Quick: name the one issue about which Democrats, Republicans and even Independents all agree. No, not alpaca farms. Yes, I know everyone would like to have one, and yes, baby alpacas are cuter than the dickens. Try again.
What’s that? Everybody agrees genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that food processing companies put on our kitchen tables should be labeled? Is that your answer? Well, when you’re right, you’re right, and you are SO-O-O right.
Please understand that the term “everybody” is notably accurate: 91 percent of voters nationwide, according to a 2012 study conducted by the Mellman Group, want the FDA to require that foods containing GMOs be labeled.
The results of a like-minded Zogby survey indicated that, while US adults differ about whether GMOs are safe or not, clear majorities are both less inclined to buy foods containing them, and want them conspicuously labeled.
The people have spoken
So I think we can agree that Americans want to know if GMOs are in their food.
If the desires of consumers were as important as they have, allegedly, always been, surely there would be a law requiring labeling – wouldn’t there? This year alone, 20 states have unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation requiring that foods containing GMOs be labeled.
It’s hard to believe opponents to these bills could be so consistently successful. In all cases, food makers’ opposition to this requirement stemmed from the belief that the mere presence of the label would serve to convince potential buyers that GMOs must be bad. In fact, a high-ranking officer of a company that sells GMO seed once said that labeling would be the equivalent of putting a skull-and-crossbones on the product!
He might be on to something.
Labeling is mandatory in the European Union, Japan, Australia, China – more than 40 countries in all. This is because test results regarding the impacts of long-term consumption of GMOs are unavailable.
In addition, the act of genetic modification forces changes in foods that would never occur in nature (different species are incapable of swapping genetic material). Finally, growing GMO crops has led to dramatic increases in pesticide use. Virtually no genetically modified foods are sold in Europe.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., almost 75% of all supermarket foods contain GMOs. Americans want to know when GMOs are in their food, and that means 75% of all supermarket foods would need labeling.
I think a lot of voters would be surprised to know the percentage is that high. Here’s why it’s that high: there are four major crops that have been found to lend themselves to genetic modification. Nobody’s kidding around when they tell you we use a whole lot of corn, soy, sugar beets, and cotton.
Once they’ve been genetically modified, these food groups are processed into sweeteners, fats, and additives. We all know about high fructose corn syrup in our foods. Did you know it was made with GMO corn? To add insult to injury, many of the food products that include these “improvements” are permitted to label themselves “natural.” You know – natural the same way that hair coloring or botox is natural!
For all these reasons, voters in California decided they wanted to have the opportunity to approve or reject GMOs in their food. The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act will be voted on this November.
Also known as Proposition 37, the Right to Know Act will mandate that companies label food that has been made from genetically modified substances, and will prohibit them from calling such foods “natural.” In order for this initiative to get on the ballot, 504,760 signatures were needed to make a valid petition. Proponents managed to collect nearly 1 million signatures.
There are other factors that make California an excellent place to test the GMO waters. There aren’t many international food companies headquartered in California, and the state’s farmers aren’t dependent on soy and corn, the two largest GMO crops.
Then there’s the “Bonus Effect”: with ten percent of Americans living in California, and with product differentiation being such a costly undertaking, chances are companies that are required to label GMO foods in California will label them throughout the country. The Golden State has long been a bellwether state, and this case is no exception.
This is to say nothing of the many vegetarians and vegans in sunny, health-conscious California who might be shocked to learn that their purportedly “all-natural” alleged health foods are steeped in GMOs. Their early refusal to buy unlabeled foods might begin to shift unconscious food shopping throughout the country, leading to changed products on grocery store shelves.
The name game
It’s time to start naming names. If Proposition 37 is such a good idea, who would be against it?
I’m sure you know one of the key players. That’s right, Monsanto. Just so you have no doubts regarding Monsanto’s dislike of GMO labeling, consider the following: the company has threatened to sue Vermont if the legislators in its General Assembly pass a GMO labeling bill. A federal GMO labeling law stands no chance of being passed, due to Monsanto’s influence, despite more than one million petitions that were emailed to the FDA, demanding that very thing. Finally, Monsanto has sued more than 150 farmers from across the US and Canada for “intellectual property theft” allegedly resulting from GMO contamination – contamination caused by Monsanto’s products. No wonder some claim GMO stands for “Get Monsanto Out.”
Monsanto’s not the only one with a finger in this particular dike. Monsanto BFF’s like PepsiCo, Kellogg Co., Hershey, Hormel, General Mills, Cargill and ConAgra have helped keep opposition fundraising well ahead of Prop 37 supporters’ best efforts. Million-dollar contributors like DuPont, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience and BASF Plant Science put the opposition ahead eight-to-one, according to filings with the California Secretary of State.
What a shame. So big and so wrong.
Who’s got it right? Folks like the Cornucopia Institute (you can make a difference by signing their petition), the Organic Consumers Association, the Organic Consumers Fund, Food Democracy Now!, Mercola.com, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, LabelGMOs.org ( – you can join their campaign), Eden Foods, Alliance for Natural Health, Dr. Bronner’s, United Farm Workers Union, American Public Health Association, Institute for Responsible Technology ( – you’d never know it from the name, but this organization is pro-labeling all the way), Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, and California Certified Organic Farmers.
These organizations are spearheading the pro-labeling effort, and if they win, they win for all of us. Please let them know that you stand with them.
Now go pet an alpaca.
–Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice