Moral Low Ground


Prop 37, California’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, on November Ballot

A popular initiative that would require labeling of genetically modified foods has qualified for the November ballot in California.

The Examiner reports that Proposition 37, California’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will appear on the ballot after collecting the requisite number of voter signatures. If passed, it would be the first measure of its kind in the United States, a country that lags behind much of the developed world in recognizing the dangers of GMO foods.

“Prop 37 is about our fundamental right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our children,” Stacy Malkan, spokeswoman for the California Right to Know Campaign, told the Examiner. “Given the broad support in the state—and across the country—for the right to know if our food is genetically engineered, we are confident California voters will make history by passing Prop 37 in November,” she added.

Indeed, polls have consistently shown strong support for labeling of GMO foods, both in California and throughout the United States. According to an April Zogby poll, fully 87 percent of Americans said that such foods should be clearly labeled. A separate poll by San Francisco TV station KCBS found that 91 percent of Californians want to see genetically modified foods labeled.

Prop 37 requires the labeling of plants or crops that have been subjected to artificial DNA manipulation or have had the genes of other organisms added to them. The US is one of the few developed nations that does not require such foods to be labeled, a direct result of the lobbying power of agribusiness corporations.

“More than 40 other countries — including all of Europe, Japan, China and, beginning next January, India — label genetically engineered food,” Cathy Calfo, executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers, told the California Right to Know Campaign. “The majority of people in the world have easy access to this information. Californians also deserve to be able to make informed choices about the food that they eat.”

Among the consumer, health, environmental, agricultural, business and scientific groups that support Prop 37 are: Public Citizen, Sierra Club, American Public Health Association, United Farm Workers, California Certified Organic Farmers, Organic Consumers Association, Consumer Federation of America, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, Organic Valley, Dr. Bronner’s, Eden Foods,, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now! and the California State Grange.

Agribusiness corporations and other business interests oppose the measure. And with their potent lobbying power and virtually bottomless pockets, Californians can expect to be bombarded with anti-labeling advertisements and other campaigns designed to defeat the initiative. Even some pro-labeling advocates may come out against the measure, as  some feel it does not go far enough. For example, Prop 37 does not require labeling of GMO-adjacent foods, like beef from cattle that were fed genetically modified grains.

While opponents of labeling claim that GMO foods are safe, or at least have not been proven to cause any harm, genetically modified seeds are engineered to be disease and pest resistant. They sometimes even produce their own pesticides. These are then consumed by the people that eat the crops. Toxins produced by GM crops also harm other organisms in the food chain, upsetting delicate ecosystems. They also tend to be monocultural, which further threatens biodiversity and raises the spectre of spectacular crop failures that could result in starvation. A massive failure of Monsanto GM corn in South Africa devastated crops and farmer’s incomes in 2009.

A study by the International Journal of Biological Sciences determined that Monsanto’s GM corn causes organ damage. Kidneys and livers, the two major diet detoxification organs, were most affected, but heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also damaged.

Genetically modified crops may be linked to autoimmune diseases, infertility, gastrointestinal problems and other chronic diseases as well. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine advises people to avoid all GM foods whenever possible. The Academy has also called for a moratorium on GM seeds and the labeling of all foods containing genetically modified components.

There is also an insidious corporatist element to genetically modified foods. The Monsanto corporation controls about 90% of the GMO seed market. But they are not happy with just 90%. Monsanto bullies farmers who don’t use their seeds until they can no longer refuse to buy the company’s products. They allow farmers to plant, save, multiply and sell seeds before turning on them and threatening to sue them for patent infringement. And agribusiness corporations have the backing of the Supreme Court, which in 1980 ruled that life itself  could be patented.

Monsanto has taken full advantage of this ominous ruling. Farmers are forced to buy Monsanto GM seeds and sign agreements promising that they won’t save seeds or sell them to other farmers. That way, they have to purchase new seeds every year. And they must purchase them from Monsanto. Any farmer that chooses not to use Monsanto seeds is in for one hell of an ordeal– even if one Monsanto seed blows onto his field and takes root, he is in violation of patent laws and the company will sue. It is much easier for him to simply buy seeds from Monsanto.

Just like the military-industrial complex, Monsanto has bolstered its agenda by installing former corporate chiefs in state and federal government. Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto VP, now holds a prominent position in the US Food and Drug Administration. And President Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has a sickening record of supporting dangerous genetically modified foods and is widely known as a shill for agribusiness giants like Monsanto.

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