GMO Update, Eco-Farm Conference 2013 and Beyond

The GMO Update panel at the Eco-Farm Conference featured four people who have been prominent in the ongoing campaign to label and otherwise regulate the spread of genetically modified organisms [GMOs] into our food chain and environment.

Pamm Larry, from Chico, CA, was the Grassroots Instigator of Prop 37, the ballot initiative to label GMOs in CA.

Wenonah Hauter is Executive Director, Food and Water Watch, Washington DC, and author of Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in Americahttp://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/

Rebecca Spector is West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety [CFS] in San Francisco, CA; CFS is one of the main organizations legally challenging the release of GMOs. http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/

Dag Falck is the Organic Program Manager, Nature’s Path, British Columbia; he has been involved in GMO campaigns in Canada. He says there are GE-free zones in 10 cities in BC; there’s no teeth to them, but they are statements, a step in the right direction. http://us.naturespath.com/home

Here are some of the main points they made.

All these folks considered Prop 37 a success! It lost by less than 3%, and over 6 million Californians voted for it. It catalyzed a national movement and started a national discussion, made national news, and now there are GMO labeling efforts in the works in several more states.

Rebecca Spector from CFS reported on an independent post-election poll, available at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2013/01/09/post-prop-37-poll-shows-strong-public-support-for-future-ge-food-labeling/

Prop 37 won the vote on the actual election day, 51%-49%, but lost the advance voting 56%-44%. Partly this was because of the TV attack ads run by the opposition, which got there first, in the tradition of “swift-boating.”  But this poll shows that 67% of the people still support GMO labeling: 21% of people who voted “No” still support labeling; they were convinced that prop 37 was “poorly written,” faulty.

The breakdown on Prop 37:

Latinos voted 61% Yes; Asians voted 61% Yes; African Americans voted 56% Yes; Democratic women voted 60% Yes; voters under 30 voted 55% Yes; LA County voted 52% Yes; and the SF Bay Area voted 56% Yes.

Caucasians as a group rejected the measure 58%-42%. And while people with a college degree voted against the measure 55%-45%, this same group reported in this latest poll that they support the concept of labeling GMOs by a whopping 68%-27%. Taken together, this fact plus the fact that young voters supported Prop 37 and that more people voted Yes later in the campaign, after they had seen the Yes ads, bodes well for future GMO labeling campaigns.

There is now a Washington State GMO labeling initiative. Wenonah Hauter said that many other states are considering similar measures. There is now a Coalition of States for GMO labeling. http://interoccupy.net/blog/gmo-labeling-coalition/ We need the states to prompt the feds; that is often how these changes happen, in states first [e.g., marriage equality, marijuana legalization].

CFS is working at the national level, they have a labeling petition to the FDA, and have 1.2 million comments in support. http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/2012/10/01/why-california-needs-prop-37-center-for-food-safety’s-position-on-the-food-labeling-initiative/ We WILL get GMO labeling, says Spector. She said many companies are quietly working to source and use non-GMO products.

There are bills in Congress about labeling or banning GMO salmon, and Sen. Boxer and Rep. DeFazio are proposing labeling all GMO foods. There is lots of activity happening, we are “on the verge.”

One big fight right now is over the pending approval of the farming of GMO salmon. This would be the first GMO animal approved for release into the food chain and, inevitably, the environment. Critics say escaped GMO salmon could decimate the naturally existing salmon population. For more info, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AquAdvantage_salmon;   http://www.hcn.org/blogs/goat/fda-ruling-on-gmo-salmon-worries-alaska-fishermen

Another is the pending USDA approval of GMO corn resistant to herbicides 2,4D and dicamba. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/business/energy-environment/dow-weed-killer-runs-into-opposition.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Both of these herbicides are more acutely toxic than glyphosate [main ingredient in Roundup], and their use will undoubtedly skyrocket if they are approved. Weeds have developed resistance to Roundup, so GMO corporations are developing crops resistant to 2,4D and dicamba as well as glyphosate. Critics say weeds will eventually develop resistance to these herbicides as well, forcing us onto a treadmill of ever-increasing herbicide use and new resistant GMOs, a boon to the bottom line of companies that sell both seeds and herbicides. For the CFS explanation of the situation, go to http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/04/CFS_FSR_spring_2012.pdf

One of the most interesting consequences of this campaign is that large corporations that own smaller organic companies, that were formerly “in hiding,” came out against labeling and exposed themselves that way to boycotts of their organic products, and bad publicity in general, as transparency was increased. http://www.cornucopia.org/who-owns-organic/ http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/08/prop37/

And the latest news: according to the NY Times, major food companies, including PepsiCo, ConAgra, and Wal-Mart, are considering lobbying for a national labeling program. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/business/food-companies-meet-to-weigh-federal-label-for-gene-engineered-ingredients.html?_r=0 Undoubtedly they will try to get one that best suits them, but their effort shows they have recognized the inevitability of labeling as Americans become more aware of the existence of GMOs and the issues involved.

But, as Food Safety News reports, a federal labeling law might not be such a good thing if it is a weak law and it includes preemption, meaning no state or municipality may pass a law more stringent than the federal law. This is not the case with all federal laws, but is often the result of “compromise” legislation like that being considered by large food companies. For more details, the article is at http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/02/will-a-federal-compromise-on-gmo-labeling-trump-state-law-forever/#.URVSh465M1N

Many of these articles are brought to our attention by the Eco-Farm GE News Service, which is the best source I know of breaking news about GMOs. To subscribe, go to www.eco-farm.org and join the GE News email list.

The take home message from this presentation is that political action works! We need to Take Back Our Democracy! We need to continue to let our legislators know these things are important to us. We have more power than we know if we can unite to use it.

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