By Josette Madonia
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
On February 7, 2013, Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food (also known as GMOs or genetically modified organisms) in raw agriculture that is imported from outside Hawaii. When the bill in Hawaii was introduced it also included the labeling of genetically modified food produced within the state, but was amended when it went to committee review. This change exempts local producers from labeling genetically modified foods. The amendment comes as a big disappointment for some of its supporters who say it is an disembowelment of the original bill.
Previously, in 2004, Mendocino County in California passed a ban to make it “unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to propogate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County. (Measure H-2004, passed March 2, 2004)”. However, in Mendocino there were no GMOs being produced. The initiative was passed as a preventative measure to allow Mendocino “Wine” County to protect its grapevines and wine yeast from genetic modification. Other counties in California, Trinity and Marin, have also passed bans on GMOs. Then in May 2004, something happened that could reverse the efforts of county and local governments. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sponsored the “biotechnology state uniformity resolution”. ALEC includes state legislators and corporate sponsors. Their biotechnology state uniformity resolution allows states to override local and county measures – like those efforts in Mendocino County. These pre-emption bills are funded by business interests related to large-scale industrial agriculture. Arizona is one of many states that have passed this resolution.
Last week, in Vermont, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, testified before the House Agriculture Committee in Vermont to support their state’s labeling bill. Jerry Greenfield stated that food producers “should be proud of what’s in their products”. They testified that “the transition to non-GE ingredients will not affect the cost to consumers” of their products. Ben & Jerry declared on their website that they will transition to packaging that will label their products with respect to GMO by 2014. Ben & Jerry’s website states,
We have a long history of siding with consumers and their right to know what’s in their food. We fought long and hard for labeling of rBGH, which was the first genetically engineered technology used in the US food system. We thank and encourage all those who are continuing this fight in support of transparency and the consumer’s right to know.
The discussion on GMOs and their safety is gaining traction in the United States. And this is justified because “over 110 million hectares of agricultural land is currently cultivated with GM crops, around half of this is in the USA, the single largest GM crop cultivator. The global area given over to GM has doubled in the last 5 years”.
Given the widespread growth of GM crops, there is evidence to show that there has not been a significant increase to U.S. crop yields since they introduced in the mid-90’s. In January, Dr. Vandana Shiva and public interest lawyer Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, both visited Hawaii to show support for the bill. Kimbrell talked about “GMO myths” and said that, at a minimum, GMOs should be labeled. The GMO myths Kimbrell cited were from Union of Concerned Scientists 2009 report entitled Failure to Yield. In addition to their failure to yield, the use of genetically engineered crops and seed have been shown to promote pesticide resistance, increase herbicide use, spread gene contamination, expand monoculture, marginalize alternatives, lead to excessive lobbying, suppress research, and fall short on feeding the world.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped set up the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in 2006 to combat world hunger. If the end result of the Green Revolution that was introduced in India in the 1960s and ’70s is any indication of the what’s in store for Africa, there is much for Africa to worry about. The story in India is one of farmer debt from using the “high yield” crops. This debt has led to Indian farmers committing suicide by drinking the pesticide that they depend heavily upon and that has put them in this debt cycle. In Africa, the Gates Foundation is relying on biotech to combat hunger and has promised crops that are drought tolerant, yet theses genetically modified crops do not outperform traditional varieties. The foundation has also spent more than $111 million to biofortify the genetically engineered crops so that they will have a higher vitamin content despite indication that a diverse diet goes much further than GMOs in supporting good nutrition.
Robyn O’Brien, a former financial and food industry analyst, has researched the health of the American food system. She founded AllergyKids Foundation. Robyn began her research when her own child had a severe allergic reaction to her breakfast food one morning. One of many health concerns of GMOs is their strong correlation to food allergies. O’Brien has pointed to the “dramatic correlation between the introduction of genetically engineered soy, which was introduced in 1996, and within that first year, there was a 50% increase seen in soy allergies. And within the first five years of the introduction of genetically engineered soy, there was a doubling of peanut allergy. Studies are showing now that there are allergens in this genetically engineered soy, and they are 41% similar to peanut allergen.” Another concern O’Brien brings up, as do many others, is that no human trials have been done to test the safety of genetically engineered food.
Video of TEDxAustin Robyn O’Brien 2011:
In Australia, genetic engineer, Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury states,
I’ve had many industry scientists, managers, economists say to me: “Well, Americans have been eating GMOs for years and they aren’t all dying. So what’s the problem?” I then ask them to tell me how many studies have been conducted on the effects of GMOs in food in America? How much are Americans eating, and how long have they been eating these amounts? I get no answers because there are zero scientific studies testing the effects of GMOs on people in the US. Most GMOs are used for animal feed rather than human food, so while they are in processed and junk food no one has ever quantified how much is eaten by the average American. And GM production in the US has only reached significant levels in the last decade, maybe less. So we have no idea when any potential adverse effects would first begin to appear. If labeling helps answer those questions for those industry scientists, then let’s have labeling!”
Luckily, for GMO-labeling supporters, the bill introduced in Arizona is at the state level and should be untouchable by ALEC’s current biotechnology state uniformity resolution. A bill that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food, SB1180, was introduced into the Arizona State Senate on January 24, 2013 by state Senator Ed Ableser of District 26. SB1180 is the first time legislation to label genetically engineered foods has been introduced into Arizona State Legislature. Currently, the bill has been sent to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy, and Military. The committee members are: Ed Ableser, Steve Gallardo, John McComish, Al Melvin, Robert Meza, Michele Reagan, and Bob Worsley. To contact your representative or committee members visit the Arizona State Legislature website.
Grassroots efforts in Arizona, including GMO-Free Arizona, are bringing citizens together for activism and educating the public about GMOs. GMO-Free Arizona is promoting the 2013 GMO Free Voter Education Tour, Arizona Kickoff, February 21-24th with Jeffery M. Smith. Smith is the leading non-GMO consumer advocate. He has authored the bestselling book on the health dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “His meticulous research documents how biotech companies continue to mislead legislators and safety officials to put the health of society at risk, and the environment in peril”. Smith will be speaking on the health concerns of GMOs at his Phoenix visit at 6:30 pm, February 21st at Shadow Rock Mountain Campus.