Farmers and eaters around the country and the world are watching the Nov. 6 election in California with bated breath.
Will Proposition 37 -- requiring labeling of GMOs in our food -- pass? Note that even China requires labeling! But here in the U.S., GMOs took off in the 1990s with no public debate, and today they're in most processed foods, making Americans the world's GMO guinea pigs.
We know it's easy to get sunk by "information overload" and agribusiness advertising. So far the largest GMO maker, Monsanto, and other industry giants have plowed at least $35 million into keeping us in the dark.
To help us think straight, we've prepared seven points to consider and share with your friends -- all backed by authoritative studies. Here's what they reveal:
1. GMOs have never undergone standard testing or regulation for human safety. And now that they're in 70 percent of processed foods, it's extremely difficult for scientists to isolate their health risks.
2. But we know that GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies. A 2009 review of 19 studies found mammals fed GM corn or soy developed "liver and kidney problems" that could mark the "onset of chronic diseases." Most were 90-day studies. In a new two-year study, rats fed GM corn developed two to three times more tumors -- some bigger than a quarter of their total body weight -- and these tumors appeared much earlier than in rats fed non-GM corn. Among scientists, the study has its defenders and critics, but even the critics underscore that we need more long-term studies.
3. And the most widely used GMOs are paired with an herbicide linked to serious health risks. GM crops -- Roundup Ready soy and corn -- are treated with the herbicide glyphosate, which in exposed humans has been associated with DNA damage. In the lab, it's proven toxic to human liver cells.
4. The consequences of GMO technology are inherently unpredictable. Inserting a single gene can result in multiple, unintended DNA changes and mutations. "Unintended effects are common in all cases where GE [genetic engineering] techniques are used," warn scientists. One such environmental consequence -- genetic contamination of other plants -- is already documented. Note that unlike food, once released into the environment, seeds can't be "recalled"!
5. GMO makers intimidate and silence farmers and scientists. GMO corporations use patents and intellectual property rights to sue farmers, block research, and threaten investigators. "For a decade," protested Scientific American editors in 2009, GMO companies "have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research," so "it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised."
6. GMOs undermine our food security. Within the biotechnology market, Monsanto alone controls 90 percent of GE crops worldwide. And Monsanto is one of three GMO companies including DuPont and Syngenta that control 70 percent of the global seed market, reinforcing monopoly power over our food. GMO seeds are costly and must be purchased every year, so they worsen farmers' indebtedness, dependency, and vulnerability to hunger.
7. GMOs aren't needed in the first place, so why would we take on these risks and harms? Studies show that safe, sustainable farming practices applied worldwide could increase our food supply as much as 50 percent. And keep in mind that the world's already producing 2,800 calories for every person on earth every day -- more than enough. And that's just with what's left over after using half the world's grain for feed, fuel and other purposes, and wasting one-third of all food. So the urgent question isn't about "more" anyway. It is, How can all of the world's people gain the power to secure healthy food? And a good start is knowing what's in our food.
For a cool, just-released animated video devouring the myth that we need industrial ag, see foodmyths.org.
Shopping in the Know (Not GMO)
• Avoid processed foods! It's a simple way to reduce exposure to the four most common GM ingredients: non-organic forms of soy, canola, cottonseed and corn, including high-fructose corn syrup.
• Look for the voluntary "non-GMO" label.
• Buy "certified organic," which ensures that no GMO ingredients were used.
• Visit www.NonGMOShoppingGuide.com for a list of thousands of GMO products and brands.
To sort more food myths from facts, visit the new Food MythBusters: the Real Story About What We Eat website at FoodMyths.Org. And, if you live in California, vote Nov. 6 for Proposition 37 to require GMO labeling.
Speak out, wherever you are. Demand federal GMO labeling and work to end GMOs.
Follow Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fmlappe