Friday, July 24, 2015

If you want GMOs labeled, now is the time to act

I am an advocate of GMO labeling. "GMO" stands for "Genetically Modified Organism". A genetically modified organism is an animal or plant with genes that have been altered in some way other than breeding. Breeding is what man has been doing for thousands of years to encourage desirable traits in plants and animals for agriculture. Genetic modification is a direct change of the genes in a plant or animal through some other means.

GMOs have been around since the late 80s. I read a book about them in high school and was fascinated that these molecules could do work without anyone telling them what to do. Molecules such as DNA and proteins give us life. DNA codes for proteins, and the proteins do the rest of the work. The entire process of life has one central, overarching purpose: to keep reproducing DNA. That's it. We are a product of that process.

Even though I read about GMOs in high school, I didn't really form an opinion about them in food until a few years ago. GMO food has been around since the early 90s. GMO corn and soy were quietly introduced into our food supply without consent from the majority of the world's population. No labels were provided.

In the last decade, particularly within the last few years, there has been a fast growing awareness of GMOs and their impact on our environment and our health. It is becoming very apparent that we cannot assess the positive impact of GMOs with any particular accuracy. On the other hand, we do know for sure that glyphosphate resistant crops have encouraged farmers to use much more glyphosphate to kill weeds in their crops. Glyphosphate is now pretty much everywhere, and that is just one example of how GMOs are used.

Glyphosphate is the active ingredient in the Monsanto product known as Round-Up. We generally refer to glyphosphate resistant crops as "Round-Up Ready", a phrase coined by Monsanto. Here is the irony. Monsanto is happy to label their GMO seeds for farmers to use. But they don't want food to be labeled at the grocery store as GMO. Happy to have the patents and all the royalties that accrue, but they really don't want consumers to know what they're eating.

As awareness has grown about the harmful effects of GMO agriculture, various counties, cities and states have passed laws restricting GMO use and cultivation. This of course has upset executives at companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont.

The biggest names in GMO seeds don't want us to know what we're eating. They claim that any attempt to label the food as "GMO" will disadvantage their position in the market. People will unfairly discriminate against their products even though, as food manufacturers claim, "it's safe". When the Food and Drug Administration is stacked with former employees of Monsanto, it's hard to trust GMO food as safe. There is so much money at stake that judgment in the eyes of the regulator becomes clouded.

The debate over GMOs has now reached Congress and the House has passed a bill forbidding state and local laws requiring the labeling of GMO food. It's called the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act" but critics call it the "Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act" for the very simple reason that the bill is designed to preclude our right to know what is in our food:

  • The bill allows the developer of GMOs to determine the safety of said food rather than requiring the FDA to make that determination. That is a conflict of interest.
  • The bill pre-empts all state and local authority for labeling requirements.
  • A food can be labeled as non-GMO even if it is produced with a GMO processing aid or enzyme or derived from animals fed GMO feed or given GMO drugs.

It is interesting to see how strenuously seed and food producers are resisting any requirements to label their food as GMO when it contains GMO products. The message we're getting from them is this: We want protection from the government in the market and we want to reserve the right to deceive our customers with impunity.

We can do something about it and we must do it today because the DARK Act has been passed by the House and is now heading to the Senate. Tell your Senator to vote no on the DARK Act if you want to retain the right to know what is in your food. Follow The Non-GMO Project on Facebook, and Twitter, and Just-Label-It on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news.
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