Ask Eartha: Efforts underway in Colorado to label genetically modified food
July 3, 2014
I recently heard about the passing of a bill in Vermont that requires the labeling of genetically modified foods. Is there anything occurring here in Colorado to get a similar bill on the ballot for 2014?
— Laura in Frisco
Thanks for the inquiry Laura. As a matter of fact, there is an initiative to get a similar bill requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods on the 2014 ballot in Colorado. The organization Right to Know Colorado is currently in the process of collecting enough signatures for the initiative to be on the November 2014 ballot. This grassroots campaign wants to achieve mandatory labeling of GMO's across the state.
I wrote a previous Eartha article a while back on GMOs, but I would like to review what they are. People often mistake genetic engineering for selective breeding, a practice that has occurred for centuries. Unlike selective breeding, where two plants are cross bred to favor desirable traits, genetic engineering manipulates an organism's DNA, also known as recombinant DNA technology. This can involve splicing a tomato gene with a non-tomato gene, such as a fish gene.
The idea behind manipulating a crop's DNA is to establish characteristics that supposedly make it easier for farmers to care for the plants, increasing yield and profitability. Examples of these characteristics include pesticide and disease resistance, increasing the desired look and feel of the product or enhancing a product's shelf life. Sounds too good to be true, right?
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Manipulating an organism's DNA can cause a host of problems. For one, it fosters the excessive use of pesticides. Case in point, Monsanto has recently created a strain of genetically engineered corn to be resistant to certain herbicides such as roundup. Farmers can then liberally spray the crops with as much of the pesticide as they want. In the same way that antibiotics have helped create super bugs that have become resistant to antibiotics, the excessive use of pesticides have helped create super weeds and super bugs that have become pesticide resistant.
Another issue is that once a genetically modified organism is released into the environment, it cannot be taken back, which can potentially create unintended consequences. So, although the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires some testing of GMOs, we cannot be absolutely sure of the consequences and harmful effects of GMOs on our health or the environment.
Lastly, GMOs are often developed by large and powerful corporations that promote monocultures of cash crops with little interest other than profit and the bottom line, not food security. Many of these corporations create patents for their GMO products such as corn, soybeans, alfalfa, rapeseed (canola) and cotton. In order for farmers to be competitive they are often enticed to buy GMO seed and accompanying pesticides. This also impedes the use of local/native crop or plant varieties that have been propagated to grow in a particular area.
Furthermore, neighboring farmers who choose not to use the GMO seeds will often end up with the crops by accident through pollination. To add insult to injury, the corporation can then sue the farmer for use of their patented seed. There is also the issue with dumping really cheap subsidized crops such as maize (corn) on developing nations who are then unable to sell their own locally grown maize at their market price. According to Kevin Watkins, quoted in the book "Biopiracy of Biodiversity," "In the real world, agricultural production and trade are determined not so much by comparative advantage as by comparative access to subsidies."
As consumers, don't we have a right to know what food has been grown with GMO seed? Shouldn't we be given information about what we are putting into our own bodies instead of having it dictated for us? Besides, if the food industry believed it to be fine, why are they against it being labeled? The argument from the agro-industry is that if it is labeled, consumers will believe it to be harmful. Yet, on the back of many products, there contains a list of all the ingredients. How is it any different if consumers know the product contains GMOs?
Right to Know is advocating for the labeling of all GMO foods across the country. Vermont recently passed a law requiring the labeling of GMO foods. If you would like for this initiative to appear on the Colorado ballot, make sure you sign the petition. It must be signed "in person." Petition circulators are often at the Whole Foods Market in Frisco from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and at Natural Grocers most Saturdays and Sundays.
Petition circulators are trying to make an appearance at the Dillon Farmers Market on Fridays as well. If you would like to become a volunteer, please check out the website: http://www.rightoknowcolorado.org. Even though GMO foods are not currently labeled, you can take matters into your own hands by downloading a GMO checker app on your smart phone. For those of you without smart phones, supporting local and organic farmers is your best bet for avoiding GMOs. Or start your own organic vegetable garden. You can check out organic, non-GMO seeds at the Summit County seed library and rent a garden plot through the Summit Community Garden network. Happy eating y'all!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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