RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Consumers Should Have the Right to Know About GM Food

Back on July 1, the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law went into effect in Vermont and, as far as I know, the rivers don’t run backwards and the sun still rises in the East.

But, of course, there’s something much more important working here than the laws of nature. It’s the law of humans that’s being tested, and this time it’s the familiar old game of pitting US state’s rights vs. the Feds.

Because a couple of years ago, the tiny state of Vermont passed a consumer-protection law that’s the envy of most of the remaining 49. They said to the corporates: All you gotta do, to sell food to us in this state, is label whether the ingredients are genetically modified or not. Because genetically modified foods (GMOs) haven’t been tested for safety and haven’t been tested for purity, pesticide-wise, and we’d like to know when we ingest them.

Note that the law didn’t say that sales were banned or restricted in any way, or that the corporates would be any more liable if something went wrong. It just says to put a label on it. Labeling is common practice in many another country.

So, on July 1, the new labeling appeared in Vermont grocery stores. Labels on Spaghetti-Os, for example, have a box that says, “Partially produced with genetic engineering.” So do Frito-Lay brands, Stouffer’s, Pillsbury, Smucker’s and too many others to list. The ingredient may be some kind of soybean oil, or corn syrup or sugar. Since industrial food makers tend to use the cheapest ingredients possible, and since GMO crops are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, making them cheap to buy, there’s no doubt that most popular industrial foods and even many small-label products contain GMOs.

Why is this important? Because so little is known about GMOs, which may be allergens to some people, we want to understand what’s in the food. GMOs are created when one ordinary seed is changed by the introduction of genes from another species — like a bacteria introduced into corn. The introduction helps the corporate producers work with the product by changing the way the product behaves. It might be changed to repel a bug, for example. Or it might be changed so it can be stored longer. Or it might resist a certain herbicide that’s sprayed repeatedly on the field. Any of these things can and do get engineered into a seed that ends up providing an ingredient for industrial foods.

And, we eat it. And, with no testing, we don’t know if some of the galloping rise in childhood allergies, autism, obesity, cancers or other maladies are due to GMOs or not. If a mom suspects that her child has a reaction every time she eats, say, a GMO sugar product, wouldn’t she like to avoid them? Heck yeah.

Once Vermont’s law has kicked in, other state laws are set to follow. The states are acting with their citizens in mind. And, in a drama as familiar as any in our governments, the feds are stepping in to defend the corporates. Because most of our federal legislators have received good chunks of corporate money for their elections.

Senators that have received donations from the chief creators of GMOs—Monsanto, Syngenta and others—are bound to defend the corporates, even though it’s not really clear that labeling will damage the corporate bottom line. Just the idea that it might hurt profits is enough to kick the senators into line. As I write this, it’s clear that the Senate won’t stop until they’ve tried every trick to stymie the consumer right to know. Legislation proposed by Senators Roberts (R-Kan) and Stabenow (D- Mich) is aimed at eliminating state regulations and replacing them with a national standard that does not include clear language on packaging and, even worse, does not have penalties for failure to label. Their legislation would even exclude many genetically engineered products from any labeling. Indeed, under their law the notice could be something like a bar code, website link to be read with a smart phone, or a phone number to call. Ordinary consumers would be in the dark, as we are now, on whether ingredients are GMO or not.

The Senate, who returned from holiday on July 6 and are going back on holiday July 18, have not at this writing moved to approve the new law. Bernie Sanders has been working on our behalf. Activists have dropped cash on the Senate floor as a vivid reminder that we know what’s going on here. Citizens like you and me have been e-mailing, phoning and visiting our reps to let them know the facts: Surveys show that 90% of Americans want labeling, and we also know that the only thing between us and consumer safety is a huge, huge democracy-stealing wad of cash!

P.S. Our two-year celebration of the work of Friends of Responsible Agriculture was a wonderful success. The dinner was fabulous, with some new recipes including scalloped green tomatoes created by Julie Wheeler. Somebody offered to BUY the recipe, a first for sure! The silent auction arranged by Barb Brazos and Jean Fugate had 16 fabulous items and made a lot of money. And there was announcement of a challenge grant set up by a group of neighbors. We only have until Aug. 1 to meet it. If you want to help out, send your donation to Friends of Responsible Agriculture, c/o Shirley Kidwell, Secretary, 3475 County Road 230, Fulton, MO 65251.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts “Farm and Fiddle” on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2016

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