to Focus on GMO Boycotts and Bans

by Melissa Diane Smith

(Opinion) – Getting honest, complete information about what’s in the food we’re considering buying seems like such a basic right, it isn’t surprising that more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of laboratory-created genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Yet it may surprise you to know that growing numbers of people who warn against the many dangers of GMOs, including myself, no longer support labeling GMOs, firmly believing that all our efforts should be focused on boycotting and banning GMOs.

It boils down to this: In our country, large agrichemical corporations have so much power that the conditions are stacked against us to get honest, truthful labeling, checking, and policing of genetically modified foods. The history of what has happened with other types of labeling shows us this is true, as I’ll soon explain. In addition, while many people are spending precious time working extremely hard for labeling on a state-by-state basis, GMOs continue to spread through wind drift and contaminate more and more conventional and organic crops.

Why I Changed My Opinion

I knew there were health risks from eating genetically modified foods a dozen years ago and became even more knowledgeable about the serious health and environmental dangers of GMOs in recent years. Knowing the many hazards of GMOs, I was against GMOs being in our food supply at all and I wanted to avoid GMOs in what I ate and have my clients and the public also be able to easily avoid GMOs to protect their health. Therefore, I was automatically “for labeling,” like virtually everyone is, without thinking about it.

But labeling is a false security blanket. As a nutritionist with many clients with food allergies and gluten intolerance, I have observed what has happened with first “food allergen-free” labeling and now “gluten-free” labeling. What I have seen is that each time labeling is enacted, the standards that are developed favor industry over people’s health, allowing a little bit of the allergens in allergen-free foods, no checking or enforcing of the guidelines, and food companies policing themselves, which some companies, perhaps many companies, don’t do at all. The label regulations are weak, which puts consumers at risk.

Examples from Other Types of Labeling

The food allergen labeling law was passed in 2004. As a Chicago Tribune special investigation found and I reported in 2008, lack of testing and policing of food allergens leads to allergic people and kids often having allergic reactions that send them to the hospital from “allergen-free” foods that aren’t really free of those allergens.

With gluten free, the situation was slightly different: People fought for close to a decade for gluten-free labeling of foods. Since there was no definitive ruling at the federal level about what constituted “gluten-free,” people who were adamant about avoiding gluten didn’t wait for federal action. Instead, they ended up being very proactive, calling companies to directly ask them if their products contained gluten, and if the products did contain gluten, asking the manufacturers to change to gluten-free ingredients. The grassroots activism by gluten-sensitive people convinced food manufacturers that there was such a demand for gluten-free foods that these food companies better get into the ballgame of offering what people want or they would lose growing numbers of customers. That consumer activism changed the marketplace and gluten-free became big business – such big business that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally got into the act and came up with its ruling on what “gluten-free” means a few months ago. As I reported here, the FDA’s decision on “gluten-free” is weak: It favors industry over people’s health and it does not really mean free of gluten.

Compromises, Compromises

Supposedly, the idea is that a state GMO labeling initiative would put the power in the hands of the public more. But, on a conference call about a month ago, I heard a legislative specialist say that eventually when enough state bills are passed, consumers, companies, and the government will all have to come to the table to hammer out federal labeling and the first thing that will happen when those talks start to occur is the non-GMO side will have to give up all state bills that have been won. (In other words, state actions will be pre-empted to get labeling at the federal level.) According to the legislative spokesperson, “compromises will need to be made.”

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, as I say on my Against the Grain Nutrition home page. It’s time to give up on the ideas that daddy government, especially the FDA, is protecting us and that fighting for labeling will somehow be different this time. The issue of taking the right action against GMOs is so critical for protecting our environment and the future of our food, we simply can’t afford to spend our time and energy on efforts that are ineffective at achieving what we want.

Why Focus on Boycotts and Bans?

There are two efforts that will give us the most bang for the buck in stopping GMOs in our food supply. The first is to be real consumer activists, starting out by following my Eat GMO-Free Challenge and then getting even more proactive by calling companies, writing letters, and telling companies you won’t buy any more of their products until they take the GMOs out. Trust me: if enough consumers say no, the companies will respond to the demand or go out of business. We shouldn’t be “on hold” waiting for labeling. We have all the information we need right now to stop buying and eating GMOs. That’s exactly why I created the Eat GMO-Free Challenge to get consumers to individually and collectively use their consumer power.

The second way to be effective against the very serious issue of GMOs spreading and contaminating more and more food is to focus our efforts on bans or at the very least moratoriums. (If you’re wondering the difference, a ban prohibits the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops, whereas a moratorium puts a temporary prohibition on the planting of GM crops, usually for a specific period of years.) The first step in achieving this is believing we can. Mexico just passed an indefinite ban on GM corn and Peru passed a moratorium on GM crops, banning GMO production for ten years. Why in America, land of the free and home of the brave, don’t we believe we can do the same? We simply have to believe in the tremendous power we have as consumers and citizens, just as citizens in these countries did.

More People Speaking Out

I’m not the only one feeling the need to speak out about this issue. The debate of labeling versus bans on GMOs is heating up in the world of non-GMO advocates. Farmers in particular are leading the push to convince people to work toward bans. Well-known sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, a featured farmer in the movie Food, Inc., and author of Folks,This Ain’t Normal, will be arguing against labeling in “Joe vs. Joel: The Debate of the Decade,” a fundraiser in Atlanta for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund on November 7.

Others, such as Barbara H. Peterson, write very convincingly on FarmsWars.Info about how frustrating it is to be a farmer trying to find alfalfa for animal feed that is not contaminated with GMOs and how GM crops are doing terrible harm to we the people and our planet.

In a video on her post “Monsanto is Not ‘Too Big to Fail,’” Peterson says:

If labeling is the first priority, then by the time we get around to banning (GMOs), contamination will be so rampant that there will be nothing left that doesn’t require labeling.

And we know that labeling is routinely manipulated and the exemptions so huge that a GMO elephant could walk through them. Meanwhile, (GMOs) continue to be grown and the contamination continues.

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And what will happen when the threshold for GMO-free isn’t really GMO-free? Then the labelists will simply raise the threshold of acceptable contamination so that the words really don’t mean what they say anymore. And “GMO-free” will actually mean 90% GMO-free, or 80%, or whatever bar they choose to raise the level to, to accommodate the level of acceptable contamination that we are being conditioned to accept.

Investigative reporter Jon Rappoport is another important voice on the forget-labeling side. He writes that ballot initiatives seem to solve the problem of GMOs, but they barely scratch the surface of it. The initiatives are what he calls “soft,” and they misdirect attention, reduce the much-needed outrage against genetically modified seed companies such as Monsanto, and suck up money and volunteers that could otherwise be working toward campaigns for bans either locally in their community or nationally.

In “Are GMO Ballot Measures Just Another Covert Op?” Rappoport writes:

…Monsanto can deal with GMO labeling wherever it’s passed.

The real threat to Monsanto is a massive popular uprising against the corporation and its horrendous desecration of food. For example, when a U.S. county passes a law against the growing of any GMO crop within its borders, that’s a dagger.

Were such a movement to spread, Monsanto would be shaking in its boots.

Having been on the labeling side at one time, I know it’s hard to hear this: Labeling GMOs is a losing strategy in the long run. If you have been firmly “for GMO labeling,” it’s not too late to change your mind and put your time, effort and focus on avoiding GMOs in the shopping you do right now and finding others to work together toward banning GMOs. The sooner we focus on strategies that actually work, the sooner we can take back our food, health, and planet.

© Copyright 2013 Melissa Diane Smith

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