As managing editor of Healthy Living magazine, I stay fairly informed about health and nutrition. As an author, while conducting research for 50 Simple Steps to Save the World’s Rainforests, I read many disturbing reports of negligent practices by governments and agribusiness around the world. Sadly, it has become as clear as day to me that the government, food manufacturers—especially the larger ones—and agribusiness do not place enough value on health, safety and the environment. Profit motives too often prevail. So it is largely up to us consumers to educate ourselves about the origin of our food and how its production affects workers, the planet and our health. And that’s why Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, is incredibly important.
Since the mid-90s, genetically engineered food crops—primarily corn, soy, cotton (cottonseed oil) and sugar beets—have made their way into our food supply without consumer involvement or consent. When it comes to the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the jury is still very much out. In fact, I’ve just read several studies in the last few days that raise some serious concerns. I also find it hard to accept the conclusions of studies showing GMO safety when they have been funded by biotechnology firms that stand to profit from their success. At this point, no one really knows the long-term safety of GMOs. Yet, it is estimated that nearly 70 percent of our food supply contains them.
With Proposition 37, we consumers, who have been largely left out of the GMO conversation, can vote yes for our right to know. More than 50 countries around the world, including Australia, Brazil, China, India, Russia, Japan, and all of Europe, require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. And contrary to what the opposition claims, GMO labeling has not been found to drive up food costs. The European Union has required GMO labeling since 1997. David Byrne, the former European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament, has said that the labeling requirement did not drive up food costs despite horrifying double-digit predictions by some interests.
And thank goodness for propositions! Yes, they may be sloppily written, but I’ll take them with all their foibles. Sometimes government fails to act—or fails to act fast enough. The passage of propositions gives the people a chance to be heard and to create needed change. Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont—you can keep on making your GMO seeds and profiting from them. Farmers who so choose, you can keep buying and planting them. Food manufacturers, you can keep choosing to use GMO ingredients. Consumers are simply asking for the right to know. Then, we have the freedom to decide whether or not we believe genetically engineered foods are safe enough to put in our bodies. Proposition 37 is about the right to know—and the freedom of choice.
I’ll vote for that.