Today Californians vote in our state primary elections, but November’s election is the bigger deal–on both the political and food front.
Californians are set to vote in November on a law to require mandatory labeling of all GMO (genetically modified organisms) and GE (genetically engineered) ingredients in processed foods and to also ban the routine industry practice of mislabeling foods containing GMO ingredients as “natural”. As reported by Digital Journal, so far, polls show that almost 90% of California’s voters plan to vote “yes”. I’m hoping it stays that way.
As a nutritionist I have been somewhat alarmed about GE foods, but even I felt the issue was mixed. For years, I have encouraged clients to eat “close to the earth”. I avoid most highly processed foods and that naturally keeps me away from most GE products. After reading The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien, I am paying more attention than ever.
We don’t know all the risks regarding GE foods because the studies haven’t been done. FDA has failed to require basic studies to determine potential risk of the GE foods we eat. I have to come to believe our supposedly safe food supply isn’t.
As the election season continues to churn, expect lots of money to be poured into California, hoping to change our minds about labeling GMO/GE foods. There are three common positions that proponents of GE use to muddle the issues. Here are fundamental arguments why we should resist all the propaganda.
1. GE/GMO foods are designed to improve upon nature
The proponents of GE foods celebrate that old tag line, “better living through chemistry”. I don’t think we are living better today because our food supply has been chemically transformed over the last fifty years. We live with an obscenely adulterated food supply. In some ways it was easier to eat when we were hunting and gathering. Man just had to worry about getting enough. Most chronic diseases today are linked to a poor diet and other lifestyle factors.
2. Genetic engineering isn’t all that different than the breeding and grafting farmers have engaged in for hundreds of thousands of years.
There is nothing that farmers could do to resemble genetic engineering. What is natural about using foreign proteins from different species to change the nature of a food? GE foods are designed by breaching the natural barriers between species. DNA from bacteria, insects and other food species are forcibly inserted into the DNA of the target food. There is little control over how this happens, nor any collateral damage to the rest of the DNA sequence. The characteristics of GMO foods could never be cross bred in the traditional way.
3. Genetic engineering is a way to feed the world and reduce hunger and malnutrition
Even the USDA has acknowledges that GE crops yields may not increase, and some GE hybrid crops that produce their own pesticides have decreased yields, something called yield drag in agricultural circles.
Ironically inadequate access to food is the result of problems regarding the global food supply, not the cause. Skewed agricultural policies, misguided development, and lack of social resources contribute to the myriad of factors that divert land and other resources from people to produce their own food. From my reading, I gather that relying on GE foods will only increase the distortions in the marketplace.
POTENTIAL RISKS, LITTLE DATA
GE foods have been commercially produced since the mid 1990’s. Foreign proteins are introduced into more than 11 GMO produced foods, including soybeans, cotton (cottonseed oil), corn, canola, sugar beets, potatoes, tomatoes, rice, flax, squash/zucchini, papaya, and chicory (radicchio).
Questions swirl about the safety of these foods, but few studies have been done. Proteins are at the root of most food allergies and food sensitivities. Are GE foods involved with rising incidence of both?
Inflammation is the underlying condition linked to most major life cycle diseases: heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, even cancer. Do GE foods increase our body’s state of inflammation as well? With Monsanto’s virtual monopoly on GE seeds, very little independent research is likely.
CONSUMERS DESERVE TO VOTE WITH THEIR DOLLARS
Many other countries have followed a more prudent course called the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle simple expects “as long as you don’t know how it’s going to affect us, don’t put it in our food.” (O’Brien, 2009) Until labeling becomes mandatory, choosing organic sources of the big 11 is one way to avoid genetically modified foods. Given that soy and other ingredients are found in most processed foods, it is more important than ever to eat “close to the earth.”
All of Europe and Great Britain, Australia, Japan and Russia require GE foods to be labeled. Let’s make sure California is next.