10/07/2011 11:48 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2011

Why We Should Label Genetically Engineered Food

I've recently been activated on the genetically engineered food, or GMO, issue: If nothing is done, any crop or animal with significant market volume will be genetically engineered within the next 10 to 20 years, and consumers won't know. The main arguments for labeling are:

1) American consumers have a right to know and judge for themselves what they put in their own and children's bodies. We don't need Mama-Monsanto-knows-best force-feeding us untested, potentially unhealthy GMO food because we can't be trusted to make our own informed decisions.

2) GMO presents health risks, for example pesticide from GMO corn showing up in mothers' and babies' blood.

3) GMO herbicide-tolerant crops require more chemical herbicides, which is breeding herbicide-resistant superweeds. GMO = chemical companies selling more chemicals.

4) GMO is contaminating the non-GMO seed supply, interfering with farmers' right to farm free of GMO.

5) Yield improvements are negligible, and GMO equals chemical-intensive fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide farming, which is not economically or environmentally sustainable.

6) If GMO supporters think GMO is so great, then they should proudly embrace GMO labels. Great quote from a Consumers Union spokesperson in a Chicago Tribune piece: "'If companies say genetic engineering is fine, then OK, let's label it and let the consumers make their own decisions,' said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports. 'That's what all the free market supporters say. So let's let the market work properly.'"

GMO as applied to agriculture is a tragedy, especially in the developing world. Biotech likes to market GMO as vitamins in drought-resistant rice to starving people, but GMO varieties that have been commercialized are generally pesticide/herbicide resistant so Monsanto can sell more chemicals, which is breeding resistant superweeds, and yield improvements are marginal. There's also been an epidemic of farmer suicides in India as farmers go into debt for GM cotton and then kill themselves. GMO is basically chemical companies selling more chemicals, which farmers in the developing world neither need nor can afford. And synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are all petroleum based so will continue to climb in price, and that isn't sustainable environmentally or economically.

The UN published a great (and relatively short) report last year about how "Agro-Ecological," "less chemical-intensive, more knowledge-intensive" agriculture is what the world needs, and it's worth reading through. Knowing what plants to intercrop to minimize pest pressure, promote water retention, and build soil fertility naturally is agriculture that is knowledge based, which can't be monetized and thus is universally opposed by biotech. Biotech concerns own the Obama U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as much as every other previous administration. Obama's USDA just commercialized Roundup-ready alfalfa--only 7 percent of alfalfa right now is even sprayed with herbicide, and contamination of non-GM alfalfa is inevitable. Also, a GMO corn for ethanol was recently commercialized, which is a sad, perverse incentive of the subsidy schemes in place that promote huge overproduction of corn; corn kernels should not be making biofuel, as the energy return is almost nil versus the energy inputs (compared to sugar cane or cellulosic feedstocks like switchgrass and waste straw).

On a personal front, my dad developed the industry-standard, most-used firefighting foam concentrate for Monsanto in the '80s, used in structure and forest fires in the U.S. and around the world. (Phoschek WD 881). I grew up selling firefighters on foam with my dad, and we have a rad fire truck in his honor you can check out at In addition, our company had to drop our Dr. Bronner's food products in the late '90s because they were based on soy ingredients that we could no longer obtain in non-GM form (about 5 percent of our business at the time).

I'm fine with cool uses of genetic engineering, like E. coli making insulin, better algae for biofuels, and stuff that is not about Monsanto controlling and contaminating the agricultural seed supply and selling more chemicals. This has to stop, or we all will be living on Planet Monsanto within a couple of decades.

Note: Maria Rodale published this as a guest blog on her Huffington Post blog on August 30, 2011.

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