Illinois and the Right to Know What’s in our Food: Labeling Genetically Engineered Food, Part II

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Could this really have been the summer that the anti-GMO tipping point was reached? Has the time finally come when so many of us have gotten so fed up with our broken and unjust food system and become so vocal that we can no longer be ignored?  Food and Water Watch (FWW) Let Me Decide, along with Illinois Right to Know, has been working very hard with activists around the state to get the genetically engineered food labeling bill SB1666 to the Senate floor. This summer three hearings were held by the Senate Subcommittee on Labeling Genetically Engineered (GE) Foods where we heard insults, absurdities, and lots of scary threats from the anti-labeling side. The pro-labeling contingent spoke of consumer protection and choice, the precautionary principle, biased and inadequate studies, worsening health problems, and increasing environmental degradation. The Sponsor of SB1666, Senator David Koehler from Peoria, never wavered in his commitment to the cause, his own preference for healthy food, and our right to know what’s in our food.

I have seen national polls (since 1996) of up to 93% of Americans in favor of labeling GE foods reflected in our own community. I know what people are saying. Our small but determined local group of FWW volunteers has worked the farmers market seven times this season. We had a table at Strawberry Fields’ Back-to-School Day. We’ve talked with hundreds of people. We shared information, books, documentaries, studies, and reports. They told us their own health horror stories (sometimes life-threatening), environmental concerns, anger at the food industry, disgust with the FDA, EPA, and USDA, their outright dismay with the control that Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry exert over our government, and by extension, our lives. Farmers shared stories. People also shared their successes in removing GE foods from their diets, improving their health, and their frustration with friends and family who just don’t get it. They expressed their belief that we absolutely have the right to know what is in our food. And, anyone who thinks that it’s only tree-hugging hippies and elitists that care about what’s in our food, well, think again. It’s Democrats and Republicans, Progressives, Liberals, Libertarians, old and young, city-folk and farmers, professionals and students. We’re all in this together.

On the flip side, we had a number of conversations with our opponents, that is, when they would speak to us: a few farmers, consumers who saw no problems with GE foods, Ag students, a professor or scientist or two. It seemed as if some were afraid to be seen talking with us. We experienced a couple of walk-by attacks by people refusing to stand still for a conversation, preferring to yell at us instead. There were genetic engineering students and biotech industry employees (ADM, Syngenta, Monsanto) who would not put their name on our petition for labeling, but some agreed that we needed more testing and labeling. One of the most memorable comments I heard this summer came from an Ag student who actually said, “They put “it” in to make the plant taste bad so that the bugs won’t eat it.” Whoa.

What have I learned, what do I believe after my own years-long quest to remove bad food from my life and a year of being a FWW volunteer and anti-GE food and pro-labeling activist? Why should we be questioning our Monsanto-owned protection agencies, even our President, and declaring our right to know what’s in our food?

GE crops are not an extension of natural breeding methods. They are not “substantially equivalent.” The process of genetic engineering is imprecise, unpredictable, and results in crops exhibiting new toxins, allergens, and changed nutritional value. Most GE crops have been engineered to be either herbicide-resistant or insecticide-producing, but there are new GE crops in the pipeline, for example those with gene-silencing capabilities that may create serious consequences for those who eat them. New crops are being engineered to produce and withstand even more toxic chemical cocktails to fight the rising disaster of superweeds and superbugs. Our soils and ecosystems are being continually degraded because of these crops and the increasing use of life-threatening chemicals.

Epidemiological studies show a rise in human aliments and diseases along with the development and proliferation of GE organisms and the increased levels in our environment of glyphosate and other agricultural chemicals. The same for farm animals fed an unnatural diet of GE corn and soy. Even our beloved pets are showing signs of distress. How can we know the dangers and damages from GE technology? We can’t, officially. No long term government supported studies on the safety of GE organisms are required anywhere in the world. The GE industry controls access for independent researchers. And, without labeling, how can we be sure of who is eating what? The FDA doesn’t even do its own testing of GE crops. It relies on GE industry-controlled studies for its rubber-stamped approval process. We can thank the “revolving door” for the infiltration of our government by Monsanto executives and corporate shills to positions of influence, power, and control. Even our State Department works hard at spreading GE technology around the world.

But, there are hundreds of independent researchers producing solid evidence in direct contradiction to what the GE industry wants us to believe. GE crops are not being engineered to be more nutritious but to increase the profits of avaricious corporations and are actually less nutritious. They are contributing to an obese and sick population. They are not more productive and are often out-performed by organic and conventional farming methods. They are not more drought tolerant but actually need more water, not less. They are fossil fuel intensive. Farmer inputs in all categories are increasing: seeds, insecticides, herbicides, water, farm improvements. They are killing our pollinators and contributing to global climate change. Once these GE organisms are introduced into the environment, they cannot be controlled, contained or recalled. It is irreversible technology that will effect life on our Earth. There have already been contaminations: GE alfalfa in Oregon, GE wheat in Washington, GE canola across Canada, and GE flax from Canada found around the world.

We are in the belly of the beast here in Illinois. Drive out from Urbana/Champaign in any direction and you are surrounded by GE corn and soy–not food but commodity crops used in the production of our highly processed and nutrient-deficient food stuffs. We are all guinea pigs in a gargantuan experiment, without our consent and largely without our knowledge. And we are paying dearly for it. The time is now. We know we are right and our ranks are swelling. Learn more. Be confident. Speak out. Be heard. Keep the pressure on. Demand labeling. It’s called Democracy.


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