Picture
I just received my California Voter Information Guide. It is a tremendous resource outlining candidate platforms and arguments for and against different ballot propositions. I lean on it heavily when wanting to make an informed decision at the polls. But should I? I've been following Proposition 37 for months. It advocates to have genetically modified foods labeled. I know what's at stake with a yes/no vote. In reading the voter guide, however, a less informed voter could easily be swayed or confused. It makes me wonder..."Which way does my vote swing on issues for which I'm less educated and rely on this document. Hhm?

With National Food Day On Wednesday, October 24th...it seemed like a good time to step on the soapbox and clarify what I see as the shades of gray in the voter's guide and its review of Proposition 37.

YES on Proposition 37 gives consumers the "Right To Know" what's in their food. It's not a fluffy statute. It's been proposed for a reason...because BIG Ag doesn't want us to know what is in our food. 90% of all corn & soybeans are genetically engineered crops (GE) and close to 70% of all foods in the grocery store contain GE ingredients. By keeping consumers in the dark, it promotes a climate of "don't ask don't tell." If we don't know, or the facts are withheld, its like its not true and we can continue to live in our disconnected food bubble and consume what we want thinking it is fine. It's not enough to tell people that GMO's  (genetically modified organisms) basically dominate the grocery stores shelves thinking that they will avoid these foods if they know how ubiquitous they are. A label gives the consumer knowledge, As we know, "knowledge is power." Consumers who starting asking questions pose a threat to our food industrial complex which will prompt real change to our broken food system and how food is produced and distributed.

Labeling GMO's takes the nutrition label one step further. It informs the eater in this bio-technical age which foods have been genetically engineered to withstand ginormous loads of synthetic pesticides. When food is scientifically modified in a petri dish, it changes its chemical make-up which is foreign to our gastrointestinal system and the way our body knows to digest food.

Opponents of Prop 37 claim that more than 400 scientific studies have shown that GE ingredients are safe for consumption. What they don't tell you is...those studies were performed by the manufacturers themselves, i.e. Monsanto, Cargill, etc. Federal law does not require the regulation of GE Foods and 3rd party research. As a result, 3rd party researchers are not given access to the GE Foods because the manufacturers are not obligated to by the USDA. Despite these barriers, organizations like American Academy of Environmental Medicine have been able to perform some tests on GMO's which demonstrate reproductive problems, intestinal issues, links to autism, as well as disruption in our immune system.

Opponents of Proposition 37 take issue with...

1. Dairy, meat, alcohol and foreign foods being exempt.





2. The cost associated with a GMO label, i.e. higher food prices from new labels and more expensive ingredients as well as fining those producers who fail to comply.







3. The economic impact on family farmers and food companies. 




4. The deception that a GMO label represents.
My response in favor of Proposition 37...

1. It seems they would be okay with this but if not, I say...we have to start somewhere. Better we use a phased implementation plan than try and take on the whole system all at once. Livestock may eat GMO corn and soybut they themselves are not genetically engineered. thank goodness.

2. Food companies regularly reprint labels so the price hike won't come there. And companies will have a reasonable grace period to find substitute ingredients before being fined. But yes, food prices may increase as Big Ag moves towards more sustainable farming methods to avoid the GMO label. It is a reminder that food is not cheap and to treat the earth, our bodies and the farmer fairly, we need to pay a little more for our food and less for our cars, clothes and electronics. We need re-prioritize!

3. It's not small farms that will be affected. It will be mega farms under the grip of Monsanto who will be affected. And hopefully, the label will pressure Monsanto to adjust their business model and help their farmers transition to more ecological growing practices.

5. Opponents don't elaborate on what is exactly deceptive but what is deceptive is what Big Ag doesn't want their consumers to know.  A YES vote will require that GMO foods remove words like "natural" from their packaging. If those are the words they've chosen up till now, who's calling who deceptive?
In closing, something I found really interesting in reading the voter's guide is who are the contributors to the argument for and rebuttal against. Those "for" are focused on health, food safety and small farms. Those "against" are biotech, science and organizations well funded by Big Ag.
NO on Proposition 37:
1. Farm Bureau Federation
2. Biotech Office of Food & Drug Administration
3. California Taxpayer Protection Committee
4. National Academy of Sciences
5. California Small Business Association
6. California Family Farmer
YES on Proposition 37
1. Center for Food Safety
2. Pediatrician
3. Pesticide Action Network
4. Consumer Watchdog
5. Small berry farmer
Oh, one last fun fact...40 other nations around the world enforce a GMO label. Food for thought!
 
 
Picture
On May 3rd, I spoke about the domino effect that California's GMO Label law, Proposition 37, could have not only in California but throughout the entire US food system, click here.

Well, my assumption was right...The food industry sees the threat it poses. Here is what Pamela Baily, President of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), had to say in a speech to the American Soybean Association on July 9th...

