GMO Labeling: What's at stake

Proposition 37 on the November ballot in California “Requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways [and] prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as ‘natural’.” Genetically engineered food is a big deal. Yeah, there’s a lot of “big” to be worried about these days, but the future of food is indicative of the future.

Monsanto and other big agricultural corporations are conspiring to control food in a way that is evil, stupid and destructive.

Genetic Engineering has been around little more than 30 years. In this short time, Monsanto and others have managed to legalize and patent these new life forms, exempt them from government testing, avoid labeling, and corner the market on the production of some food staples with their patented, engineered seed.

The results? Over 90% of US grown soy uses “Round-up Ready” seed which is genetically engineered to survive applications of Round-up herbicide. This has facilitated the spraying of millions of pounds of Round-up on crop lands which then leaches into waterways. Our food now contains more herbicide and questionable genetic ingredients. Monsanto has trapped and sued many farmers into a devil’s bargain of buying their seed and herbicide repeatedly. And as predicted by any sane biologist, weeds have become resistant to the Round-up and now chemical companies are scrambling to legalize crops resistant to their stronger, more toxic herbicides (like 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange).

In the meantime, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been allowed into the US food supply, without labeling or tracking, onto a mostly un-informed populace. It is estimated that about 70% of processed food in an American supermarket contains some GMOs. They are in non-organic corn, soy, canola, cotton and all their by-products, oils, corn syrup, soy sauce, dairy from cows treated with rBST, and sugar beet sweeteners.

And conveniently for the chemical food giants, there are no easy ways to link this with any of the strange new illnesses and allergies that have been occurring. There was NO ONE I knew with a wheat allergy when I was young. Okay, I’m not a professional scientist, but have there been any studies about GMO’s effects on our intestinal flora, for instance?

Monsanto and co. are pros at manipulating political and regulatory processes and the media and legal system. A judge just refused to hear a case brought against Monsanto by thousands of farmers and concerned people to protect them against being sued for having been contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO seeds, as the Canadian farmer Percy Shmeister was.

I once attended a sparse Berkeley City Council meeting that also happened to have a decision before the council about whether to ban milk from cows that had been treated with a genetically engineered growth hormone from school lunches. I found myself sitting in back of a row of about a dozen unfamiliar suit and tie folks with briefcases. The council decided against banning this milk in the Berkeley Public school system and the row of un-Berkeley like folks simultaneously arose and exited, seemingly quite pleased with themselves.

And now Monsanto etc. are throwing millions against the initiative on this fall’s California ballot to label food that contains GMOs. Monsanto thinks that people will choose not to buy and eat food with GMOs if they can figure out what foods contain them. And they are right. So far, the American public has been the world’s GMO guinea pigs. Given knowledge and choice, we may try to quit.

The way food is produced has major effects. The dystopia of a Monsanto monopoly on food would be horrible. Large farms would grow unhealthy food by pumping chemical fertilizers onto dead soil. Water would be depleted and contaminated and the natural world assaulted by increasingly toxic herbicides. This dystopia could lead to ecosystem collapse and famine.

There are healthy and sustainable ways to produce food. Look to localized permaculture systems. These offer decentralized control of our food, perhaps with more hands-on participation, which can be a health benefit in itself. We can derive food from living natural ecosystems which offer abundance, beauty and enjoyment. We can be nourished by this earth without destroying it. But we will have to push back against Monsanto. Start your own gardens. Buy local and organic food. Research GMOs. Save your own seeds. Glean and forage. We have fed ourselves like this for ages.

Proposition 37 gives Californians a chance to label GMOs this November. Monsanto will play dirty to defeat it with confusing and powerful TV ads. All we’ve got is ourselves to retake control of our lives. This matters!!!