THE BLOG
10/28/2014 08:04 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2014

Food Fight Over GMO Labeling: Colorado Proposition 105 and Oregon Proposition 92



It's not nice to fool Mother Nature

Much purposeful confusion and obfuscation is being generated by big agribusiness and the biotech industry that oppose labeling Genetically Modified (GM) or Genetically Engineered (GE) foods.

Opponents of labeling GM foods present some specious arguments, alleging increased costs of labeling (actually minimal, as little as $1.27 onetime cost per consumer); conflicts with "National Standards" (which don't exist, labeling is strictly voluntary); and stating that "no other state or country" has labeling standards -- in fact, 64 other countries require labeling. Disingenuously, they protest that not all GMO foods would be labeled under Proposition 105, even as they oppose labeling. Nevertheless, it's a beginning, and most packaged, processed and raw foods in the grocery store would be labeled. Likewise, opponents admonish, consumers should simply buy foods labeled non-GMO or Organic, still preventing identification of the large percentage of foods that are Genetically Modified.

Another false argument of Big Agriculture is presented by Former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Scawcroft, and current Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar, who warn that Proposition 105 will require every farmer "to purchase two sets of euipment to plant, harvest, process and transport crops: one for GMO and one for conventional crops." A specious argument, says a proponent of organic agriculture -- in fact, "...agricultural and food businesses routinely use the same equipment for organic, conventional and GMO products. There are established and proven methods to quickly and efficiently clean and purge equipment to keep equipment and operations productive."

A David (the people) vs. Goliath (giant corporations) struggle over GM food labeling has unleashed $100 million in spending between 2012 and mid-2014 by Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to block GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states. Opponents of labeling Genetically Engineered foods disingenuously state that labeling should be done at the federal level. Nevertheless, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are at the forefront of fierce opposition to a federal law, even as they get behind a federal proposal to outlaw state GMO food labeling.

Opponents of GMO labeling, including Coca Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc and biotech seed makers Monsanto Co. and Dupont, have spent more than $27.5 million on lobbying -- about three times more than they spent in all of 2013 -- in the first six months of 2014 alone.

Earlier this year when Vermont became the first U.S. state to mandate labeling of foods made of genetically modified organisms, the GMA and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), another trade-lobby group, launched a lawsuit against Vermont over the food labeling law.

Colorado and Oregon 2014 Ballot Initiatives: The Right to Know

By mid-October, it was reported that opponents of two state initiatives for consumers' right-to-know what is in their food had already raised more than $15.1 million. The biggest single donor to the "NO" vote is biotech giant Monsanto, contributing more than $6.3 million to oppose the Oregon and Colorado GMO labeling initiatives. Pepsi has donated $2 million and General Mills has donated more than $1.5 million. Other heavyweight opponents include Kraft, Dow AgroSciences, J.M. Smucker, Land O' Lakes and ConAgra.

Pro/Con Spending for Colorado Proposition 105 and Oregon Proposition 92

Graphic of spending for and against Oregon #92 and Colorado #105 measures requiring labeling GMO foods. 

Some will be surprised at company brands spending against the initiative - Gerber, Ocean Spray, Campbell's Soup Co., Silk products, Smithfield, General Mills (which bought out Annie's Homegrown), White Wave, etc.

One-Page Graphic of Pro and Con Spending on GMO Food Labeling.

Links Between Food Allergies, Genetically Modified Crops, and Increased Herbicide Use

With the huge jump in childhood and adult food allergies in the U.S. over almost two decades, the lack of transparency in food labeling makes it difficult for doctors and pediatricians to determine the source of food allergies and sensitivities. Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology writes that since 1996 bacteria, virus and other genes that have been artificially inserted into the DNA of soy, corn, cottonseed and canola plants "carry the risk of triggering life-threatening allergic reactions."

One of the only countries conducting annual evaluations of food allergies, the U.K. noted in 1999 a 50% increase in reactions to soy over the previous year, which occurred after genetically modified soy was introduced to the U.K. from the U.S., raising "serious new questions about the safety of GM foods," said a spokesman for York laboratory. Genes artificially inserted into the cellular structure of a plant, animal or microorganism in the process of genetic modification may produce a new protein that triggers an allergic reaction.

Genetically modified corn has been engineered to produce pesticides in its own cellular tissue. The vast majority of the corn grown in the U.S. has been engineered to contain bacillus thuringensis (Bt), toxic to humans, and is sprayed with Roundup, also toxic to humans, during the growing process.

Though few studies have evaluated the effects on humans of corn genetically modified with Bt toxin, significant disturbances in the immune systems of mice fed genetically modified corn has been reported.

Once considered toxic only to insects, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Hematology and Thromboembolic Diseases found that Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) toxin introduced by Monsanto in corn and soy crops is more toxic to mammals than previously thought and damages red blood cells.

Since their introduction in 1996, five main commodity crops have been genetically engineered to kill insects and/or to survive heavy application of the herbicide Roundup -- corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and canola. According to the USDA, more than 93 percent of corn, soybeans and cotton are genetically modified. So do a majority of sugar beets and canola contain patented genetically engineered genes.

By 2004, farmers reportedly used an estimated 86% more herbicide on GM soy fields compared to non-GM. Higher levels of herbicide residue in GM soy are among characteristics identified in the UK soy allergy study, linked to glyphosate herbicide, or Roundup.

Considering too few studies of the effects on humans of genetically modified foods that are widely inserted into U.S. processed foods, we the people have become unwitting participants in a massive experiment. Global Research, an independent research and media organization based in Montreal, has posted Ten Scientific Studies Prove that Genetically Modified Food Can Be Harmful To Human Health.

Genetic Modification of Foods vs. Hybridization

Many still do not understand what Genetic Engineering or Genetic Modification of foods is. Some wrongly equate it with plant hybridization, or cross-breeding.

Describing differences between genetic modification and hybridization, Michael K. Hansen, Ph.D. of the Consumer Policy Institute writes that genetic engineering is not merely an extension of conventional breeding, or hybridization. Insertion of genetic material into chromosomes of a host plant occurs only with genetic modification. Whereas, hybridization is a natural process that may occur in nature, crossing two compatible plants to create a new plant with characteristics of both parent plants. It achieves expression of genetic material already present within a species, in fact, that has been present for millennia within the genetic potential of that species.

A "promoter" gene from a virus is also inserted by engineers as part of the package, to make the inserted gene express itself. Such genetic engineering "permits genetic material to be inserted from unprecedented sources. It is now possible to insert genetic material from species, families and even kingdoms which could not previously be sources of genetic material for a particular species, and even to insert custom-designed genes that do not exist in nature. As a result synthetic life forms can be created, which could not be done by conventional breeding."

At present, 64 other countries including all of the European Union, Japan and Australia and other U.S. trading partners have laws mandating labeling of genetically engineered food. Mark Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, cites the fear of big agribusiness and biotech corporations that the European experience, where GMO labeling is required and overwhelming numbers of European consumers choose to buy organic and non-GMO products, will repeat in the U.S.