(Beyond Pesticides, August 3, 2012) Pesticide manufactures don’t want you to know what’s in your food. According to filings released Tuesday through the office of California’s Secretary of State, chemical company lobby groups have so far spent $750,000 in efforts to block the passage of California’s Prop 37, which would require mandatory labeling on genetically engineered (GE) foods.
Opponents of the proposition raised over one million dollars this year for the “Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.” Members of this coalition include the ”˜big 6’ chemical companies Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, and BASF, which have spent $375,000 alone through their exclusive lobbying group Council for Biotechnology Information. Overlapping ”˜big 6’ membership, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA), which also includes the corporations Pepsico Inc., The Coca-Cola Company, and Kelloggs, recently stated in a speech at the American Soybean Association that defeating the California initiative is “the single highest-priority of the GMA this year,” according to a story in The Huffington Post. GMA has also spent $375,000 this year lobbying against Prop 37.
“The Big Six chemical & seed companies are working diligently to monopolize the food system at the expense of consumers, farmers and smaller seed companies,” said Philip H. Howard, an associate professor at Michigan State University in an article in Examiner. “Polls consistently show that the public wants much more transparency in food production, yet the chemical/seed industry wants to suppress this information.”
A March survey revealed that 91% of consumers favor labeling for GE foods, with 81% of those ”˜strongly’ in favor of enacting these requirements. Given the current partisan divide in the country, this represents a remarkable consensus from consumers that cuts across party lines.
The California Right to Know campaign gathered 971,126 petition signatures for Prop 37, nearly double the 555,236 signatures required to qualify for inclusion on the ballot. If approved, Californians would join citizens from over 40 countries, including all of Europe, Japan, and China, who have the right to know whether they are eating GE food.
The chorus of Americans demanding that they be allowed to know if their food is genetically modified has been growing louder as more GE crops have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These approvals contradict scientific findings refuting the value agricultural companies’ claim these crops provide. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report in June detailing how Monsanto’s new drought tolerant corn, DroughtGard, does nothing to reduce the crop’s water requirements, and only reduces crop losses modestly during moderate droughts. The UCS report indicated that traditional breeding and improved farming practices do more to increase drought tolerance, and that further improvements in genetic engineering are unlikely to solve the drought problem in coming years. Additionally, in April researchers at Portland State University found that GE corn modified to express the insecticidal soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) negatively impacted beneficial soil life. Their results revealed a decreased presence of beneficial mycorrhizal fungi, which are important for nutrient and water uptake, in the roots of Bt corn when compared to non-Bt corn. Experts have recently warned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that “rufuges” of non-GE crops should be increased due to the growing threat of insect resistance to Bt corn.
Monsanto claims that “requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence.” While there are not many studies investigating the impacts of GE foods on mammals or even humans, the few studies that have looked at the toxicity of GE proteins do not indicate that there are no human health concerns. Studies have observed that GE foods may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive issues and may alter hematological, biochemical parameters. World renowned geneticist and biophysicist, and co-founder of the International Science Panel on Genetic Modification, Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, has cited numerous observations on the adverse impacts of GE foods, including severe inflammation in the lungs in mice, liver and kidney toxicity, damage to the organ system of young rats fed GE potatoes, and severely stunted pups. A 2008 study reported that GE corn fed to mice significantly reduced their fertility over three to four breeding cycles within one generation. These studies serve to illustrate the possible long term consequences of eating foods containing GE products.
This preliminary research indicates that not only is further investigation into the impacts of GE foods on human health needed, but a precautionary approach should be employed to limit the indiscriminate pervasion of GEs in the human food supply. Hence, claiming outright that GE products pose no health issues undermines consumer confidence. Beyond Pesticides feels that, given the current state of GE science, consumers should have the right to know whether their food contains GE crops.
If you’d like to weigh in on the debate but can’t make your voice heard on the California ballot initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is requesting public comment on twelve petitions for new genetically engineered (GE) crops. Currently, American consumers have no assurances that the conventionally produced foods they purchase and consume do not contain GE ingredients. The best way to avoid GE foods in the marketplace is by purchasing foods that are certified under the USDA organic certification program. USDA standards prohibit the use of genetic modification in the production and handling of organic food. In its Spring 2012 meeting, the National Organic Standards Board, with a unanimous vote, sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying, “We see the potential of contamination by genetically engineered crops as a crticial issue for organic agricultural producers and the consumers of their products. There are significan costs to organic producers and handlers associated with preventing this contamination and market loss arising from it.”
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.