RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Let the Sun Shine on GMO Foods, Please

OK, Fellow Consumers, it’s up to us! nnEven though genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been wreaking havoc with the environment, spreading glyphosate (Roundup) indiscriminately and creating herbicide-resistant weeds in every ecosystem, and even though GMOs have been wreaking havoc on a social justice level, with corporations tricking poor farmers into taking the first planting of their patented seeds for free, like a drug pusher offering the first free hit, even though those havocs should be persuasive in getting GMOs rejected by the larger policy makers, the front that has won the most important battles is the Consumer Front and that’s where we can now put our efforts.

To briefly recap: Consumer advocates like Moms Across America and Organic Consumers Association have been fighting to get major food corporations to label genetically modified ingredients with some kind of notice that the ingredients are, in fact, part of the foods they produce. Since the major food producers have been using GMOs for years because GMOs are so pervasive and cheap, they have argued that GMOs are just like any other ingredient. For example, most products contain something made of corn, like corn sweeteners or corn syrup. GMO corn syrup, the food corporations would say, is just like any other corn syrup.

Well, so say they. On the other side of the production equation, seed producers have argued for years that their products are different. “We put these other genes in that corn, to make the seeds resistant to glyphosate and/or bugs,” they’d say, “so we deserve to profit from a patent on our creations.”

Getting sick of the duplicity, a few states, under guidance from consumer organizations, passed mandatory labeling on the statewide level. Vermont’s law will be the first to go into effect, on July 1.

But, to protect themselves from labeling, these mega corporations have spent big bucks. Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that Campbell’s, the soup makers, spent $598,000 on a “no labeling” campaign in California and $384,888 on the same fight in Washington. Then, Campbell’s dropped the campaigns, perhaps because attention to the problem had made consumers start to ask questions. Then, last January, Campbell’s took a completely different tack and said they’d label their GMO-containing soups.

Other food producers continued to fight the states. According to EWG, Unilever, Nestle USA, Del Monte Foods, H.J. Heinz Co., Hillshire Brands Co., Pinnacle Foods Group, Inc., B&G, Sara Lee Corp. and W.M. Wrigley Jr. Co. have continued to spend the big bucks on denial.

On the denial side, Congress was weighing a potential law that would ban mandatory labeling by states. The “Denying Americans the Right to Know” or DARK Act, was wending its way through the congressional halls, but, again, consumers fought it back. Identifying Congress members who were wavering or persuadable, the groups made phone calls, wrote letters, signed petitions.

Immediately after defeat of the DARK Act, ConAgra, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Mars, Inc. announced they would join Campbell’s and label their GMO-containing foods. Mars, by the way, had been a major opponent of GMO labeling, contributing nearly $500,000 to fighting the campaign in California.

Long story short, the “contains GMOs” labels are set to appear in July, all over the United States.

The playing field has changed, for sure, but to continue the sports metaphor, the ball’s back in the consumer court. Will consumers vote with their dollars to choose foods labeled “no GMOs” or “organic”? Or will the mega-corp’s gamble pay off as consumers continue to buy cheap. They might even think, “we’ve been eating GMOs all our lives, so why the fuss?”

The back-and-forth will no doubt include a lot of magazine ads aimed at homemakers and declaring that GMOs are no different than any other ingredient, but the move opens the way for consumers to change the game completely. For example, labeling will allow studies that compare GMO-eating populations with non-GMO-eating populations. It could help answer the question of whether many rising diseases—cancer, autism, obesity, dementia—and the slew of new allergies from wheat to peanuts—are associated with consumption of GMOs.

So far, there have been almost no studies on the effects of GMOs on eaters. The corporates have had such a tight hold on patenting that they haven’t even allowed animal feeding studies. A few European scientists completed studies in the early days of GMO production, but corporate stakeholders quickly reacted to discredit them. Maybe the new openness of the food corporations will help the seed and chemical corporations move in the same directions and allow science to investigate the pros and cons of adding weird genes to familiar plants.

Meanwhile, here in farmland, pro-GMO neighbors are cranking up the pressure tanks and driving across the field with doses of one killer chemical after another. They seem blissfully unaware that they are killing their own land.

We’ll see how consumers react to the next season of GMO-labeled foods.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2016

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