Public has right to know what goes in its food
Californians need to be better informed about GMOs. At the Democrats’ June 1 Tuesday forum, BriarPatch General Manager Chris Maher illuminated the problem. He was an active supporter of Prop 37’s requirement of GMO labeling of foods, which failed to pass by a slim margin in 2012.
GMOs are genetically modified organisms, sometimes referred to as GEs or genetically engineered organisms, used in food seed production. That is not the same as hybridization of seeds by selective breeding. With GMOs, genes of one organism are spliced and attached onto the genes of another organism, often different species, in a laboratory to produce a desired effect. Tomato genes can be spliced with bug genes. The goal, for example, is to make a crop more resistant to an infestation or insecticide or to make it drought tolerant. GMO seeds are patented and owned by a few huge global corporations like Monsanto and Dow. They are often advertised as making food production easier and more profitable for growers. The profit, in fact, is more likely to go to these manufacturers.
BT corn, engineered to be resistant to Round Up weed killer, is the most common corn sold in the United States. Farmers can spray BT corn with Round Up instead of incurring the cost of labor to hand weed. Monsanto has the patent and exclusive right to sell both Round Up and the modified corn seed. The courts have held that these seeds can only be used by the farmer for one season and have to be purchased anew every year along with the Round Up. Monsanto has a corner on the market. The price of BT corn seed has quadrupled in recent years. Monsanto produces patented GMO wheat, sugar beets, soybean, canola and crookneck seeds, etc., used in processed foods. Monsanto now owns many American seed companies.
The problem is that GMOs were not adequately researched for side effects before they were widely distributed. Their long-term effect on the human body is unknown, and any health hazard is unlikely to be discovered under present circumstances. These corporations have the power and money to discredit any negative studies and to pay for and publish those that favor their product, giving them a great deal of control over whether a study is even published. It is important to remember: The primary mission of these corporations is to make a profit and not to protect the public. That is the domain of the government and the judiciary, which appears to support patent holder interests rather than farmers or the public. This continuing lack of research is of particular concern given notable increases in autism, cancer and human genetic mutations.
GMOs travel. Pollen from GMO crops blows to neighboring fields. This is called “pollen drift.” GMOs can be transferred from a field of BT corn to a field of heirloom corn. In that event, that farmer does not have the legal right to sell his modified crop because he doesn’t own the patent! Nor can he call his remaining unmodified corn “organic.”
The nutritional value of organic vs. nonorganic foods appears to be similar. But GMOs deplete soil by use of pesticides and corporate-style farming methods, possibly threatening future food production. Organic farming should, therefore, be encouraged, valued and protected.
Of course, there is public reaction to all this.
Sierra Seed Savers and others are producing and preserving heirloom seeds. The Non-GMO Project functions as a third party, independent verifier to check for the presence and disclosure of GMOs in food sold to consumers and then publishes its findings.
The National Cooperative Grocers Association, of which BriarPatch is a member, is demanding disclosure of all GMO products. BriarPatch has implemented a policy not to add any new products that are not verified as GMO free. Whole Foods has also informed suppliers that it will not sell foods in five years if they do not disclose whether or not they contain GMOs.
The European Union is so concerned that it prohibits any of its members from growing GMOs or manufacturing products that contain them.
Consumers can drive change. We should all ask about what is in the food we buy, particularly processed foods. We can boycott GMO-altered foods. Call the number on the product and make inquiries and complaints.
Corporations change their practices if they think their profits will be negatively affected if they do not. Consumers have power.
Michele Spencer is a member of the Nevada County Democratic Central Committee.
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