A blog on Nels New Day this summer discussing GMO food-labeling legislation apparently hit a sore spot. The blog described how members of the House subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, including Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), “agreed that people who oppose GMOs or want them labeled are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance.” The committee’s position was that they should pass legislation to protect the population from being afraid. According to Schrader, “It’s obvious that while the science in the EU in incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers.”
The Central Oregon Coast chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) typically re-posts Nels New Day blogs on the COC NOW. Schrader’s chief of staff posted the following on the COC NOW Facebook page: “I wonder if any of NOW’s donors are concerned that their resources are being used on such things as GMO labeling initiatives and not focusing on protecting women’s reproductive rights?” Later he described GMOs as “perfectly safe” and cited an editorial from the Boston Globe “that is a little more objective than your original post.”
Posting blogs doesn’t use any resources except for a person’s time. In addition, NOW addresses far more issues than reproductive rights: a woman is more than a uterus. Women’s health is one of those issues, and food is important to health.
The question of GMOs being “perfectly safe” has not been proved. The studies in the United States are largely funded by companies such as Monsanto that sell GMOs, and research is done only on animals on a short-term basis. The Boston Globe editorial used information from the Genetic Literacy Project, a slick website well-funded by Monsanto, among others companies and operated by a former journalist/author who understands net manipulation. With his skills, he has saturated the web with this project and its message. Unfortunately, the loss of funding for journalism has allowed big businesses and special interest groups to provide their version of “news” to the people of the United States because many journalists no longer have time to do their own research.
Over a year ago, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced H.R. 1699, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. About the millions of dollars to block his bill, he wrote, “It’s very telling that corporate food manufacturers are pouring millions of dollars into defeating GMO labeling efforts, including my bill that would create a national labeling standard. This spending spree is a desperate attempt to derail solid legislation that is supported by an overwhelming number of Americans who just want to know what’s in the food they eat.”
Big business has poured millions into the effort to keep people from knowing what is in their food. In just the first quarter of this year, the food industry spent $9 million lobbying Congress to oppose laws requiring labeling for genetically modified products. That’s almost the same amount as for all of 2013. The biotech and food industries have spent over $80 million since 2012 to defeat GMO labeling.
Polls show that as many as 93 percent of the people in the United States want GMO labeling. Safeway’s shareholders have called on the company to label GMOs, and other companies, including Whole Foods, Chipotle and Ben & Jerry’s, have adopted policies to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMOs in products. General Mills has dropped GMOs from Cheerios.
Almost all GMOs are engineered to tolerate higher levels of herbicides. A major problem with GMOs is that they have built-in pesticides that develop superweeds and superbugs resistant to the existing GMO technology. That requires more and more pesticides which have increased by 400 million pounds in the last 15 years because of GMO agriculture. The glysophate (Roundup) herbicide commonly used in GMO agriculture is highly toxic to not only air, rain, and rivers but also bees and humans. Brazil farmers report that GMO insect-repellent corn has become less resistant to destructive caterpillars. Necessary additional coats of insecticides are damaging the country environmentally and economically.
Over six months ago Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urged President Obama to require GMO labeling in a directive to the FDA. She argued that the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act (FD&C) prohibits the misbranding of food, including “misleading” labels. Any label that fails to reveal material facts about the product is misleading, according to the statute.
Showing the dangers of GMOs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will ban neonic pesticides and phase out GE feed for wildlife in the next 18 months. There is evidence that GMO foods are linked to a 400 percent increase in food allergies in children over the past 20 years since GMOs were first introduced into the commercial food market. GMO pesticide toxins are now showing up in the blood of both pregnant mothers who eat GMO corn products and their unborn babies.
As Martin Donohoe and Ray Seidler pointed out, the European Union mandated GMO labeling in 1997. U.S. food companies kept selling their products in Europe, and they didn’t raise prices. In fact, Monsanto, the company paying to stop labeling in the U.S., praised the labels for providing people with important information. The company’s advertising stated, “Monsanto fully supports UK food manufacturers and retailers in their introduction of these labels. We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase.” Sixty-four countries, almost one-third of the world’s population, mandate labeling for GMOs.
China has started to reject a variety of GM corn, costing U.S. farmers at least $3 billion. In less than a year, China has turned away over 1.45 million metric tons, corn that had to find other buyers, probably at a discount which takes money from U.S. farmers. This spring, the Chinese Army banned all GMO grains and oil from its military supply stations “because of public concern over health risks and high-level discomfort with China becoming overly reliant on GMO strains developed by foreign companies.” Russia also refuses GMO products, and the U.S. is having trouble trading with Europe.
The New Yorker is the latest in the anti-labeling crowd, using the excuses that almost all food is genetically engineered and that modification through breeding is the same as using radiation or chemicals to mutate food. The author, Michael Specter, points out that “officials at the F.D.A. have no desire to put labels on products unless there is a clear scientific reason to do so, as there is with tobacco.” Yet big tobacco industries successfully fought labeling for over a half century after some scientists knew that smoking was dangerous. The businesses promoted and funded biased research, lobbied politicians to oppose public regulation, and influenced voters through expensive public relations campaigns. Monsanto and other biotech companies are doing the same thing. As they know, whoever controls the seed, controls the world.
Specter’s claims that GMO crops use less water and demand less from the environment are flat-out wrong. “Drought-resistant” GMOs have less yield with less water. The environment is damaged through the excessive use of pesticides (as the following chart shows). Worst of all, farmers are hurt economically. GMOs make farmers dependent on purchasing patented or hybrid seeds, a fact that caused at least 300,000 suicides in India because of farmers went bankruptcy after shifting to GMO seeds. In the United States, GMO corn can cost $150 more per bag than conventional corn, crops cost more from higher pesticide needs costs, and the seeds cost more because they cannot be reused for another crop. GMO companies make money from spreading half-truths and misinformation about GMOs.
DeFazio’s bill is in keeping with the priorities for the Oregon Democratic Party. Under Legislative Action Items, #12 is “Require labeling of genetically engineered foods.” Schrader’s position opposes his party’s platform.
If GMOs are “perfectly safe,” why are companies opposed to labeling? The entire question of the proposed bill that Schrader supports is not whether to get rid of GMOs but whether states can pass laws mandating labeling. As Harley Pasternak wrote in U.S. News and World Report, “So who are many of our elected officials serving? Could it be that that Monsanto, other chemical companies and big food companies regularly fill the coffers of our elected officials to fund their reelection campaigns? Just wondering.”
The argument from the committee, including Kurt Schrader, is that the legislature should decide what information people have. It’s the same patriarchal attitude that men held over women for centuries, and that also makes this bill about stopping GMO labeling a woman’s issues.