Prop 37 and The Right To Know What’s in Our Food

Commentary, Todd Spencer

When I was a kid, I once took an apple out of a fruit bowl that was sitting on top of my friend’s dining room table. Only after I’d quickly sunk my teeth into the apple – I was really hungry — did I realize that it wasn’t an apple at all, but a wax imitation of an apple. I felt tricked. Now, when I pick up a piece of fruit I’m a lot more likely to make sure it is what I think it is before I take a bite.

The same logic – people have a right to know what their food is made of — is behind Proposition 37, which if approved by California voters will make it mandatory for genetically engineered foods – any foods containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) — to be labeled as such for consumers. The measure would also bar companies who produce food containing GMO’s from labeling their products “natural.”

Normally, plant hybrids are cultivated in soil over time by cross-pollinating closely related plants. Genetically modified plants, on the other hand, are created in laboratories where the DNA of unrelated species are fused in a way that doesn’t occur naturally.

Most crops grown today contain GMO’s, for a variety of reasons: Crops are augmented with bacterial toxins that repel plant-eating insects. Certain viruses are also injected into seeds in tiny amounts, to immunize the plant to that particular disease. Most conventional farmers spray their crops with herbicides for weed killing. Also, scientists have begun bioengineering tomatoes, bananas and strawberries to increase their life span for commercial production.

But crops aren’t the only life form being genetically manipulated; animals also play a role in the bioengineering industry. Scientist have created cows that can essentially produce human breast milk, containing the same proteins that infants receive from their mother to fight infections and build a healthy immune system. Many cows are now genetically manipulated to produce tastier beef by increasing the amount of fat in their muscles, while salmon from the North Atlantic are implanted with growth hormones that allow them to grow larger than natural salmon, in half the amount of time.

Scientists and doctors have become increasingly concerned with the effects of GMO consumption on the human body. Feeding rats genetically modified foods has proven to have disastrous results in lab experiments, producing abnormally large cell growth within the gastrointestinal system, insulin disorders, immune dysfunction, organ damage, as well as evidence of reproductive problems. Not to mention the high rate of stillborn rats and premature death of infant rats that are born from a mother that was fed foods containing GMO’s.

The Université de Caen in France recently released the results of their study on the long-term health impacts of GMO foods. Using rats as their test subjects, the results showed a high frequency of large cancerous tumor growth in the chest area, which was even more pronounced in female rats. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has suggested a non-GMO diet, due to lab results observed in rats.

Despite evidence that suggests GMO foods pose real health risks, the Food and Drug Administration has approved genetically modified foods for consumption in the U.S. on the argument that studies have not conclusively proved that GMO’s are harmful to humans.
The warning signs, however, seem to be all around us.

Some scientists have argued in favor of GMO’s, saying technology now allows us to alter our animals to be stronger, more productive and less vulnerable to insects. Yet we are now seeing bugs – like the rootworm found in Iowa cornfields — develop a resistance to the chemicals that are supposed to kill them. “Colony collapse disorder” is a term used to explain the massive dying-off of bees around the world, a phenomenon that has been scientifically linked to pesticides found in genetically modified crops.

And health risks are not the only way GMO’s are negatively impacting people.

Farmers are sold on the idea that using genetically modified seeds will reduce their reliance on pesticides and herbicides, thereby decreasing the cost of doing business. Only later do many farmers realize that those promises are nothing more than a deceptive tactic to push GMO-related products. Once farmers purchase the genetically modified seeds from the big agricultural companies, they are legally restricted from harboring the harvest seeds, therefore forcing them to buy new seeds each season — and the prices continue to grow.

Genetically modified crops can also contaminate the fields of non-GMO farmers, when pollen or pieces from a modified crop are blown by the wind into a neighboring farm. Adding insult to injury, some of these farmers have even been sued by companies who produce genetically modified plants, claiming that the patented seeds were being used without permission.

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