Occasionally you just have to stop and ask yourself what the public has against scientific progress; especially when it comes to feeding a burgeoning world at affordable prices while keeping food safe, abundant and affordable for everyone.
I honestly don’t get it – this reluctance to eat genetically modified (GM) foods. I have been working in the agriculture industry for nearly seven years now and I can’t tell you how many stories that I have read, and how many times I have been told, genetically altered foods are dangerous, unpredictable, “unnatural,” toxic and poison and just you wait – soon the earth will be stricken by a universal pandemic that threatens to end life as we know it; all caused by those horrible “Frankenfoods.”
Just as you think you’ve lived long enough to have heard it all, along comes another silly campaign endorsed and supported by environmental coalitions, organic-only consumers and at least one questionable donor who want to add yet more words to already long and cluttered ingredient labels now on store shelves that the majority of us don’t read anyway. That’s right, you now need to know that you have been eating foodstuffs over the past many years that contain – (drum roll please) – genetically engineered fruits and vegetables! Ahh, the callousness and inhumanity of it all!
The initiative is known as the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act and is currently being evaluated to determine if the adequate amount of voter signatures has been collected to place it on November’s ballot. No other state in the union requires these types of labels on food.
And these wise proponents of GM labeling, when asked what they have against gene-altered plants in our food chain, frequently offer up the answer of “No one really knows the threat. But beware, in a few short years health problems will develop on a global basis that will be traced to GM foods as the source.” Plus, of course, there’s “the possibility of creating brand new allergens.”
(For more, see: Time to take on anti-biotech crowd over GMO labeling )
This is simply unadulterated hogwash. It’s like saying we shouldn’t heat our food with electromagnetic radiation because we just can’t be certain about the long-term health effects of microwave ovens. Many of us didn’t grow up with these tools in our kitchens, but they aren’t exactly an unproven technology.
This so-called GM food threat isn’t how some globally respected organizations see it: The American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, the Research Council of the National Academies of Science, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization all agree that GM products are safe and nutritious. FDA officials say there’s no need for the federal government to require labeling because there is no material difference between genetically modified and unmodified food.
In the United States, more than 170 million acres of biotech crops were planted in 2011, according to the nonprofit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. We’ve been growing GM crops for almost a generation, all over the world. Farmers have harvested billions of acres of them. People have eaten trillions of servings of food derived from these sources – all this without even as much as a reported tummy-ache.
Bring on the ambulance chasers
Figures compiled from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 88 percent of the corn, 94 percent of the soybeans and 90 percent of the cotton planted in the U.S. last year were biotech varieties. Other biotech crops grown in the U.S. include alfalfa, canola, sugar beets, squash and papaya.
Opponents of the food labeling initiative point out that 80 percent of the processed food sold in U.S. grocery stores is reported to contain biotech products, so unless food processors want to label all their products, they will need California-only packaging.
Now here’s the kicker. The initiative would ban foods from being labeled or marketed as “natural” if they have been processed in any way – even if they contain no biotech ingredients. That includes foods that have been dried, roasted, smoked, pressed, cooked, fermented, milled, frozen or canned. Think about that one. Rice and wheat are milled. Olives must be pressed to make olive oil.
It gets worse. The measure would allow anyone to sue, claiming a food company, grocer or farmer has violated its labeling provisions – even when they have no proof of any damages. Bring on the ambulance chasers! Farmers who don’t use biotechnology would be affected the most, as they would have to keep special records and track every ingredient of every product they sell in California in the event they are hit with a lawsuit. Sadly, the measure doesn’t do anything in terms of adding extra security for nutritional or health concerns for the consumer.
About that questionable donor cited above. His name is Joseph Mercola, an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago and runs a website, Mercola.com, which promotes his alternative, though widely unproven, health-related products and ideas. Mercola donated $500,000 for the signature-gathering drive for the Golden State’s labeling measure. He has drawn the attention of the FDA that has issued three warnings for him to stop marketing a device he apparently claims can detect breast cancer.
His thoughts about the biotech labeling drive? “There is more than enough evidence to suggest that this could be a very serious, if not the most serious risk, to the very existence of the human species,” he warns on a video. Oh, and by the way, he warns that chemotherapy kills rather than cures children with cancer; that prescription drugs kill huge numbers of people; and that raw milk is good for you, despite numerous safety recalls.
(For more, see: Dear Oprah: Biotech crops make sense )
You can easily see why family farmers, grocers, small businesses, food producers and agricultural groups are up in arms about this GM labeling drive. The California Legislative Analyst estimates the measure would cost millions of dollars in monitoring, enforcement and legal costs. An economic analysis of a similar measure that was rejected by Oregon voters in 2002 found that the type of labeling regulations in the California proposition could cost an average family hundreds of dollars per year in higher food prices.
The long and short of it is that consumers who wish to avoid biotech foods already have the option to buy foods that have been certified organic by the USDA and other third-party entities. Agriculture needs to bring a full-court press upon the proponents of this labeling measure and tell enviros that it’s had enough – that we are not going to suffer even harsher burdens by a group of uniformed fellow citizens and self-interest groups who are against modern-day farming technology for apparently no good reason.