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Labeling GMO Food: The View from Washington, DC

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page and our California News page.

It's not a national event, but it might as well be. California's Nov. 6 vote on Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of genetically modified organisms in food, has turned into a broader referendum on our food supply.

For a lot of us, it's a matter of trust, and when we don't trust a food, or the government's regulation of it, we vote with our hoe - or with our dollar. We quiz a local farmer on her practices, or we look for organically certified veggies. We read labels. Listing ingredients is one of the things that the FDA does well, so if you don't want sugar, soy or unpronounceable additives, you can avoid them. But GMOs have been given a pass.

Where there's an important election or debate there are polls, and the Prop. 37 polls give the non-trusting public a whopping majority. Why is this measure so popular? Maybe it's the creepiness of alien genes being inserted into our food. Who wants to eat a tomato whose grandmother was a halibut? The fact that inserted genes enable some corn seeds to carry their own pesticides, and others to resist the herbicide sprayed on them, does not fuel the appetite.

The well-documented news that those genes don't, in the end, increase yields, that bugs and weeds become resistant to them, and that they contaminate non-GMO crops, does not inspire confidence in the Agriculture Department's regulation of them.

Not everyone believes the bromides the GMO team dishes out. "It's no different from traditional breeding." It is. "Organic non-GMO food can't feed the growing Third World population." It can. Maybe you learned that lesson from your own productive garden. And maybe you don't believe the scare stories, either. Food costs will not skyrocket because of labeling. Big companies will take a hit, but things will settle once they give the public what it wants to eat.

Meanwhile, the two sides are busy flinging millions at the issue, in classic election-year style. Corporate agribusiness, terrified by what it has to lose, outspends the pro-labeling side by more than 8 to 1.


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