Election tensions are ramping up here in Oregon – on some issues more than others. In this past week, we received no less than three mailings from those representing the NO-side of Measure 92 – the Measure calling for labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. Per recent polls, the overwhelming majority of Americans favor labeling of GE foods – this one, from ABC, indicates a whopping 93% of us want to know exactly what we put in our mouths.
First, I suppose, we should define “genetically modified” v/s “genetically engineered”. Genetic modification is an age-old concept. From the murky beginnings, one of the cornerstones of emerging civilizations has been learning to manipulate seeds and bloodlines in order to improve size and quality of crops and domestic animals. Through selective breeding, hybridizing, continued propagation of natural mutations, grafting, and so on, new or refined varieties emerged, sometimes to great societal effect. But, until the 1980’s, no one thought to cross one specie with another. After a decade in biotech labs where the basic genetic makeup of crops and animals were successfully altered with DNA from differing species, new products were introduced on the market in the mid 1990’s. In 1992, the FDA took its hands off any supervision of these new crops, relying instead on the bum science of the Biotech industry, and their continued assurances that their altered products were ‘substantially equivalent’ to the unaltered versions. But given that “Genes from insects, animals, and humans have been added to crop plants; human genes have been added to pigs and cattle. “ people are understandably getting antsy, and demand to know. And this is what Measure 92 is about.
The gist of the NO-side’s message is that labeling will affect pricing for consumers. This is, for the most part, bullshit. 64 nations around the world, including all of EU, already require labeling of GE foods, so all US exports have to comply. In other words – THEY ARE ALREADY DOING IT! The European Union is acting on the premise of “better safe than sorry”, and are exercising the “Precautionary Principle”. You see, these new technologies were all implemented without thorough testing of either short- or longterm effects on either humans, or environment . Nobody – here or over there – can offer any guarantees whatsoever that they are safe, because that assertion has yet to be proven. An interesting, but probably not coincidental, circumstance is that all these countries offer universal health care to their citizens. They are not about to embrace such a giant Unknown without a healthy dose of trepidation, because they want to keep their citizenry healthy. So, there you have it! Every genetically modified product that is exported to these 64 nations requires labeling. In addition, on our home turf, Maine, Connecticut and Vermont have already voted to require labels, so even stateside, the wheels toward fair and open communication between producer and consumer have been set in motion.
The Nay-sayers go on to point out that those who want to avoid genetically engineered food are already free to do so – the mailings suggest that anyone concerned can just buy food that is labeled “organic” or “non-GMO” foods. Sure they can. Organic growers who want to market the fact that they are organic, have to go through an exorbitant, multi-layered, highly demanding and costly process to prove that they produce foods that is pure and free of either toxins or strange genes. In the light of the hurdles the organic farmers have to jump to prove their worthiness, I find the amount of whining from the Biotech side ironic, when all that is requested is that they tell consumers about their process – that the food is genetically engineered. If anything, the costs incurred might level the playing field between the two somewhat. And really, if GE food is so fantastic – why in the world are its creators not willing to come clean and be proud about it?
A good point from the NO-side is that this really is something that should be implemented on a federal level. I agree, but given the abysmal state of the most inefficient Congress US voters have ever seen, I believe individual states are probably better off fending for themselves. Besides, the USDA and FDA – the federal organs that are supposed to regulate these sorts of things, have been hopelessly laissez-faire in their approach. The fact that the combined Biotech industry – Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, et al. – spent over half a BILLION dollars lobbying Congress between 1999 and 2011 speaks volumes of the state of affairs, wouldn’t you agree?
Labels are everywhere. Wine bottles declare sulfites, egg cartons tell you whether or not the eggs came from free-range chickens, sandwich meats state the presence of nitrates, etc. I have yet to hear either producers, distributors, or retailers bitch about it. If Biotech were truly interested in fair and open communication, they wouldn’t constantly engage in shady deals and secret back room negotiations behind locked doors. One of the full-color pamphlets we received goes on to lament the millions of dollars required for enforcing the adopted regulations – should Measure 92 pass. They are probably right – Monsanto & Co (who btw are bankrolling the NO-campaign) are the worst kind of crooks, and should probably have their entire organizations scrutinized.
Measure 92 is “complicated and misleading”, and “poorly written”, say the Nay-sayers. It might be – I honestly don’t know. But I DO know that what really matters is that it passes, as I think its implementation will hugely improve future protections for consumers and farmers alike, as well as holding the Biotech industry in check. In its essence, it is a good, worthy idea. Any crinkles can, and will, be ironed out later. The first round of the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect either, and the idea that developed into the Common Core was quickly hijacked and thwarted by a bunch of opportunist edupreneurs. At the most basic level, both were intended to improve countless lives, but will likely need a few years of streamlining to function properly. Measure 92 will get my YES-vote, even if it’s not perfect. Because I really, really want to know.