Genetic Engineering and our Food Supply: Why you should care
Today I’m going to get political on you. November 6th is election day and things are getting hot and heavy on the food scene here in California. Prop 37 – the proposal that would make labeling of genetically modified (GM) food mandatory in California – is on the table and, if passed, would be a precedent setting coup for transparency in our food supply.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are those foods that have been engineered at a genetic level to “enhance” some desirable quality in a crop, such as pest resistance, faster growth, and increased resistance to drought. This involves extracting the DNA from one species and injecting it into another species.
Genetic modification is very different from the cross-breeding and hybridization farmers have used for centuries. These traditional methods cross-breed within species: for example, you can mate a pig with another pig, but not with a potato or a mouse. With GM foods, we’re injecting tomatoes with fish genes. You don’t have to be a scientist to wonder about the implications.
While the makers of GM crops will assure us that there are no health risks to these procedures, animal studies have indicated serious risks including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. (See the American Academy of Environmental Medicine’s report from 2009 here).
But ultimately, whether you believe GM foods are safe or a serious health risk is not the issue on the table.
The issue is about empowering the public to make its own decisions about what to eat.
Prop 37 simply requires labeling GM ingredients on food products. It doesn’t take them out of our food supply, and it doesn’t involve extensive or costly certification. It will cost little to nothing to consumers (food prices certainly didn’t change when we put calorie counts on labels!) and it’s backed by health professionals. Even the FDA has admitted “providing more information to consumers about bioengineered food would be useful.”
If you choose to eat food with GM ingredients, that’s entirely your (very personal) choice. Problem is: without GM labeling, you have no choice.
Prop 37 affects everyone, whether you live in California or not.
Passing Prop 37 here would set a precedent and send a strong message to other states. The trickle down effect is important. So even if you don’t live here, this impacts you.
Here’s the sad truth: Right now, you are eating GM food.
Unless you are eating a 100% real foods diet from entirely organic food and you never eat out, then you’re eating GM food somewhere in your diet. Estimates vary, but anywhere between 80-90% of all processed and packaged foods in the US contain genetically modified ingredients. It’s no wonder the food industry and large agri-business don’t want this labeled.
I can understand their fear. Theoretically, labeling could cause a widespread move away from processed and packaged foods to real food. Imagine! I get goose-bumps. The more likely reality is that labeling won’t cause the bulk of Americans to abandon their processed foods diet. GM ingredients will simply join the ranks of other highly publicized ingredients – from high fructose corn syrup to hydrogenated oils – and we will be able to choose for ourselves.
The issue at stake is one of transparency and the right to know what’s in our food supply.
Still not convinced? Here’s a great PSA on the topic:
What can you do?
- If you are a registered voter and live in California, vote YES! to Prop 37.
- Whether you live in California or not, are registered to vote or not, spread the word! Share this post, send people to the California Right to Know website for more information, and help us rally the troops! The “no” campaign has millions of dollars behind it (that should tell you something right there), but we have the power of numbers.
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