Over the last month, some of America's biggest and most profitable chemical companies teamed up with a handful of large food companies to spend $45 million in an advertising blitz to stop Prop 37, an initiative that nearly one million Californians asked to put on the ballot. Prop 37 will require California to label foods that include genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.
Sadly, the No on Prop 37 spending spree has not contributed much information to the debate. Their ads haven't actually said anything about GE crops or the questions that have been reasonably raised by average citizens. Instead they have attacked the wording of the citizens' referendum and offered false (and discredited) scare tactics that the referendum, if passed will take money out of the citizens' pockets.
In fact, the opponents' ads have done nothing to reassure consumers about the safety of these foods. No wonder, since our government's approval of these crops has been based 100 percent on studies conducted or funded by the chemical companies who own these patented crops. And while these companies argue emphatically that these crops are no different from traditional crops and therefore should not be labeled, they do have the small problem of explaining why they were able to successfully secure and prosecute patents which explicitly declare just how different they are.
Led by large multi-million dollar donations from Monsanto and DuPont, giant chemical and food companies spent over one million dollars per day telling consumers they do not need the right to know what is in their foods. This was nearly ten times more than the Yes on 37 forces were able to muster, and so today's vote is a David vs. Goliath battle, an unequal contest between the single voter and corporate money. With all of the arguments that the No on Prop 37 has put forward, they have not been able to say "you'd be better off if you don't know what's in your food." A defeat of this proposition supports their interests, not the consumers.
If money prevails in this battle, those who seek greater transparency in our food supply can take heart: this is just a skirmish in a much larger campaign where public sentiment is on our side.
Ultimately, labeling of GE foods will be resolved at the federal level. More than 50 countries require the labeling of GE foods, including China, Russia and every member of the European Union. Winning the day in Washington is the mission of the Just Label It (JLI) Coalition and its 600 member organizations. JLI supports Prop 37, but its primary strategy has been to petition the FDA to review and update its 20-year-old voluntary guidelines. To date, more than 1.2 million Americans have signed a petition asking the FDA to require labeling.
You probably know the U.S. already requires labeling for irradiated food and even orange juice from concentrate. Making this information available places the choice with consumers and is a testament to the transparency and openness that typically sets America apart from other nations.
The chemical companies simply can't be trusted to look out for us. One of the very first genetically engineered crops allowed into the commercial market for human consumption was corn, and it came with an assurance regarding the insecticide built into its DNA. The companies said the insecticide would not be digestible and that it would be broken down in saliva. However, a study later revealed the insecticide was detected in the umbilical-cord blood of pregnant women.
And despite assurances to Congress and regulators over the last two decades that these engineered crops would lead to less chemical usage, a peer-reviewed paper published this summer shows that, in fact, we have used over 525 million more pounds of herbicides because of these GE crops. Worse, the Union of Concerned Scientists has shown that despite the patent holders' claims, there has been NO evidence of increased intrinsic yields from these crops.
Combine these findings with the tens of millions of dollars the Industry has just spent to stop Prop 37 and a clearer picture begins to emerge of just what is happening here.
This spending spree did not yield a debate about whether we should or should not have the same rights of transparency held by citizens around the world. And that's because the big chemical giants don't want to have that discussion. Polls show that when they are not blasting their ads, 90 percent of American consumers support labeling of GE foods. It's just common sense that until independent research is conducted by parties other than those who will profit from sale of these seeds and chemicals, we deserve the right to know what we are eating.
Just Label It salutes those who are fighting in California for the right to know. They are helping set the table for a national movement toward labeling of GE foods and have raised the profile of this issue far beyond California's borders.
This is more than a fight for federal labeling. It is a question of whether our government is of, for and by the people, or of, for and by a handful of chemical companies.
This battle is just warming up.