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Food Labeling: We Have The Right To Know

(Originally posted at http://www.donnieyance.com/food-labeling-we-have-the-right-to-know/ on October 30, 2012)

I strongly believe that we have the right to know that the food we are consuming is safe. It seems like this should be a basic right, and in this day and age, I believe we MUST pay attention and be educated about any potential risks to our health. It’s hard to understand why people choose to eat fried foods laden with dangerous fats, or drink beverages filled with sweeteners and artificial ingredients. But at least we can read the ingredient labels, educate ourselves about the possible health risks, and choose NOT to consume these processed foods. Unfortunately, in the case of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), there are big corporations that are spending millions of dollars in the attempt to keep us in the dark about what’s in our food.

The corporations that are campaigning against truth and transparency in food labeling are those that stand to make enormous profits from the genetic engineering of our nation’s food supply. Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow, chemical companies that are heavily invested in biotechnology, are fighting legislation that will require the labeling of foods that contain GMO’s. These are the same companies that created DDT and Agent Orange, and they assured us that these highly toxic chemicals were safe. Of course, decades later, the truth emerged about the detrimental, pervasive effects that the widespread use of these chemicals has had on our health and the environment. Not surprisingly, other food industry giants that are fighting against GMO labeling include Nestle, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, and General Mills. Disturbingly, these very same companies also own organic brands such as Cascadian Farms, Kashi, and Horizon Organic Dairy. Why are they fighting against the labeling of GMO’s? The simple answer is that big industry wants to control our food supply, and they want to make decisions without having to answer to consumers.

The encroachment of GMO foods into our nation’s food supply has been so insidious that many people may not be aware of what the term actually means. Genetically modified foods are plants or animals that have been genetically tweaked in the lab. Scientists remove genes from one organism and then add these genes to another plant or animal to transfer a particular characteristic, such as resistance to weeds or pests, or to speed growth or plant yields. The inherent trouble is that this genetic tampering is completely foreign to the human genome and may alter DNA in negative ways. The human genome has never had a relationship with GMO foods in the history of humankind. We cannot simply assume that GMO foods are safe. We must remember that the same companies that have invested in GMO foods assured us that DDT was safe.

Some proponents maintain that genetically modified foods are better for the environment because they require less pesticides or water, or they promote genetically tweaked foods as the answer to feeding the world. But this just isn’t true. The reality is that genetically modified crops are developing increased resistance to pests, and GMO crops are weaker and sicker. The underlying goal of big business in creating and promoting GMO foods is increased profits for the corporations, without any consideration for the effects on our health or the environment.

Although the production of GMO foods has skyrocketed in the past two decades, there have been no studies to determine the long-term safety of consuming these foods. Animal research has uncovered disturbing results, however. In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM foods. The mounting evidence of a strong association between GM foods and these health conditions warrants immediate and thorough scientific investigation.

I always advise my patients to buy organic foods as much as possible, and to read labels on all foods. But the only way that we can make truly informed choices as consumers is if information is available to us. There is currently no law that requires the labeling of genetically modified foods, and the opponents to GMO labeling are determined to keep it that way.

California is leading the way in pushing for the labeling of GMO foods with Proposition 37, the “Genetically Engineered Foods Right to Know Act.” If the bill passes on November 6th, all GMO foods, including processed foods that contain GMO ingredients, will be required by law to be labeled as such. In addition, companies will not be allowed to market any foods containing GMO ingredients as “natural.” If the bill passes in California, it’s likely that the rest of the country will follow suit.

Most Americans don’t realize that they’re eating genetically modified foods. But the reality is that unless you eat 100 percent organically or from trusted sources, and eliminate your intake of non-organic corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, and sugar (from sugar beets), you are most likely consuming genetically modified products, from produce to packaged foods. That’s because virtually all commercial products made with these ingredients come from genetically modified crops. Even if you try to eat healthfully, and buy foods labeled as “all-natural,” you’re likely consuming some amount of GMO foods.

Both of our organizations in Ashland, Oregon—the Mederi Foundation and Natura Health Products—support “GMO Free,” our local Jackson County initiative to ban genetically engineered crops in Jackson County. This is something that you can do in your local community to protect locally sourced foods and to keep farmers seeds free from contamination by GMO’s.

Here are some other things that you can do to educate yourself about this topic and to support the ban on GMO’s: