LOCAL SPIN: Frankenfood Fight
Initiative on GMO labeling could change how we eat.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Food Inc.’s stranglehold over the nation’s food and farming system is about to be challenged in a food fight that will largely determine the future of American agriculture. A coalition representing a broad and unprecedented health, environmental and consumer alliance has formed, and last fall filed papers with the California Attorney General’s office to place a citizen’s initiative on the November ballot that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food and food ingredients. If California voters pass the ballot initiative, it could likely be the beginning of the end for companies like Monsanto, and for genetically engineered food in the U.S.
After 20 years of bullying by biotech companies and being fed unlabeled and hazardous genetically modified foods, a critical mass of food and health activists have decided it’s time to go on the offensive. It’s time to move this food fight over labeling genetically engineered food from the unfavorable terrain of Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill, where companies like Monsanto exercise near-dictatorial control, to California, the heartland of organic food and farming – and anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) sentiment.
Recent polls show that 80 to 85 percent of the body politic supports mandatory labeling.
Why are there no genetically engineered foods or crops anywhere in Europe, while 75 percent of the U.S. supermarket foods – including many labeled as “natural” foods – contain GMOs? The answer is simple: In Europe, genetically engineered foods and ingredients have to be labeled. In the U.S., they don’t.
Monsanto and their allies understand the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for their bottom line. As soon as genetically modified food is labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will read these labels and react. They’ll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they’ll talk to their families and friends. They’ll start switching to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers start complaining about genetically engineered foods and ingredients, stores will stop selling them and farmers will stop planting them.
Genetically engineered foods have absolutely no benefits for consumers or the environment. For the last 17 years, consumer GMO truth-in-labeling laws have never gotten a public discussion, much less come to a vote in Congress. By moving the battle from the federal level to the state level and employing one of the last remaining tools of direct grassroots democracy in the U.S., concerned consumers can regain their fundamental right to know what they are eating.
Passing mandatory GMO labeling in just one large state, California, where there is tremendous opposition to genetically modified foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.
If California voters pass the GMO labeling law in 2012, the biotech and food industry will face an intractable dilemma. Will they dare put labels on their branded food products in just one state, admitting those products contain genetically engineered ingredients, and then withhold ingredient label information in other states? Will they allow their organic and non-GMO competitors to drive down their GMO-tainted brand market share? The answer to both of these questions is no. What the food industry will do is shift to organic and non-GMO ingredients, so as to avoid what a Monsanto executive 16 years ago aptly describe as the “skull and crossbones” label.
Monsanto, the Farm Bureau and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are already gearing up to fight against the California ballot initiative. They will spread disinformation that genetically engineered goods and crops are perfectly safe and that we need more, not less, of them. As the campaign progresses, they will claim that GMO labels will be costly to the food industry and raise food prices. We’ll have to counter these lies, now and throughout the campaign, but first we have to make sure the 2012 Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Initiative actually gets on the ballot.
In order to hit the ground running in January, gathering 800,000 petition signatures of registered voters to put this measure on the ballot, we need your help now. We need an army of thousands of volunteer petition gatherers to step forward in California. The Organic Consumers Association and its allied lobbying organization, the Organic Consumers Fund, also need money to effectively play our part in this campaign. It’s time to stand up to Monsanto and the biotech bullies.
RONNIE CUMMINS is executive director of the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association. For more information about the campaign, visit the Organic Consumers Fund at www.organicconsumersfund.org.