D. R. Hildebrand writes this week about one of the most crucial votes that Californians have been faced with. One that we won’t be able to watch politicians debate on television. When it comes to labeling genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, most of us are in the dark – and that’s intentional. I urge everyone in California to vote YES on Prop. 37. That YES means you are in favor of truth, clarity, and the ability to make your own decision concerning what you put in your body.
Editor, Joshua Katcher
by D. R. Hildebrand
Well beneath the hundreds of billions of dollars in endless presidential campaigning this election there is an equally decisive battle underway in California, which has the potential to reshape one of our most basic and prevalent industries: food. As the eighth largest economy in the world and a chronic trend-setter for the U.S. as a whole, California’s upcoming vote on Proposition 37 asks whether or not GMOs—genetically modified organisms—should be labeled on food packages. Ever since the initiative earned a place on the November 6th ballot, a select group of companies have been doing everything in their power to assure that Californians vote against such a plan: essentially, that they vote in favor of their own ignorance.
A genetically modified organism is any organism that has had its genetic composition adjusted by either adding to or subtracting from its original, innate DNA. GMOs are used in anything from medical research to agriculture, with their purpose in the latter being to speed growth, increase resistance to pathogens, enhance nutrients, or any other supposed benefit. The first food that was genetically modified and sold commercially was a delayed-ripening tomato, in 1994. As Michael Pollan points out in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “Big Food” and the corporations that engineer GMOs—Monsanto, DuPont, BASF—do not trust consumers to buy their products if and when they are labeled accordingly.
This distrust is evident. Big Food has spent $35 million in television ads attempting to persuade Californians to vote against a measure the majority support. The Organic Consumer Association lists dozens of contributors to this campaign with Monsanto ($7 million), DuPont ($3 million), Bayer ($2 million), and Dow ($2 million) leading the charge. Companies that own “organic” brands are fighting the labeling initiative as well. As of August, they include:
- Coca-Cola, owner of Odwalla and Honest Tea, has given $1,164,400 to defeat Prop 37
- ConAgra, owner of Hunt’s Organic, Alexia Food, and Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, has given $1,076,700
- Dean Foods, owner of Silk, White Wave, and Horizon, has given $253,000
- General Mills, owner of Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen, has given $520,000
- Grocery Manufacturers Association has given $375,000
- Kellogg’s, owner of Kashi, Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, and Morningstar Farms, has given $632,000
- PepsiCo, owner of Naked Juice and Tostito’s Organic, has given $1,716,300
- Smucker Co., owner of R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic, has given $388,000
Vanity Fair, in 2008, published the investigation “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear,” which exposes the company’s brutal intimidation of farmers and the nonstop legal actions it takes against them. It also details Monsanto’s history of environmental disasters, contributions to chemical warfare, manufacturing of carcinogens and artificial hormones, ties to the government (its attorneys and board members have served on the F.D.A., the E.P.A., and the Supreme Court), hypocrisies, lies, and recent revision of its image as a selfless, worldwide agricultural savior with no other agenda but to feed the starving. Its website is as kind and earthy as they come.
Neither Monsanto’s, nor any other company’s, tampering with nature has ever been proven safe. The F.D.A. performs no independent testing of GMOs and the biotech firms prevent researchers from conducting their own tests, claiming a legal right to “protect” their patented technologies. Meanwhile, more than 75% of processed foods in the United States contain unlabeled GMOs, including most corn and soy, much of which is fed to animals raised for human consumption, and sugar beets, which are placed in sweeteners and additives.
The right to know if one’s food has been genetically altered is as fundamental as free speech and the pursuit of happiness. Yet nineteen states have tried, and failed, to create GMO labeling laws. If Californians vote yes next month on Prop 37, the sheer weight of the state’s economy has led food manufacturers to agree—and dread—that it might as well be a national law.