by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
Political ad season is in full swing, and if you live in one of the swing states like Ohio or Florida, you are no doubt inundated with political ads for the race for the White House. Luckily, I live in California where, thanks to being a solid blue state, I am spared the endless bickering between Obama and Romney. But recently, we’ve been hit with a wave of ads dealing with our local statewide propositions, one of which will have an outcome that is probably even more important than whether an elephant or donkey takes residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. next year.
California’s Proposition 37, the so-called Right to Know Act, will require grocery items that contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such. Everything at a grocery store that has been modified from its natural genetics to accommodate chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides will be labeled – from fish to corn to corn chips and even dog food. Needless to say, the giant agribusinesses and chemical companies that produce GMO foods are trying to keep the proposition from passing and are currently putting out misleading ads in every format imaginable – TV, radio, internet, billboard, etc.
As a journalist who has covered this issue extensively for Health and Fitness Talk, I find my blood boiling every time I see one of the No on 37 ads. Some of the arguments they present are misleading and others are straight up lies, but their biggest point they make has nothing to do with the central issues of consumer rights, food safety or the environmental impact of GMO foods. These are arguments they cannot win. No, the No on 37 argument essentially boils down to this – “If you make us clearly label our chemically-produced, genetically-modified foods, we will have to charge you more for them.”
In case you might be swayed by such an argument (and many people are because times are tough and family budgets are tight), let me explain why it is in the best interest of you and your family to vote Yes on 37 by debunking a few of the myths I’ve seen in recent ads by the other side.
There are no benefits, only costs to consumers
The No on 37 crowd, made up of chemical conglomerates like Monsanto and Dow, will try to have you believe that there are zero benefits to knowing whether or not your food was created in a lab to grow better with their chemicals. They cite studies saying GMO foods are just as safe as heirloom, all-natural foods and that labeling will only cause unnecessary costs to business.
What these companies don’t want you to know is that GMO foods have been either banned or labeled in over 60 countries around the world and independent studies produced in those countries (studies that aren’t produced at universities that rely on corporate money from companies like Monsanto and Dow for endowments) have found startling health issues linked to GMO foods. Some of the diseases studies have shown to be linked to, have correlations with or are caused by exposure to GMO foods include cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Gluten disorders, allergies, autoimmune diseases and neurological disorders.
In addition to health risks of eating GMO foods, the environmental impact from creating foods that are to be grown under a shower of pesticides and herbicides is only starting to be calculated. One recent study by the University of Washington showed herbicide and pesticide use increased overtime because weeds and pests grow immune to products like Monsanto’s Roundup. The GMO industry’s response has been to just modify plants to tolerate stronger chemicals, which in turn pollutes the environment further. Pesticides and herbicides are known carcinogens and cause cancer. Polluting our environment with stronger and stronger cancer-causing chemicals is not a sustainable solution for our food system.
Labeling GMO foods will cost you $400 more per year
This is the central argument for No on 37. However, it is a complete falsehood for two very important reasons. Companies that use GMO products like Nestle, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Del Monte and General Mills change their labeling on average every 6 to 12 months. It would take a graphic designer less than an hour to add a “contains GMOs” label on any given product. Proposition 37 gives companies 18 months to comply, which means the label can be added when a product is already being relabeled/redesigned with little cost to the companies that produce the products.
Also, most of the products that contain GMOs are already produced with a “contains GMOs” label – for European and South American markets where labeling has been law for years. The very fact that these companies didn’t just make one worldwide label for their products when the rest of the world required labels shows that they know they have something to hide from consumers about the dangers of GMO foods.
Proposition 37 is full of loopholes and exemptions created by special interests
This is laughable. A simple look at the backers of each side of Proposition 37 shows that the proponents of the proposition have zero skin in the game as to a profit motive if it passes. Health groups and faith organizations aren’t going to heap a windfall of cash if GMO foods are suddenly labeled. But consumers armed with the knowledge of how their food is created in a lab may make educated choices on what to feed their families and a decline in GMO food consumption could spell profit losses for companies like Monsanto and Dow.
In the No on 37 ads that make the claim of bias in the law, a narrator points to the fact that dog food containing GMOs has to be labeled and meats consumed by humans do not. This is a misleading falsehood. All foods containing GMOs, including meats, poultry, fish and dairy must be labeled as such. What the law does not do is force restaurants to label whether or not they use GMO foods in their ingredients for their menus. The reason for this is that dog food labels already have to have certain requirements by law and the GMO label would fall under these existing laws. Restaurants have been exempt from GMO labeling laws around the world and Proposition 37 was designed to follow existing laws from around the world so as to make the transition easier on food companies, grocers, etc.
GMO labeling is redundant
This argument is perhaps the most misleading because, in a sense, it is partially true. The argument goes like this: since the USDA label for certified organic food by definition means the food isn’t genetically modified, all other foods shouldn’t be required to label themselves as GMOs because a savvy consumer can already avoid GMOs if they want to.
Here is the problem with that argument. While it is true that a savvy consumer can avoid GMOs with the USDA labeling system, foods that contain GMOs are allowed to use deceptive labels on their products that confuse consumers. GMO foods can be labeled as “all natural” and “made with organic ingredients,” etc. These statements are legal for them to use on their packaging even though they are highly misleading to consumers and in the case of calling a product that contains GMOs “all natural,” a complete lie.
This is why simple labeling laws like Proposition 37 are necessary. They are clear, concise and true and cannot be manipulated.
So far, it looks like Proposition 37 has a good chance of passing despite the ad blitz by Monsanto, Dow, Nestle, etc. After nearly a decade of fighting for labels in this country, proponents of natural and healthy foods now have their best shot at it. The saying goes that when California passes a law, the rest of the country isn’t far behind. Because California is such a large commercial market, there are some people who think food companies may just decide sell the GMO labeled products everywhere instead of making two separate packages. I don’t think so. They’ve been hiding the truth about GMO foods for so long, there is no reason to think they’ll stop now. The only way we’ll ever have consumer protections regarding GMOs is through the legislative process. So go out and vote and vote Yes on Prop 37.