangering human health, and polluting our planet are trying to deny us this basic right.  How? The usual way–by throwing huge amounts of money, to the tune of $38 million, to be used to fog up television airtime, radio waves and voters’ cognitive abilities with deceptive T.V. and radio commercials.

Led by Monsanto ($7.1 million and counting), DuPont (4.9 million), PepsiCo, Nestle, Hershey, and Kellogg, a host of chemical and junk food manufacturers have donated huge sums of money to defeat the YES on 37 campaign, hoping voters will go into the booths on November 6 thoroughly confused about the true nature of Proposition 37, the California Right to Know /Label GMO Proposition.

The most basic and most egregious lie contained in these ads is a lie of omission; the ads against Prop 37 never mention the actual heart of the matter: that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been in many processed foods for almost 20 years, without your knowledge or your consent. That you have likely been eating them and feeding them to your family for years with unknown consequences. And that to vote YES on Prop 37 will be a vote to simply deliver information that you as a consumer have every right to know, via a simple inexpensive label: “may contain GMOs.”
GMOs, for those hearing the term for the first time, are new, novel, patented organisms created in a lab, by conjoining genes from disparate species in ways that would never be found in nature: fish genes in a tomato, eel genes in salmon, bacteria inside the cells of corn-on-the-cob. Other plant seeds are engineered to create crops that can withstand large doses of pesticides or herbicides.  The bt corn plant, for example, has been engineered to manufacture its own pesticide in each cell of the corn where it can’t be washed off. Bt causes the stomachs of insects who eat the corn to explode.  Because no long term tests have been done on this new and novel “food”, we have no idea what this pesticide-infused, (EPA registers it as a toxin) corn does to the stomachs of human adults who eat it, let alone babies and children.  But the increase in Crohn’s disease, leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome, among other digestive tract problems on the rise in recent years, strongly suggests conducting long term testing would be extremely worthwhile.  These problems with bt corn are just the tip of a very large GMO iceberg: recent independent studies out of France have shown that GMOs and the herbicide associated with them, glyphosate, promote cancerous tumors in rats, as well as liver and kidney malfunction and premature aging and death.  Also linked in studies to GMOs are obesity, sterility, diabetes, asthma, and many other auto-immune diseases.  Is it any wonder that the “no on 37” camp does not mention even once, in these currently ubiquitous ads, the actual purpose and subject of YES on Prop 37: GMOs?  The last thing Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Kellogg and the rest want anyone to do is search the internet to learn more about GMOs–such an action would surely lead to many more YES on 37 votes, rather than NOs!

In contrast, the YES on 37 campaign urges everyone to research and think for themselves.  In doing so you will find that over 50 countries worldwide–61 at the last count–already have some form of labeling laws for GMOs in place, including 27 countries in Europe, and also Japan, China, Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.  You will also find that the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization/United Nations have said that mandatory safety studies on GMOs should be required and conducted by independent scientists– a standard the US has failed to meet. A National Academy of Sciences report concludes that products of GMO technology “carry the potential for introducing compositional changes that may have adverse effects on human health.”  And the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has urged all physicians to prescribe non-GMO diets for their patients.

Research will also reveal that the companies that oppose this truth in labeling law, like the tobacco companies before them, have a long history of deceit and harm-for-profit practices.  The companies who oppose labeling GMOs–Monsanto, DuPont, etc.– have also brought, to us and to planet earth, DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, dioxin, glyphosate (highly toxic poison in Roundup), aspartame (linked to brain tumors) recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), and, now, genetically modified organisms (GMO). These companies have sworn up and down, time and again, that their products were harmless–and time and again, the preponderance of evidence over time has showed they lied.  It is no small leap in logic to believe they know GMOs are also not harmless.  They are surely trying to cover up something with $38 million ( as  compared with the 3.5 million raised from mostly small donations by the Yes on 37 campaign).  These companies also sued farmers for saving seed and sued farmers when their lands became contaminated by biotech “owned and patented” GMO seeds from neighboring farms. The main motive of the companies opposing truth in labeling/YES on Prop 37 is to create more profit for themselves at any cost: to sell more contaminated seeds, more pesticides and more junk food to an American public deliberately kept in the dark as these corporations gain more and more control over our food supply, which they contaminate at will.

If you have yet to decide how to vote on Prop 37, stop and ask yourself whom you would believe : the corporations, who have everything to lose by your knowing the full truth about the food you eat, or a coalition of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, teachers, farmers, scientists,doctors, business-owners, students,and concerned citizens who have initiated and who champion Prop 37.

