by Viktor Bogatko -
Special to the SGN
A couple of weeks ago, I received a pamphlet in the mail that caught my attention. It was from the opponents of Initiative 522, urging me to vote no on labeling GMO foods. Of course by this point I had already heard of the initiative and my decision seemed like a no-brainer. After all, what harm is there in labeling food for what it is? Wouldn't consumers be more informed and therefore more equipped in making healthy choices at the grocery store?
Although the obvious answer is that labeling GMO foods would be more helpful for consumers in making healthy and more sustainable decisions, I was intrigued that I was hearing more from opponents about the issue. Besides the typical attacks in bold print, I noticed in the bottom right corner, in the smallest of print size was a short list of the top five sponsors of the pamphlet. I was shocked to see that the largest contributors were GMO and chemical corporations, including Monsanto, ConAgra, and DuPont. The blitz-style 'No on 522' ads now made sense but they were also very concerning because I knew how powerful these corporations were. I remembered how last year a similar measure in California, Proposition 37, failed largely due to the involvement of these outside companies.
An outrageous 44 million dollars was spent on defeating the proposition compared to just over 7 million dollars spent by proponents. Despite this lopsided disadvantage, Prop 37 was able to get 47 percent of the vote, which gave me some comfort for our chances of victory here in Washington. Still, in an attempt to contribute to something I believe is very important, I was encouraged to voice my opinion.
CONCENTRATION OF POWER
While there are many reasons why I believe labeling GMO foods is a good idea, the most important one I see is that consumers ought to be able to determine what is on our grocery shelves, not large corporations. Consumers should have access to information concerning the contents of our food so that they we can create a demand for the foods we believe are the best for our families and the environment. Dr. Lawrence Becker, of Oregon State University, an expert on the topic, agrees that his greatest concern is that 'power is being increasingly concentrated in just a handful of corporations,' which could have a number of serious and negative consequences locally and globally.
I am convinced labeling GMO foods would create a greater demand for natural unadulterated foods, which would decrease the demand for foods that were genetically modified, an occurrence that GMO corporations fear the most because it would decrease their profits and their iron grip over the food industry. At the core of the issue for opponents are profits, not the well-being of consumers or the preservation of our natural resources, which brings me to my next point.
The truth about the safety of GMO foods is that we simply do not know enough about how GMOs affect our bodies. Not enough time has passed for us to be able to determine the negative effects on our health, and few studies have been performed to determine the safety of these genetically modified foods. We do know, however, that the pesticides and herbicides used on GMO crops are being used more and more every year and they are raising serious health concerns. More farm workers are experiencing pesticide poisoning while crops are becoming increasingly vulnerable to diseases, fueling the already vicious cycle of pesticide and herbicide use. GMO foods also encourage monocropping, a dangerous practice of growing one type of crop or one variety of a crop, which further exacerbates disease vulnerability and pesticide use. In addition to fueling the cycle, monocropping discourages genetic variability as more farmers switch to higher yielding GMO crops in order to compete with one another, leaving scientists very few genes to work with in their constant effort to develop disease resistant and high yielding crops.
Genetically modified crops have also been known to contaminate native crops through pollination. This occurs when a GMO crop is planted near a non-GMO crop and birds and insects pollinate the plants indiscriminately. This phenomenon may seem harmless but it is not. When farmers depend on saving seeds for next year's crop, contaminated seeds pollinated with GMO plants may not be viable and the farmer is left with nothing to plant.
Globally, local farmers and indigenous peoples are paying the highest price for GMO crops, literally and figuratively. GMO corporations often charge outrageous prices for their seeds and they have been known to increase prices once farmers become dependent on their seeds. Indigenous people are also more vulnerable to crop diseases as they more often than not depend on just a few different crops to survive and when one of them fails, famine is just around the corner for much of the world's already poor population.
There are many more reasons why we should discouraged the use of GMO foods or, at the very least, why we should label them. One very important fact about the issue to recognize is how controversial the topic is. There must be a reason why so much of the world's population fears the consumption of GMO foods - because there are many known negative consequences and too many unknowns. To date, 64 countries label GMOs and many of them ban GMOs altogether.
Over 100 years ago, muckrakers reported on unsanitary and unsafe conditions in food processing factories, which resulted in Congress passing the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. These reporters outraged the public by revealing to them that their Polish sausage, in addition to pork, might also contain some rat or human feces. Today, instead of macroscopic dangers, we face potential microscopic hazards that we know very little about. These hazards are GMOs and we are becoming increasingly dependent on them, while losing control of what should rightfully be ours - a right to know. It is therefore very important that on Election Day, our state leads the rest of the country in our effort to curb the power of the corporation and increase the power of individual choice. Please vote Yes on Initiative 522.
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