Wrote an article for the SM Observer on the GMO Ballot Initiative!
Californians Pushing Hard for Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs
The demand to label GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) is picking up steam both locally with California being the first state to attempt a ballot initiative requiring the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food through the California Right to Know campaign, and also nationally. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are experimental plants and animals that have been genetically engineered in a laboratory with DNA from other plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses.
Although GMO ingredients (which is also sometimes referred to as GE food (Genetically Engineered food) are found in 80% of packaged foods in the U.S., they have not been proven safe as the long term consequences of GMOs on human beings’ health and environment have not been adequately investigated. Forty countries, including Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, South Korea, China, Brazil, Mexico, and all of the European Union nations, either have significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs because they are not considered proven safe.
GMOs exist for two main reasons: 1) Seed producers modify their seed to make them resistant to their brand of herbicide 2) Seed producers modify plants to contain built-in pesticides. As of 2010, GMOs constituted 86% of the Corn, 90% of the Canola, 93% of the Soy, and 93% of the Cotton grown in the U.S. GMO crops are also added to processed foods as oils, sweeteners, and soy proteins and in things like amino acids, aspartame, vitamin C, flavorings (both natural and artificial), maltodextrins and more.
At this time neither Canada or the United States require the labeling of genetically engineered food. But that is starting to change with political movements on the state (California Right to Know) and national level (Just Label It). With three weeks left to collect the necessary 800,000 signatures before the April 22nd deadline, signature gatherers are working furiously to collect signatures in front of Santa Monica foodie staples like the Santa Monica Co-Op and the Farmers Markets.
Because it is a state ballot initiative all signatures must be signed with pen and paper in person only. The actual number to get on the California ballot 504,760 signatures, but signatures can get thrown out for a number of reasons: being illegible, spelling mistakes, wrong county, etc. Thus California Right to Know’s experts have informed them to figure on getting 800,000 signatures to make sure they have enough that qualify. Although California has the potential to be the first state to put GMO labeling to a vote it is not in any the only state discussing the issue. Vermont and Florida are planning on pursuing the 2013 ballot session, with ten other states potentially looking into GMO labeling for the future.
The main reason for the demand for labeling is that there has been enough independent data to suggest possible health risks. Given those findings some people don’t want to eat GMOs but are unable to know which foods GMOs are in if they aren’t labeled. For the Labelers it is a basic consumer right: that given the conflicting data and mistrust in an industry that has been proven to hide negative findings, the American public have the right to know what they’re buying and putting in their and their children’s mouths.
As Right to Know’s website states, “What’s the issue? If GMOs are so great, why not advertise them? Why does the industry that profits from them fight labeling so vehemently and put so many of their resources into keeping their presence in our foods a secret? Why are corporate rights continually given precedence over consumer rights?”
Nationally, the FDA’s position on GMOS is that they are unaware of any risks with GMOs and that GMOs are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GMO counterparts. Just Label It is a coalition of more than 500 organizations working together at the federal level for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. Over one million people have signed the online petition contacting the FDA and telling them United States citizens have a right to know what's in their food. But in recent days, those million plus collective signatures, more than any other petition submitted to the FDA in its history, that were collected in less than 180 days by Just Label It, will only be counted as 394 because of an FDA rule that states that if thousand and thousands of people sign a single petition or submit the same form letter they are only counted as one collective signature.
Now in the world of GMOs the player who has the most to lose by a label mandate is Monsanto, the agricultural multinational at the forefront of the GMO world.
And who is the senior adviser for the FDA? Michael Taylor, former vice president and lobbyist for Monsanto. More than 433,000 have signed the petition (on signon.org, a petition signing tool created by Moveon.org) urging President Barack Obama to reconsider his 2009 appointment of Taylor who, to many, represents the epitome of the revolving door between industry executives (Monsanto) and regulatory agency executives (the FDA). The petition demanding the removal of Taylor from the FDA notes: “Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks. This is a travesty.”
Until GMO labeling is a right in both California and the United States Americans can educate themselves through the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building sources of Non-GMO products and educating consumers. Their website offers a database of brands and products that have been verified by the Non-GMO Project as GMO free. They can also chose to purchase organic food as the USDA certification states that “the use of genetically engineered organisms and their products are prohibited at any stage in organic production processing or handling.”
That is until the right that over forty countries around the world already have becomes a reality in both the state of California and the United States at large.
Kat Thomas is a food writer in Santa Monica. To find out more about her you can check out: edibleskinny.com