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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!
 
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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!

 
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Revenge of the Superweed
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post which outlined a pretty far-fetched, but thoughtful, plan to reform US agriculture. The premise placed the ball in the hands of conventional farmers. Ultimately, it is the farmers who control our food. They grow it. If they were given a strong enough incentive to stop farming with chemicals then the Monsanto’s and Dow’s of the world would be brought to their knees.

It may not be that far-fetched. The toxic climate of chemical farming is finally becoming even too much for the conventional, vegetable farmers (pulled from an article on Grist.org). Many of them have formed a coalition, Save Our Crops, to fight the USDA approval for a new genetically modified corn seed that is resistant to the biggest and baddest herbicide of them all, "2, 4-D." Sounds more like a character from Star Wars than something we would put on out food unless of course Heinz has added a 58th variety.

Like most petroleum-based, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, 2, 4-D has a litany of detrimental health effects, i.e. cancer, neurotoxicity, endocrine disrupters, etc. But it’s not the health effects that have the farmers up in pitchforks, it is the environmental and crop degradation that the super-herbicide will cause. 2, 4-D is a pretty intense chemical. It is a descendent of the bio-warfare chemical, Agent Orange. When applied, 2, 4-D can drift from commodity crops over to neighboring vegetable crops which are NOT resistant; especially broad-leafed crops like tomatoes, green beans, peas, squash, pumpkins, melons, grapes and other fruits.

Farmers are starting to see the toll that these stronger applications are having on their land’s fertility. On one hand, 2, 4-D could destroy a neighboring, conventional specialty-crop in one drift and on the other hand, it could initiate a slow death for the commodity farmer who with each application is chipping away at their land's yield potential.

"Save Our Crops" could help unify the conventional, farming community bringing together commodity farmers (grains, soy and corn) who want to combat mega-weeds and specialty crop growers (vegetables) who don't want to see their crops damaged by herbicide drift. Together, they have invested interest to protect their livelihood and their shared, local economy. The result will be alternatives that work for both. Go farmers!

Perhaps the tide is turning. And conventional farmers will start integrating more sustainable farming methods into their practice.

After I read about Save Our Crops, it turned my attention back to the grassroots movement working to get GMO foods labeled (genetically modified organisms). FYI...I wrote a blog post about this too if interested - and sign the petition!

Underlining the initiative is our civil right to know what’s in our food. But its more than just a label and a civil rights issue. A GMO label could mark the beginning of the end for conventional agriculture as we know it. Think about it…overnight, millions of people will stop buying products with this label. The label will turn people off and steer them towards other options, hopefully more organics ones. BIG ag will have to adjust to the market trend and consider alternative growing methods which don’t require GMO’s.   

Granted, people still smoke cigarettes even though the surgeon general says not too. But drugs and food are different. Drugs are optional, food is not. People know the inherent risk with drugs but proceed anyway. In general, people trust food believing it is safe if is it for sale. In the case of food, knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A GMO label would carry a powerful message. I’m glad that the organizations behind this campaign is not promoting this hidden agenda but I have to believe that they see the watershed moment before them like I do. It will be a sneak attack!

With the conventional farmers on one flank with Save Our Crops and consumers on the other with Just Label It, we might just have found a way to wage this war.


 
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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.