My Thoughts on Proposition 37: Spinning Cook
I haven’t yet touched politics here on the blog, I’ve always been just your friendly neighborhood food blogger. But the more I learn about this topic, the stronger I feel.
On November 6th, California voters get a clean shot at a single issue, and it’s one which could have a big impact on all of our health. It is guaranteed to have a big impact on the reputation of real political strength of the “food movement.”
Should GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) food be labeled, as Proposition 37 would require? It’s complicated, but I strongly feel that it should, and I’ll tell you why.
1. They are different.
Producers of genetically-modified seed have made extensive arguments that these altered foods are different from conventional foods, in order to protect their patents. Yet when it comes to labeling, they want to say they are just the same as conventional foods. These companies can’t have it both ways. In some cases the difference is as simple as immunity to an herbicide like Roundup® or active ingredients from Agent Orange (or stronger chemicals sure to follow). In other cases the differences are potentially more menacing like corn which produces a protein which is toxic to insects’ gastrointestinal systems. Do you think that could damage our own gastrointestinal tracts? I don’t know, because…
2. We aren’t allowed to study them
The patent holders won’t provide these seeds or food products without consent to licensing agreements (similar to software End User License Agreements) which strictly control research activities, and provide them with veto power on the publishing of research which yields unflattering results. As explained in Scientific American’s call to end this unethical restriction, can you imagine if auto manufacturers prohibited independent crash tests? Since they control research, these companies typically limit their own health safety studies to 90 days. Anyone plan on living longer than that? Then you should be concerned because…
3. The limited independent studies show risks
Despite the many legal and logistical hurdles to running a true independent study, the few studies which have been run expose risks which contradict manufacturers’ promises of complete safety and “sameness.” We were assured that the Bt protein which is so toxic to insects would be unabsorbed by humans due to the acidity of our stomachs. Yet the protein was found in the blood of pregnant women and their babies in a Canadian study. Furthermore, an extensive independent GMO study recently published in the peer-reviewed Food and Toxicology Journal demonstrated that both Roundup®, and Roundup® resistant corn (by itself or in combination) resulted in serious health consequences in exposed rats compared to a control group. It’s long, technical, and thorough and is well summarized here. By the way, anyone who wants to throw darts at this study needs to explain to me why seed companies limited theirs to 90-days. That’s what a valid criticism sounds like.
4. They make overconfident claims of safety
The No on 37 campaign has spent millions airing ads which, among other tactics, enlist industry-connected doctors to make their plea. In this ad, Dr. Robert Kleinmann states that “There are no cancer risks associated with agriculture produced through biotechnology, none whatsoever.” Over-confident statements such as these make me certain that these are not thoughtful claims made by people who take the concerns seriously.
I hope California voters get this right. If it passes it will force food producers to make much of our food in a more natural way, since they won’t want the label, nor will they typically want to manufacture a special GMO-free product just for California. More importantly I hope the passage of this measure sends a message that the food movement has real political strength, as Michael Pollan pointed out last week in his excellent piece Vote for the Dinner Party in the New York Times. We don’t have an NRA or AARP behind us, but we have amazing writers, farmers, chefs, concerned moms and dads, and conscientious eaters. So let’s prove our strength.
Since we don’t have tens of millions of dollars like the industry-backed No on 37 campaign, we need to get busy and tweet, share, like, comment, blog, and otherwise make some noise!
Here’s what you can do. Thank You!
- Sign up for campaign updates from the California Right To Know campaign, and Like it on Facebook
- Tweet, share, comment, like, pin, and otherwise circulate your feelings, especially in California.
- Learn and respectfully educate others about the issue. Learn about the 90% of Americans who support labelling GMO’s, or about the 50+ countries who currently label GMO’s. Learn about other GMO-related impacts such as environmental risks, threats to genetic diversity, and monopolization.
- Buy 100% organic food to the extent that you can find and afford it; this seems to be the only way to avoid GMO’s under current labeling rules.
- Tell seed companies like Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta to allow transparency and independent research towards their products, so we can all learn which innovations are safe and which are not.
- Let me know your thoughts.
Ryan, this is a very thoughtful and well-written post. I have been following the news about proposition 37, but appreciate being able to read your succinct report and read some of the studies related to the issues. Thank you for this!
Thanks Dara – it’s hard to take an issue like this and speak to it succinctly but I did my best! Thanks for the mention on your blog last week, that meant a lot.
I’m really not opposed to GMO’s in general, I think innovation is good, and creating drought-resistant plants for certain climates, for instance, is a noble goal. But the changes being introduced are much more radical than hybridization and so must be studied to determine which are safe and which are not.
I’ve never been clear on the risks of GMO’s – thanks for the education! I guess it’s a much bigger, riskier area than I ever knew. Transparency in the research sure doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
You’re welcome Lori. I can understand why they would prefer to control the research, if it’s just their bottom line which concerns them. But this is where we need to stand up and say that it’s not acceptable. We have a right to know! Both on labels, and in research.