When we are told to watch what we eat, many of us are counting calories. We are told to count the amount of fat, sodium or sugar in our food. Research says that tracking food in this manner helps us make better food choices possible.
Yet there are aspects of our food that are not as easily quantified as grams of fat, salt or sugar. This aspect of our food is not measurable and is beyond our realm of choices. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) food is a part of our diet; it is not measurable, and it has an impact on our health and the planet.
If you have not heard of GMOs or GE food, let me explain. GMOs are organisms that have been modified to enhance genetic qualities that are not present naturally. This process usually involves changing the DNA of a plant, fish or mammal to inject a genetic quality that is not naturally present.
The best way to understand the science behind GE food is to think about a tomato. Tomatoes growing naturally are not frost tolerant. When tomato plants are exposed to cold temperatures or frost, they die. However, if the tomato DNA is altered, it could become frost tolerant and develop the ability to thrive in temperatures below 32 degrees.
This is where it gets interesting. The gene that is introduced is not coming from another variety of tomato; it is from another species entirely, like fish. Certain varieties of fish generally can withstand very cold water. By combining a fish gene with the tomato gene, a frost-tolerant tomato will emerge.
I know this seems a like a science experiment, but this is how much of our food is altered to grow under less-than-perfect conditions. Right now, in your kitchen, most of your food contains genetically modified organisms. In fact, 70 percent of processed food has genetically modified ingredients. Eighty-eight percent of corn and 93 percent of soy is genetically modified, as well as 90 percent of the sugar beets crop.
GMOs are a part of the long list of agrichemicals created by the multi-national corporation called Monsanto. According to the book, The World According To Monsanto, the company is responsible for creating “nothing less than large-scale production of some of the most dangerous products of modern time.”
Many people might recognize Round-up Ready pesticide from trips to the local garden shop, not realizing that Monsanto is responsible for creating PCBs, Dioxin, Agent Orange and Bovine Growth Hormones. Monsanto is essentially a pesticide company that has taken an interest in feeding you without your consent.
The California Right to Know campaign supported Proposition 37, a ballot measure calling for labeling of GE food. The measure did not pass. It seems that many people have not heard of GMOs or the company that created this technology.
Californians were inundated with anti-GMO labeling print and television ads. Playing the role of good corporate citizens, these ads painted a picture of a food system that is safe and under control — no need for labeling. The main message was that companies like Dow Chemical, Monsanto and DuPont know how to feed you and the rest of the world. A food system led by chemical and pharmaceutical companies is not a food system at all.
Agri-business companies spent $40.6 million to create the media campaign that defeated the California legislation. Local Minnesota companies such as Cargill, Land O’Lakes and General Mills contributed financially to defeat the legislation. Of that $40 million, Monsanto alone spent $7.1 million. None of these companies believes that consumers have the right to know what is in our food. Essentially, they believe they know better than you what is good for you to eat.
However, the rest of the world seems to understand the negative consequences of allowing GE foods in our fields and grocery aisles. Sixty-seven countries, including Australia, United Kingdom, China, Brazil, Kenya and Ethiopia, have adopted mandatory labeling laws. Some countries have no need for labels because they ban GE imports and cultivation of GE crops.
The time has come where we must turn our attention from our plates to politics. Corporate-influenced politics are the reason that GE food has infiltrated our food system and our political system.
Replicating the California ballot initiative, Representative Karen Clark introduced H.F. 850 and S.F. 821 requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods in Minnesota. The nonprofit group Right to Know Minnesota is leading the effort to organize consumers to support the legislation.
We can do more than just change our diets. We can change the politics that keep communities guessing about the safety of GE food. If you are concerned about GE food, let your legislators know by calling them and sharing your concerns.
We should eat as healthily as possible, but we must realize that protecting our health and the environment must go beyond our shopping carts. Voting for our food system with our pocketbooks is no longer enough.
We need to know who politically is supporting the development of a food technology that is killing people and the planet. Politicians who choose corporations over communities must pay the consequences by being voted out of office.
For more information or to contact Right to Know Minnesota, visit www.righttoknowmn.org.
LaDonna Redmond is a food justice activist who has learned to have a deep concern for the planet through being the mother of two children. She welcomes reader response to Ladonna@cfjn.org.