When you go to the voting booth this November, bring your common sense, your conscience–and remember your history. Please vote “yes” on Proposition 37.

One final word about some other practical aspect of YES on Prop 37: European labeling of GMO “did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests,” according to David Byrne, former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. The only independent study on the economic impact of Prop 37, by Joanna Shepherd Bailey, Professor at Emory University School of Law, concluded: “Consumers will likely see no increases in prices as a result of the labeling law required.”

Other links containing information on GMOs and Proposition 37:

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  1. Practical

    I’m personally on the fence on this issue, but closer now to the need for labeling than I was a year ago So I am sympathetic to the perspective of today’s article. Proceeding with labeling still leaves consumers with the opportunity to exercise their own personal choice. Many of those consumers will agree with the following article published by Matt Ridley in The Wall Street Journal on 6 October 2012 and republished on many ecological and global warming websites. It is worth taking the time to read.

    [i][b]Matt Ridley: The Perils Of Always Ignoring The Bright Side

    The two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement — genetic modification and fracking — have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.

    Generally, technologies are judged on their net benefits, not on the claim that they are harmless: The good effects of, say, the automobile and aspirin outweigh their dangers. Today, arguably, adopting certain new technologies is harder not just because of a policy of precaution but because of a bias in much of the media against reporting the benefits.

    Shale gas is one example, genetically modified food another, where the good news is deemed less newsworthy than the bad. A recent French study claimed that both pesticides and GM corn fed to cancer-susceptible strains of rats produced an increase in tumors. The study has come in for withering criticism from mainstream scientists for its opaque data, small samples, unsatisfactory experimental design and unconventional statistical analysis, yet it has still gained headlines world-wide. (In published responses, the authors have stood by their results.)

    The French study contradicts a Japanese paper that used larger samples, longer trials and accepted experimental designs, yet received virtually no notice because it found no increase in cancer in rats fed on GM crops. This is a problem that’s bedeviled GM technology from the start: Studies that find harm are shouted from the media rooftops, those that do not are ignored.

    So to redress the balance, I thought I’d look up the estimated benefits of genetically modified crops. After 15 years of GM planting, there’s ample opportunity—with 17 million farmers on almost 400 million acres in 29 countries on six continents—to count the gains from genetic modification of crop plants. A recent comprehensive report by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot for a British firm, PG Economics, gives some rough numbers. (The study was funded by Monsanto which has major operations in biotech, but the authors say the research was independent of the company and published in two peer-reviewed journals.)

    The most obvious benefit is yield increase. In 2010, the report estimates, the world’s corn crop was 31 million tons larger and the soybean crop 14 million tons larger than it would have been without the use of biotech crops. The direct effect on farm incomes was an increase of $14 billion, more than half of which went to farmers in developing countries (especially those growing insect-resistant cotton).

    In addition, a range of non-pecuniary benefits have been recorded, from savings in fuel, time and machinery to a better health and safety record on the farm (since less pesticide is needed), shorter growing cycles and better quality of product. In India—where the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications says 88% of cotton is now genetically modified to resist pests and insecticide use has halved—bee keepers are losing fewer bees.

    As this illustrates, the most striking benefits are environmental. The report calculates that a cumulative total of 965 million pounds of pesticide have not been used because of the adoption of GM crops. The biggest impacts are from insect-resistant cotton and herbicide-tolerant maize, both of which need fewer sprayings than their conventional equivalents.

    The use of less fuel in farming GM crops results in less carbon-dioxide emission. In addition, herbicide-tolerant GM crops can often be grown with little or no plowing in stubble fields that are sprayed with herbicides. The result is to allow more carbon to remain in the soil, since plowing releases carbon as microbial exhalation. Taken together, Messrs. Brookes and Barfoot estimate, this means that the GM crops grown in 2010 had an effect on carbon-dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 8.6 million cars off the road.

    There is a rich irony here. The rapidly growing use of shale gas in the U.S. has also driven down carbon-dioxide emissions by replacing coal in the generation of electricity. U.S. carbon emissions are falling so fast they are now back to levels last seen in the 1990s. So the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement — genetic modification and fracking — have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.[/b][/i]

  2. jerry75

    So, I am in favor of labeling. Surprisingly– perhaps,perhaps not– the most prominent pushers of GMO technology, who oppose labeling of GMO –Obama AND Romney and Bush AND Clinton and all their family members–do not eat GMO themselves. This is good enough for me. If carbon emissions are lowered by the use of GMO technologies–yet other excessive harms come to the planet and environment instead, it doesn’t matter much does it,that carbon emissions are a bit lower does it? To perish by any other means, such as toxic GMO pesticide sludge everywhere, in water, and soil and the food and in the children’s bodies, is still to perish. If I and my family and you and your family are ill and dying from ingesting GMO foods, leaving the earth to the rich folks and their families who survive because they don’t eat the poisoned GMO–and enjoy lower carbon emissions while they are at it–what use is lower carbon emissions to we dead folk and our families? Interesting link about the way the Romneys eat, and heal themselves:


