Notes From the General Manager

We had a Facebook posting a while ago asking about the brands we carry at the Co-op that are owned by large corporations that helped sink California’s Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food initiative. The proposition would have required retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients. I am asked by our customers what, exactly, is the problem with GMOs? For answer, I reprint an article by the mother-and-daughter team of France Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé at the bottom of the notes.

I am sympathetic to the person who commented, and urge you to look at the poster, provided in the link below, of who gave how much money to which side from the Cornucopia Institute. The vote was very close, and the issue not entirely cut and dried as I puzzled over the opposition of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times. They claimed the language of the proposition would have caused a legal quagmire, though to read it, it sounds only sensible (not being a lawyer). That a product can be labeled “natural” and yet be comprised of mostly genetically modified plants (or, soon, animals!) strikes me like a line in a theater-of-the-absurd play. (More on this later.) In the last few weeks of the campaign, the $46 million from the large corporations in red (on the poster) swamped TV air space with allegations that the bill would cost too much money, be confusing and punitive toward small farms and “mom-and-pop” stores. Notice that the money opposing the Proposition was over five times the amount spent in support, and was led by Monsanto, the largest manufacturer of genetically modified organisms. The article below, written by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, is reprinted from the Huffington Post. (The Huffington Post became the first commercially run United-States digital-media enterprise to win a Pulitzer Prize.)

We know it's easy to get sunk by information overload and agribusiness advertising. So far the largest GMO maker, Monsanto, and other industry giants have plowed at least $35 million into keeping us in the dark.

To help us think straight, we've prepared seven points to consider and share with your friends—all backed by authoritative studies. Here's what they reveal:

  1. GMOs have never undergone standard testing or regulation for human safety. And now that they're in 70 percent of processed foods, it's extremely difficult for scientists to isolate their health risks.
  2. But we know that GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies. A 2009 review of 19 studies found mammals fed GM corn or soy developed liver and kidney problems that could mark the onset of chronic diseases. Most were 90-day studies. In a new two-year study, rats fed GM corn developed two to three times more tumors—some bigger than a quarter of their total body weight—and these tumors appeared much earlier than in rats fed non-GM corn. Among scientists, the study has its defenders and critics, but even the critics underscore that we need more long-term studies.
  3. And the most widely used GMOs are paired with an herbicide linked to serious health risks. GM crops—Roundup Ready soy and corn—are treated with the herbicide glyphosate, which in exposed humans has been associated with DNA damage. In the lab, it's proven toxic to human liver cells.
  4. The consequences of GMO technology are inherently unpredictable. Inserting a single gene can result in multiple, unintended DNA changes and mutations. Unintended effects are common in all cases where GE [genetic engineering] techniques are used, warn scientists. One such environmental consequence—genetic contamination of other plants—is already documented. Note that unlike food, once released into the environment, seeds can't be recalled!
  5. GMO makers intimidate and silence farmers and scientists. GMO corporations use patents and intellectual property rights to sue farmers, block research, and threaten investigators. For a decade, protested Scientific American editors in 2009, GMO companies have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research, so it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised.
  6. GMOs undermine our food security. Within the biotechnology market, Monsanto alone controls 90 percent of GE crops worldwide. And Monsanto is one of three GMO companies including DuPont and Syngenta that control 70 percent of the global seed market, reinforcing monopoly power over our food. GMO seeds are costly and must be purchased every year, so they worsen farmers' indebtedness, dependency, and vulnerability to hunger.
  7. GMOs aren't needed in the first place, so why would we take on these risks and harms? Studies show that safe, sustainable farming practices applied worldwide could increase our food supply as much as 50 percent. And keep in mind that the world's already producing 2,800 calories for every person on earth every day—more than enough. And that's just with what's left over after using half the world's grain for feed, fuel and other purposes, and wasting one-third of all food.
  8. So the urgent question isn't about more anyway. It is, How can all of the world's people gain the power to secure healthy food? And a good start is knowing what's in our food.

If California had passed Prop 37, it would have been the first state in the U.S. to pass GMO labeling legislation. China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, countries in the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India and Chile are just a few of the nations that already require GMO foods to be labeled.

I played a scene from Waiting for Godot in school, the quintessential theater-of-the-absurd play by Samuel Beckett. In it are these lines:

Estragon: We lost our rights?
Vladimir: We got rid of them.

Not so absurd. Proposition 37 was an attempt just to know what’s in our food. Now the only way to know that you aren’t eating GMOs is to eat only organic food. The fight to know is not over. Efforts continue to obtain labeling through the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and more state-by-state proposals. The only cure for all campaigns being won by the group with the most money is to educate ourselves and each other, and not to let the defeats make us feel so powerless that we are too paralyzed to fight. We can learn from California’s experience and go onto the next round.

Lisa Blake
Prop37 Poster