GMOs (or “genetically modified organisms”) have been created through the gene-splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This science allows DNA material from one species to be injected into another species in a laboratory, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in Nature or result from traditional crossbreeding methods. Doing this provides major financial benefits to biotechnology companies and large-scale farming corporations….for instance, Monsanto’s seed is made resistant to its toxic herbicide Roundup, making farmers dependent on its use. You can learn more about GMOs in this article in Natural Life Magazine’s September/October 2011 issue.
Proponents claim that GE crops benefit the environment through the reduced use of herbicides and insecticides, and increase crop yields, but researchers have found the opposite to be true. If you need further proof that the benefit of GMOs is to Monsanto and the processors using GMOs, rather than to human or environmental health, just check out how much money they are spending to convince consumers and lobby governments that they are safe and to fight labeling in the U.S.
GMOs are banned, restricted, or labeled in about sixty countries, including Australia, Japan, and all of the European Union. Polls consistently show that a significant majority of North Americans (up to ninety percent in the U.S.) would like to be able to tell if the food they’re purchasing contains GMOs. The Non-GMO Project’s verification seal is one voluntary program that provides the North American public an opportunity to make an informed choice. Many (myself included) think mandatory labeling is the best answer.
The upscale Whole Foods chain in North America has taken the lead on informing its customers. Its house brands have been labeled by the Non-GMO Project for some time. And it has recently announced that all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores containing GMOs will be labeled as such by 2018. It’s not yet clear how its suppliers will react to this new policy, or how it will be implemented. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents mainstream food companies and retailers, predictably opposes the Whole Foods move, saying, “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk.” And yet again, I wonder what, if there isn’t anything to hide, they’re trying so hard to hide!
Consumer groups and most others who have been working on the labeling initiative are pleased with Whole Foods’ announcement. And consumer demand is a strong force for change. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It project (supported by over six hundred companies and organizations), calls the Whole Foods decision a “game changer” in the same way that Walmart’s 2008 decision to stop selling milk from cows treated with bovine growth hormone was probably a tipping point that has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the practice in the U.S.
However, we must not lose focus on the fact that Monsanto and its ilk are still responsible for the vast majority of the world’s food supply and must be stopped from poisoning us and the planet. Nor can we let up on the push for a strong, mandatory labeling program. I’d hate to see “GMO-free” go the way of other terms like “natural,” “eco-friendly,” and even “organic” as just one more greenwashing, feel-good, but meaningless marketing label.
It’s a nasty and expensive, David versus Goliath battle. But I am more hopeful than I’ve been in a long time that we can reverse the trend towards GMO-contaminated food.