By John Lawrence / San Diego Free Press
I wrote a previous article in the San Diego Free Press about genetically modified (GMO) foods. One might ask, “What is the purpose of genetically modifying a food item.” Is it to enhance the flavor? Is it to make it more nutritious? Well, no, not really.
The sole purpose of modifying corn and soy products is to make them resistant to pesticides and herbicides. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy seeds grow into plants that will not be killed when Roundup is sprayed on the soy field which kills every other thing in the field EXCEPT the Roundup Ready soy plant.
This allows the corporate farmer to whip through the field with his $185,000. tractor and harvest the soy plants with hardly a need for costly manual labor. Consequently, when you buy a soy or corn product at the supermarket or fast food restaurant, you are getting GMO soy or corn which has been drenched in herbicide before it was harvested in order to cut the cost of growing and processing which weeds would entail. Did I mention that Roundup was good for killing pests too? This maximizes yields and profits.
Proposition 37 asks the simple question, “Do voters want food products that have been genetically altered to be labeled as such?” If you vote yes, you want GMO products to be labeled. If you vote no, you don’t want to know that the food products you’re consuming contain genetically altered organisms. According to some estimates, 40 to 70 percent of food products sold in grocery stores in Californiacontain genetically engineered ingredients.
By definition foods labeled organic cannot contain any GMO products. Naturally, the organic food industry wants GMO products to be labeled so as to give consumers a clear choice between organic products and GMO products and, not incidentally, to increase their profits. On the other side are the chemical and processed food industries including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestle, PepsiCo, DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, a leading producer of genetically engineered seeds which has donated $4.2 million to defeat Prop 37.
What’s at stake here is whether or not American consumers will have the knowledge and ability to distinguish between products that contain potentially harmful ingredients or products which haven’t been processed and grown with a cocktail of chemicals. And do we want the food industry dominated by corporate farmers whose main interest is in maximizing profits or do we want our food produced by smaller local farmers whos main interest is in producing quality products even though they may cost a little more?
The main argument of the corporatists is that labeling GMO foods would add to the price, but what they really fear is that consumers would make a hasty exit from the supermarket doors when they see the GMO label on many of their favorite products and head for the nearest health food store.
However, Prop 37 doesn’t even go far enough in my opinion. The labeling initiative largely covers processed foods that contain such ingredients, but there are exemptions for alcohol and restaurant meals. Milk, cheese and other dairy products made from cows that are injected with the bovine growth hormone or eat genetically engineered feed like alfalfa would be exempt.
The GMO industry is insidious. An animal can eat a GMO product, but when you buy sirloin steak, it will not have to be labeled GMO. Likewise, Jack in the Box hamburgers as well as Ruth Chris filet mignon will not have to be labeled as GMO on the restaurant menus.
While people eat out more often these days due to lack of time for food preparation, they still will not be aware of what is in their food even if Prop 37 passes. That’s why every American should read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser to have their conscious raised about what they are putting in their bellies three times a day in most cases. While a direct link between eating chemicals in our food and cancer has not been established, it is likely that a build-up of Roundup, bovine growth hormone and god knows what else is not contributing to the long term health of our bodies.
Many other nations, includingJapan,Chinaand a host of European countries, already label genetically engineered food. But In the United States, forget it. Nothing is labeled that might dissuade consumers. However, produce that is not cosmetically perfect is regularly tossed in the dumpster.
A lot of organic growers and food companies, on the other hand, voluntarily label their products with a seal verifying that their foods do not contain genetically modified ingredients. But for some consumers and especially the poor the sole conern is price. But they can take heart. Monsanto’s genetically modified sweet corn will soon be available at Walmart.
A major food fight is about to break out between consumers who want to eat healthy and corporate farmers and the chemical industry who want to maximize profits and keep the American food supply the way it is today – highly chemicalized and unnatural.
Reference for this article: Proposition 37 in California: A high-stakes food fight by Dana Hull, from the Silicon Valley Mercury News.com,8/24/12
This article originally appeared at San Diego Free Press.