"The California Ballot Initiative to label genetically engineered food is "a serious, long-term threat to the viability of agricultural biotechnology. Defeating the Initiative is GMA's single highest priority this year." -

The conventional food industry isn't worried about the cost to redo their packaging or concerned about a little bad press. They realize that once California falls, so will the rest of the country. Ever state will want to have GMO labels and with GMO labels comes decreased sales. People aren't going to want to buy food with a label that will have the likeness to "skulls & crossbones." 

It's deductive reasoning...To increase sales, the food industry will have to start producing food that doesn't require GMO labeling. To obtain that stature, they are going to have to change the way they grow the food. Fingers crossed...Hopefully, that means more sustainable and earth-friendly farming methods. Conventional farming is so closely aligned with genetically engineered (GE) seeds that they are practically synonymous. Change will only be able to happen, if they change the way they do business.

Big Ag should be afraid...very afraid! The GMO Label could be checkmate!

 
 
Picture
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO!
As genetically modified (GM) crops become more and more ubiquitous covering thousands of acres nationwide, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid them in our food.  It’s still food so what’s the big deal? The big deal is...little is still known about the long-term exposure to these Frankenstein seeds. They waltzed through the approval process under the first Bush administration and now that they are in the hands of biotech giants like Monsanto, it is near impossible to get the seeds and test them. And those scientists who succeed are often discredited. Monsanto prefers to do the testing themselves and report their findings. Where’s the logic in that? Next, we’ll have criminals trying themselves in court.

In California, however, a group of food advocates have formed The Committee for the Right to Know. They have prepared an initiative for the November 2012 ballot which states, "The purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods." 

Robert Kenner, filmmaker of FOOD, Inc. just released a short video called, "Labels Matter" which he produced in partnership with another GMO label advocacy group, Just Label It (visit their website and sign the national petition!). The video is part of Kenner's Fix Food Project which is a social medium platform to empower Americans to take immediate action to create a more sustainable and democratic food system. One of the first films I saw that talked about GMO's was a short video that went viral in 2007 by Free Range Studios called, Mouth Revolution. Check it out!

Some will say that genetically modified seeds are helping to feed the world by making seeds more available. But people have been saving seeds for thousands of years. Genetically engineered seeds are fixing a problem that isn't broken. Ironically, GMO's are what break the system because they perpetuate chemical intensive, environmentally harmful, conventional farming practices.  But like so many things today, success is only measured when a process is industrialized and centralized. Seeds, the smallest thing in our food system, is not spared. Big agri-business wants to control it all. GMO’s aren't so much about making seeds more readily available as they are about streamlining the business to create a super seed that is weed and pest resistant. We don’t need a battery of tests to tell us that if a seed has built-in capabilities to combat pests that we are more or less eating rat poison.

Here are some interesting facts I learned in an October 2011 issue of Better Nutrition:
  1. 80% of corn is genetically modified. And corn in all its shapes and sizes are in just about every processed food.
  2. Even if you can avoid corn, try avoiding sugar. Most sugar, whether cane sugar or from sugar beets, is genetically engineered. 
  3. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, patients are probably seeing negative health effects right now from GM foods but their doctors don’t realize that GM foods may be to blame. 
  4. Of the little research that has been published, infertility and reproductive problems are the two biggest health risks found in animal research. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine also found health concerns involving the immune system, gastrointestinal problems, cholesterol problems and disruption of insulin. The later makes you wonder if that has anything to do with the rise in Type II Diabetes. Coincidence?
  5. The European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and even China require labeling on all food containing GMO’s so consumers can make informed decisions. What a novel idea!
In 2001, an ABC News poll found 93% of people said that GM food should be labeled. Ten years later, a MSNBC poll found that that figure hadn’t dropped but increased to 96%. As the California committee’s name suggests, “We have a right to know.” And people want to know! As the nation comes together in solidarity around this issue, we are collectively asserting our food sovereign rights to decide how our food is produced. Join the uprising, sign the petition and send a mouthful to the FDA.

 
 
Picture
Food Day was Monday October 24th. Schools, farms, communities and kitchens everywhere celebrated in a feastly fashion to recognize the need for more thoughtful consideration of the nation's food system. One of the founding fathers of the special day, Michael Pollan, was found in Cleveland. He was the special guest of Cuyahoga County Public Library's writers series at Playhouse Square. Interviewer and fellow journalist, Dan Moulthrop, guided the audience on an exploration of Michael's food journey and his current perspective on the food movement.

Opening the conversation, Michael and Dan polled the crowd for how many knew it was Food Day. A paltry number raised their hands but it didn't deny the fact that it was a sold-out crowd of 1000 people. Versus a lecture, the interview format served him well. It reminded the audience that while well-respected for his literary gift to the food movement, Michael does not claim to be a foremost authority on the subject. He isn't a preacher. He is a collector of information and a sharer of knowledge. He started by writing about what he loves, gardening. As depicted in his 1991 book, Second Nature: A Gardner's Education. The unexpected fame of his later books, Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, made him an accidental agtivist. Now a poster child for the food movement, he remains humble in his accomplishments making it easy for people to respect him for his fair, journalistic style. He may be a zealot but he is not an elitist. He's goal has always been to make people marvel at food's wonder and see it in a different light. Michael shared how his literary hero, George Plimpton, made people marvel at football in the book, Paper Lion.

