Letters to the Editor

Vote yes on I-522 for your right to know | LETTER TO THE EDITOR

        - Bainbridge Island Review photo
— image credit: Bainbridge Island Review photo

To the editor:

We Washington state voters will soon be asked to vote on I-522, a landmark food safety initiative. Many people I listened to on the street and on the bus, for example, seem concerned but confused.

Clarity is in order to help voters inform themselves so they can vote wisely on the issue. Knowledge of historical precedents and economic perspectives may help many voters make the best choice. Here’re some of the most important issues to influence the I-522 campaign.

First, let’s review some socio-cultural influences surrounding us here in the U.S. Our economic system is currently defined as capitalism, and as such is called a "free market." It’s been said free markets can only be free if an educated and informed public supports them.

The free market, however, also drives our information outlets. If you’ve watched television lately you know it’s a game you must “pay to play.” On television you are only allowed 12 minutes of viewing pleasure until you must “pay to play,” and unless you use the mute button, you will pay in triplicates! And in our free market economy game, the more money you have the greater your advantage to “play.”

Back to I-522, a bill to require food growers and manufacturers to label Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods as such.

GMOs were added to our foods in 1994 without our knowledge and consent. The GE food is processed in a sterile laboratory and complex technological environment, far away from farmers’ greenhouses and the good earth. The DNA of a plant or animal with bacteria or another microbes serving as genome carriers is bombarded into the DNA of another plant or animal at speeds reaching 600 mph. Eventually the DNA intruders attach to host DNA to achieve the desired recombined traits of both. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Genetically engineered foods were once described by the chemical industry as “super foods.” They would cure starvation in third world countries, reduce farm labor, cure the “problem” of weeds and pests, and help foods grow even in adverse climates. Those were large promises they have so far been unable to fulfill.

Large amounts of corn and soy are currently grown in the U.S. These are major farming commodities and constitute the bulk of feed fed to animals. They’re also subsidized by taxpayer dollars under the disingenuous term “farm subsidies.” Oops, there goes the free market! By 2013, 80 percent to 90 percent of each of these plants is genetically engineered and marketed to food producers and farmers alike, unbeknownst to the majority of American consumers.

It is also important to understand a little bit about the companies who research and manufacture GMOs. They are chemical companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical. Their products include many banned toxins such as DDT, Agent Orange, Napalm, PCB and Bovine Growth Hormone. More facts on Monsanto in particular are available on http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/.

Long before GMOs entered our food, there was a growing agricultural movement in America toward sustainable farming and away from the use of toxic chemicals to grow our food. This movement was largely fueled by making widely available to the public many facts about the safety of chemicals used in “conventional” agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture with organic farming was born. This favored a variety of ways to work with nature to cultivate plants and animals within productive, healthy ecosystems. The thinking behind this movement is if you did not use harmful chemicals and synthetic fertilizers on plants, the result would be a more nutritious plant. In fact, all of the food products were higher quality and more nutritious. Research and experience bore this out.

Included in the sustainable agriculture movement was an increasing awareness of the potential harm of GMOs in our food supply. Fueling the movement by activists and experts alike; were the proven harmful effects of GMOs on human health. Until now, the FDA had accepted industry’s word alone, that GMOs were safe. Despite the economic prowess of the chemical companies in the media, independent testing was done of GMO corn. The results were definitive that GE corn fed to rats caused abnormalities including tumors, allergies, digestive problems, liver failure and death.

A largely unknown fact about GMOs is U.S. states with GMOs are banned from trading such food products with 15 countries and in 49 of US’s major trading partners require labeling. Consumers demanded and succeeded in having foods contaminated with GMOs labeled as such.

Shouldn’t countries struggling with hunger be taught self-reliance and seed saving instead of being caught in a web of debt and dependency? Did you know an estimated 125,000 farmers in India have committed suicide over this issue as of 2008 with an average of 1,000 suicides a month and up to a quarter-million dead in what the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice term “the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history?” http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/18337-battling-indias-monsanto-protection-act-farmers-demand-end-to-gmo, http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2011/05/18/every-30-minutes-an-indian-farmer-commits-suicide-biotech-is-not-to-blame.

The U.S. marketplace is unlike any other marketplace in the industrial world. It is described as “free,” but it also free from regulation related to consumer safety. This is sharply contrasted to Europe, where products safety must be proven safe before being introduced.

Now what does that have to do with I-522?

This Nov. 5, Washington state voters and consumers are placed in double jeopardy by being forced with monolithic corporate control of the information systems, de-regulated industry by GMO corporate CEOs including Michael Taylor who are in a revolving door between industry and the FDA — there appears to be a conflict of interest for consumers, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it seem appropriate and ethical Monsanto and other big chemical corporations provide full disclosure about GMOs or simply recuse themselves about product safety claims? Or should we just do as they say and just “trust them?”

Voters must now sort through the conflicting claims and must decide what is true about I-522. Are GMOs saving the world from starvation? Have they made agriculture less laborious? Are they making our food system more secure? As food is medicine, so to speak, are GMOs even healthy for us? In a truly democratic system consumers would have facts they can rely on. Right?

But when it comes to I-522, the NO on I-522 Campaign provided short, shallow answers. They say labeling will cost consumers hundreds of dollars per year in labeling costs. They say labeling will require more work for farmers. They attack the language of the bill by saying it misleads consumers.

Let’s look at advocates for labeling and voting Yes on I-522. What is their rebuttal? They say labeling will give consumers more information about our food so we can make informed choices. They want full disclosure on the label, a privilege enjoyed by 49 other countries without cost to consumers. The truth is labeling changes are made with a simple keystroke and changing labels is a common practice. Solving hunger? Well, even Third World countries have banned GMOs! Not exactly solving a hunger problem, is it? Lastly, the text of I-522 does explain what the bill exactly covers. This bill is designed to satisfy legislative requirements.

What else is the well-funded no campaign not saying about GE food products?

Transnational chemical corporations such as Monsanto behave as entitled Medieval fiefdoms, are litigious, and have already sued growers for patent infringement when Monsanto GE seeds germinate and grow on neighbor’s fields. Farmers are not allowed to save GE seeds. With an increasing influence on global trade and patented seed, farmers in India the suicide has reached the thousands each year as noted earlier. Around the world, larger Big Agra farms are devouring smaller farms and putting many farmers out of business. The heavy use of chemical pesticides and herbicides is polluting our groundwater and creating super weeds that require stronger herbicides to rid them. These issues are among the ones that we need to consider.

Should chemical companies and farms be allowed to operate in secrecy or be required to fully disclose food additives that have their DNA re-defined beyond recognition to potentially become food allergens? And more importantly, will our growing awareness of technology serve corporate profits or will it help us cultivate and cherish ourselves in service of the planet and humankind? Farmers for food quality and sustainability struggle in this environment. We support their efforts to grow healthy food for our tables.

Behind the I-522 campaign are these issues and more. How our collective rights are defined DO indeed need our agreement. That is what I-522 is, and why voting “YES!” is our agreement to know what is in our food and we have the right to know!

Let’s support an informed decision-making process. I am unwilling to shift that responsibility to our corporate sector. That is why I am committed to vote yes on I-522, to vote yes for my right to know what it in my food! It’s your right to know, too.

SUSAN O'NEIL

Seattle

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