    So Matt Ridley’s The Perils Of Always Ignoring The Bright Side article is used in part to say that a Japanese study contradicts the French study. Funny – a Google search did not locate the Japanese study but it did the French one. What made me question Ridley’s intention even more were the facts reported in GMO Free Zone Registration Status Report (2012.)

    “The NO! GMO Campaign held its seventh annual nationwide GMO Free Zone conference in Yamaguchi Prefecture on March 3, 2012. About 450 farmers and consumers gathered from all over Japan. The trend in Japan is that the total area of GMO Free Zones is expanding. The total registered area now stands at 78366.81 hectares as of February 17, 2012. This is an increase by 9694.16 hectares compared to the previous year (February 10, 2011). Over the past year, new GMO Free Zones have been registered in 23 prefectures out of Japan’s 43 prefectures, as well as in administrative areas such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido. Only two prefectures in the entire country do not have any GMO Free Zones. In total, the combined area is about 1.7% of the cultivated farmland in Japan. (NO! GMO Campaign, 6 Aug 2012)”

    The GMO issue is not about optimism or pessimism but informed, not informed or misinformed. The independent peer review studies have not been conducted to let us know if GMOs have a bright side. Government has not required the research or control of GMOs to win the public’s trust. Michael Pollan says about his research, ‘I began by asking FDA representative, James Maryanski, why the F.D.A. didn’t consider Bt a food additive. Under F.D.A. law, any novel substance added to a food must — unless it is generally regarded as safe’ (”GRAS,” in F.D.A. parlance) — be thoroughly tested and if it changes the product in any way, must be labeled.”

    That’s easy,” Maryanski said. ‘Bt is a pesticide, so it’s exempt’ from F.D.A. regulation. That is, even though a Bt potato is plainly a food, for the purposes of Federal regulation it is not a food but a pesticide and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the E.P.A.’
    Most of the intelligence and local knowledge needed to run an organic farm resides in the head of the farmer. Growing potatoes conventionally requires intelligence, too, but a large portion of it resides in laboratories in distant places like St. Louis, where it is employed in developing sophisticated chemical inputs. That sort of centralization of agriculture is unlikely to be reversed, if only because there’s so much money in it; besides, it’s much easier for the farmer to buy prepackaged solutions from big companies. ‘Whose Head Is the Farmer Using? Whose Head Is Using the Farmer?’ goes the title of a Wendell Berry essay. A key question to the well being of the consumer.”

    Pollan ends his lengthy journalist exploration of GMOs by saying, “So there they sit, a bag of biotech spuds on my porch. I’m sure they’re absolutely fine. I pass the bag every day, thinking I really should try one, but I’m beginning to think that what I like best about these particular biotech potatoes — what makes them different — is that I have this choice. And until I know more, I choose not.”

    I end by saying that CA Prop 37 labels foods which gives you the right to choose what you eat as does Michael Pollan. Do not let the cheap food of corporations buy away your right for a healthy life.

  4. Don Shor

    Most of the assertions in Mr. Ridley’s essay are arguable and many are simply incorrect. GM crops have many benefits and many drawbacks. Some of those drawbacks have been denied or minimized by GM proponents, which is unfortunate.
    In another essay touting GM crops, Mr. Ridley says [i]”Despite opponents’ fears that the technology would poison people, spread superweeds and entrench corporate monopolies, it’s now clear that the new crops have reduced not only hunger but pesticide use, carbon emissions, collateral damage to biodiversity and rain-forest destruction.”[/i]
    The problem is, GM crops have spread superweeds, have firmly entrenched corporate monopolies to the point that the world’s seed supply is increasingly controlled by a very small number of huge corporations, in some cases they have increased pesticide use, the carbon argument is specious (to put it mildly) and the ‘collateral damage’ argument is dubious.
    Point is, this proposition isn’t about whether GM crops are safe or good. It’s about whether people can know what products contain GM crops.
    These agribusiness and food giants are spending millions to defeat this initiative. If they are so sure of the benefits of their products, why don’t they instead spend millions to promote the benefits through advertising? I’m sure in the marketplace of ideas they might prevail. But first people wish to know so they can make an informed choice.

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