Landmark Election for GMOs
New day for GM Foods?
As noted in an earlier post, November 6 will not only be a big day in Presidential politics but also a landmark day in the history of Genetically Modified or GM foods. California’s Proposition 37 , if passed by voters, will do what no legislative body has so far done in the U.S.: require foods that contain GM ingredients to carry a label that says so. Americans have been eating GM food for 18 years and for the first time, we may have the chance to know it in advance.
As Michael Pollan points out in a recent New York Times article, this is a decision that has the potential “to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too”.
His reasoning runs that, as California is so big, if food producers are required to label foods containing GMOs there, they will likely use the same labeling throughout the country. And this, according to Pollan, will have a major impact “not just the fate of genetically modified crops but the public’s confidence in the industrial food chain”. Good reading, check it out.
In the Real World, its hard to know
I can say from my own experience in running restaurants that finding out if the foods we purchase contain GM food is not a trivial problem. According to the USDA National Organic Program, food labeled “100% Organic” or “Made with organic ingredients” may not contain GM ingredients. However, it is not always possible to find organic versions of all food products. Try finding soy oil, for example that is non-GM or organic.
Burden on small farmers
The picture is further complicated by the fact that many high quality small farmers and artisan food producers are do not have Organic certification. When I talk to farmers and ask “are you organic”, it is not uncommon to have them reply that they are not, simply because the cost of the organic certification is prohibitively high for a small operation. This is generally followed by an in depth description of how they raise their veggies or animals without chemicals, hormones etc…in other words, that they are “everything but”, organic. At the same time, there are many Certified Organic farms that are still farming on an industrial scale, and whether or not their product is better that similar products from Non-Organic factory farms is an open question. So, although I seek to purchase organic whenever possible, the actual situation on the ground is much more complicated.
I recently asked one of my dry goods suppliers to provide a list of which of the products that they sell contain GM ingredients (note: dry goods suppliers are the people who sell us normal bulk pantry items, like sugar, salt, mustard, etc…all the basics that we don’t really think of as fresh or local). They couldn’t do it, not because they didn’t want to but because they just don’t have the information available to them.
Who Gets to Choose?
Opinions vary as to whether or not GM foods are safe to eat. I have read enough to have serious concerns. However, one sure thing is that studies show an overwhelming percentage of Americans favor labeling foods with GM ingredients so that they can decide for themselves whether or not to eat them. For a detailed account of the story of how big Agra-business has tried to prevent us from having that information, I recommend you check out the book Seeds of Deception by Jefferey M. Smith. And check out Mark Bittman’s article in todays New York Times for an account of the all out effort by Agra-business to defeat Califorias Prop 37.