Picture
He's happiest when his writing can give people the tools necessary to make their own decision gleaning from his work what they feel is important and will make a difference. He described the reaction he received after Omnivore's Dilemma's release. Some people approached him saying, "Your book made me become a vegetarian." Others would say, "The book convinced me to start eating meat again." While Michael advocates the ecological importance of livestock to the natural cycles of a diversified farm, he recognizes that our nation's meat consumption is not sustainable. He reflects on a time when meat was a special occasion food not something served three times a day, seven days a week. "It's okay to eat meat, just not as much," he remarks. The less meat we eat, the better the meat can be raised. He reminded the crowd of what cows do for us, "Even though grass is good for humans, we can't eat it. We aren't ruminates. Cows are! They extract the grasses' nutrition and pass it on to us."

It didn't take long for the 2012 Farm Bill to get mentioned. Michael didn't get sidelined on a discussion about the particulars of recent downturns in the bill's construction. He shifted the attention instead to President Obama's failure to take a stand. He complimented the President, however, on his keen ability to connect the dots in any issue. The food issue was no different. Obama is fully aware of our food crisis. Then why is he not doing more? Why is he letting his wife go it alone? Michael Pollan's essay in The Nation's recent food issue summed up his response exactly, "President Obama has determined there is not yet enough political support to take on the hard work of food system reform, and the best thing to do in the meantime is for the first lady to build a broad constituency for change by speaking out about the importance of food."

Picture
Michael's home garden
Needing a stronger movement to pressure Washington, Michael and others created Food Day. Food needed an event like Earth Day. Responding to a question from the audience, "The movement lacks leadership and a national organization." He encouraged supporters to not focus on eradicating conventional agriculture but to minimize it. "Realistically, there will always be two food economies...one that's organic and one that is not." It wasn't exactly the "I have a dream" speech but his pragmatism set targets on achievable goals.

Perhaps it won't be a movement at all that drives government to change the way we grow and distribute food. Michael may have made the flame flicker with his "two economies" comment but he made the fire roar when he pointed the finger at an unlikely ally to lead the charge, the health care industry. Michael Pollan's essay in The Nation again summed it up perfectly, "As soon as the health care industry begins to focus on the fact that the government is subsidizing precisely the sort of meal for which the industry (and the government) will have to pick up the long-term tab, eloquent advocates of food system reform will suddenly appear in the unlikeliest places—like the agriculture committees of Congress." During his interview, he pointed to the writing on the wall, "One in three children are predicted to conduct diabetes in their lifetime, a chronic disease." The choice is ours he continued, "What would you rather have? Expensive food or expensive health care?"

Picture
On Sale Nov. 1, $23.95
Wrapping up, Michael discussed the blatant injustices which should not have to wait for a movement or health care. "90% of Americans polled want food labeled if it contains genetically modified ingredients (GMO). It is clearly undemocratic to deny this right when the public so obviously wants this conveyed." Government says we need more science to prove the negative health impacts but seed giants like Monsanto won't allow their seeds to be tested.

The evening had lots of laughter. Michael joked comfortably throughout the interview. Quoting from his new ,illustrated version of Food Rules, he enlightened the crowd by saying, "If you're not hungry enough for an apple, then you're probably not hungry." And when an audience member asked him the tired question, "What would your last meal be?" He graciously pondered with a smile and replied, "Roasted chicken!"

 
 
Picture
We see at them every day but probably don't read them nearly enough. I'm talking about...nutrition labels. Those things on the back of canned goods and cereal boxes telling us the ingredients and the percentage of carbs and calories. Now, if food labels were a little bit more sexy and easier to understand, we may pay better attention. And in doing so, people would discover for themselves what's really in their food.

On July 31st, I discussed being suave and effective when talking to people about their food choices. A sexy, new food label may be one of the communication tools used to help convert people to eating more consciously. The University of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism had this very idea and launched a contest earlier this summer to redesign the food label called, simply enough...Rethink the Food Label. On July 25th, Renee Walker, was awarded the first prize for her label concept. Check out the picture above with a sample of Renee's design. As a visual learner, I love it! If a food is crammed with all kinds of preservatives or too much salt or sugar, this label is going tell you - each ingredient gets a proportionally, sized, colored box relative to the amount of other ingredients. A solid, colored square will more often than not indicate a whole food. Unless of course it's something like cotton candy and then it would just be a big, pink square for sugar...not wholesome. My only suggestion...how about a section on the food label where it tells you more about where the food was made and by who. The folks at AgroEco Coffee have designed a label for their packaging to connect drinkers to growers by telling them more about the farm, where it is, the beans, the owners, etc.... Okay Renee, there's your next hurdle...concisely and artistically design a label that educates us both on the nutrition and the origin.