By Stefana Bosse
My mother exercises, doesn’t smoke and has been a health-conscious eater all her life, but nonetheless, like so many, she has cancer. She believes in Western medicine, so when she fell ill she did what most people with cancer do: she underwent excruciating cycles of chemotherapy. But after an unexpectedly short period of remission, the cancer came back. The traditional treatment not working, she started engaging with the potential causes of her illness rather than just its symptoms, and tried to find out what she could do to strengthen and assist her body in its fight against the disease. Her research led her to realize that the gap between what we believe we know about our food, and the reality, is wider than ever.
Today Californians will vote on Proposition 37, also known as The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. The Act would require raw and processed foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled as such.
Monsanto, the leading producer of genetically engineered (GE) seeds, states on its website that a large body of documented scientific testing demonstrates the safety of GMOs. But there is significant doubt as to the extent that these studies are funded and controlled by companies such as Monsanto itself. For example, Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, where many of the scientists who published Monsanto’s most recent study are affiliates and fellows, receives large donations by agribusiness giant Cargill and Stanford’s Hoover Institution lists Robert H Poste,who is on Monsanto’s board of directors, as their fellow.
In contrast, The Committee of Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN) as well as universities in Caen and Rouen did studies based on raw data of Monsanto’s 2002 feeding trials on rats (based on three approved varieties of GE corn) and found “adverse impacts on kidneys and liver, the dietary, detoxifying organs as well as different levels of damages to the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and hematopoietic systems.“
Likewise, Monsanto argues that Bt toxins (toxins extracted from Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil-dwelling bacterium, which are added to the genes of Monsanto’s crops in order for them to produce their own insecticide) pose no danger to human health because the protein supposedly breaks down in the human gut. A Canadian study, however, shows the BT toxin was found not only in the blood of pregnant women, but even in fetal blood, demonstrating that the toxin survives.
Another grave cause for concern is the ecological impact of GE crops. Conventional and GE crops cannot peacefully co-exist. Genetic contamination is inevitable as wind and insects can carry pollen over 20 km. A case in point is the Canadian canola crop. Arnold Taylor, Chair of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund, laments: “There is no organic canola in Canada any more, because the seed stock is basically contaminated… we’ve lost that crop.“ GE crops thus pose a serious threat to biodiversity. This is more dangerous than one might think. Seed variety is essential to food security, because of climate changes and manifold nutritional needs.
The Los Angeles Times argued in its endorsement for “No on Proposition 37” that “there is no rationale for singling out genetic engineering, of all the agricultural practices…, as the only one for which labeling should be required.” It is true that currently, if the packaging doesn’t say otherwise, there’s a high likelihood that your eggs came from chickens cramped in battery cages, your milk came from cows fed with antibiotics, and your fruits and vegetables were sprayed with potentially dangerous pesticides. So to be sure, Proposition 37 is only one small step on the path to more informative food labeling. But it is a step in the right direction, and will set a precedent for the future.
Californians should vote for Proposition 37. New York should follow suit. From there, the fight must be continued for nationwide labeling not just of GE crops, but of all items containing ingredients with significant cause for health, environmental or ethical concerns.
Proposition 37 is about re-claiming our power as individual citizens. The right to information is at the core of the fundamental freedoms we should be guaranteed in our democracy.
My mom always nourished herself in a healthy manner, but she had to find out that even the food she thought was healthy contained all kinds of unknown and potentially dangerous substances. To be fair, although there have been studies and nutritional cancer therapies focusing on such a linkage, her cancer might not have been caused by food. But the bottom line is that we do not know. We are radically changing the genetic make-up of the food we eat, and we live in an age of many civilizational illnesses the causes of which we do not know. And whilst we do not know, we ought to have the right to make our own choice in deciding what we put into our bodies and what risks we are willing to take.