A flood of comments ensued, prompting the Bee to shut down the comment function. Then, on Saturday, Stuart Leavenworth, the Bee's editorial page editor, published a piece attacking the OCA that, like Morain's editorial, parrots Monsanto's talking points with no regard for the truth.
Again, we ask you to read Leavenworth's article and our point-by-point rebuttal, then post a comment defending freedom of speech and our right to know what's in our food. Please be polite and professional!
- 1. "Dan has his own personal views on this topic, which aren't necessarily those of the editorial board. Starting in 2004, the editorial board opined that foods that include genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be labeled. As The Bee stated in an editorial that year, 'In the long run it should help, not hurt, the food industry by building consumer confidence, which is why food companies should embrace independent study and labeling.'"
- 2. "Last Sunday, columnist Dan Morain published a column about an Illinois
osteopath and entrepreneur, Joe Mercola, who has put $500,000 into a
proposed California initiative to require labeling of genetically
modified foods. Dan's main beef was that an out-of-state activist was
once again using the California initiative system for a pet proposal..."
- 3. "Morain's biggest issue, however, is the actual wording of the California Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act, which could potentially bar companies from calling any product 'natural if it has been subject to 'canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.' As Morain noted, such wording could prevent olive oil manufacturers or rice companies from labeling their products as natural, since olives are pressed and rice is milled."
- 4. "How did Mercola and his allies respond? The Organic Consumers Association - a Minnesota-based group whose political arm has given $95,000 to the initiative - put Morain's photo on its website and labeled him as a 'minion of Monsanto,' a leading manufacturer of GMOs. The Web page then urged followers to inundate The Bee with responses, which they did.
- Some of the messages were reasoned and impassioned rebuttals to Morain's column, which we welcome. Many others simply echoed the talking points of the OCA - that Morain had been bought off by the biotech industry and should be fired or silenced.
- 5. "Others were even worse. 'I hope you get cancer you corporate sellout scumbag,' wrote one Mercola supporter, named Dan.
- 'You will be punished in many ways, by eating, writing, and lack of knowledge of the Bilderberg Group who wants to kill all of us including you,' wrote another person, named Carol. (FYI, the Bilderberg Group is a secretive, annual gathering of business elites that has been a robust source of conspiracy theories by the far left and far right over the years.)
- The well-wishes for Morain continued with online comments, which The Bee took down Thursday "because of personal attacks, hate speech and other inappropriate comments.'"
Please read Leavenworth's article in its entirety and add your comments.
Here's our response to the original article:
You can't argue with consumers' right to know what's in our food. That's why 9 out of 10 people support labels for genetically engineered food.
But, money talks, and companies like Monsanto that have gotten rich hiding GMOs in our food are already on the attack in California, where a movement to label GMOs is working to get the issue on the November 2012 ballot.
Monsanto found an ally in Dan Morain at the Sacramento Bee who tried to find fault with the CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition.
Here are Morain's points, along with our rebuttal. Please go to the editorial, scroll down and add your comments. [Note: Apparently too many critical comments inspired the Sacramento Bee to remove the comments feature from the article in question. Please contact them and let them know your opinion on this issue.]
- #1 "Although there's no proof that genetically modified food has caused anyone's nose to fall off, labeling is not a terribly bad idea. People like to know what they're eating."
But, then he lets Monsanto's spin distract him from the simple fact that GMO labels protect our right-to-know...
- #2 The CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition consists of "[r]ich people with a cause [who] cannot seem to resist inflicting their world views on California politics."
- #3 Voters should decide whether or not to support the Label GMOs initiative based on what they think of $500,000 donor Dr. Joseph Mercola, "an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago and runs a website, Mercola.com, which promotes his alternative, though generally unproven, health-related products and ideas."
- #4 The initiative would open farmers and food producers to litigation.
It isn't about litigation, either. Consumers already have the right to sue to enforce California's food labeling laws. This initiative can't change that one way or the other. All it can change is what gets labeled. Again, 9 out of 10 people think GMOs should be labeled.
- #5 "The initiative wording is ambiguous and could be interpreted to bar companies from
calling any product "natural" if it has been subject to 'processing
such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration,
fermentation or milling.'"
What spokespersons for Monsanto and the agricultural biotech industry usually say is, to require labels on virtually all processed foods as possibly containing GMOs, because of widespread use of genetically modified soy, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beet and alfalfa seed, amounts to meaningless disclosure. Morain must not understand what genetic engineering is. He heard that "virtually all processed foods" would have to be labeled and somehow he figured this was because of the way they were processed. Morain doesn't get that almost all processed foods contain ingredients that are genetically engineered.
If everyone knew that all the processed food they were eating contains GMOs, labels would be meaningless, but in the United States, a country where virtually everyone is eating GMOs, only about one quarter of the population is aware of it. In this context GMO labels are anything but meaningless.
- #6 "[H]umans have been modifying crops for 10,000 years. Durham wheat, Asian pears, domesticated cattle and many other commodities would not exist without some sort of engineering. Of course, genetic engineering and irradiation are different from cross-breeding of days past. But in very real ways, [professor Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of Life & Health Sciences Research Development in the UC Davis Office of Research] said, new techniques are much more controlled. 'This is tested so thoroughly,' Newell-McGloughlin said.
Newell-McGloughlin's statement that "[t]his is tested so thoroughly," would lead the reader to believe that independent scientists who work for public research institutions are carefully safety testing each new GMO before it enters our food. On the contrary, the government's policy that there is "no material difference" between GMOs and normal foods obviated the need for review. Companys that want to market new GMOs don't have to prove that they're safe, only that they are similar to normal foods - and they get to do their own research.
In the case of GMO salmon, for instance, the applicant, AquaBounty, submitted data to the FDA that showed their genetically engineered salmon was less nutritious, more likely to trigger allergies and had higher levels of a hormone linked to human cancers than normal salmon. The FDA noted this, but concluded that it wasn't different enough from normal salmon to be blocked or even labeled.
But, that discussion isn't even relevant to this issue of GMO labels. Safety tested or not, genetically engineered food should be labeled.
For more information and to volunteer to help collect signatures for the California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs go to Organic Consumers Fund.