Coalition Report

by Kathleen Logan Smith
Executive Director; Missouri Coalition For The Environment

No More Naked Juice

With mailboxes bulging with campaign mail, robocalls ringing our phones, pollsters shrieking on Sunday morning talk shows, and candidates slinging mud on television ads, the last thing many of us want to talk about this fall is politics.

Instead, let’s talk about our kids’ school lunches, our grocery bill, the menu for the tailgate parties, what they feed grandma at the nursing home, Halloween treats, our cousin’s toddler’s food allergies, pet food for the new dog, or how to cook the holiday turkey. Ooops! There I go, getting into politics again.

This month, members of Congress are due to act on the long-awaited Farm Bill (unless they shun work in favor of campaigning.) The Farm Bill is due September 30. It affects just about everything in the American food system – from people food to pet food, from water to land, from barn to barbecue. Because of its taxpayer-funded programs, it sets our tables and stocks our grocery stores. The Senate has passed a bad bill. The House Agriculture Committee managed to draft a bill that is even worse than the Senate’s (in summary: big money to the richest, cuts for the rest, no benefits to the common good and all the costs to taxpayers). Stay tuned.

One issue that has received little popular attention has been efforts to require labeling of foods that contain ingredients from genetically modified crops, commonly called GMOs (genetically modified organisms). An effort is underway in California to put a labeling requirement on its state ballot – and big money is campaigning against the labeling law. The same money is aligning to keep a labeling law off the national agenda.

Shouldn’t consumers know what is in the food they buy for their families?

Dozens of corporations have given money to the campaign against labeling. Monsanto leads with more than $4 million to the anti-labeling campaign followed by other GMO seed companies and the big names in food. Pepsi-Co gave >$1 million (whose brands include Tropicana and Naked Juice); Coca-Cola; Kellogg’s (whose brands include Kashi and Morningstar Farm); J.M. Smucker (whose brands include Santa Cruz Organics); General Mills (whose brands include Cascadian Farms and others); and many more.

Check out the California Secretary of State’s campaign spending information yourself.

Companies selling us ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ brands at premium prices are opposing GMO labels. Since I believe in knowing what is in my food, there will be no more Mighty Mango or Blue Machine for me until we have a national GMO labeling law.
In marketing campaigns, GMO crops are touted as solutions to everything from pest damage to world hunger. With pests and weeds now exhibiting resistance to GMO pesticides and the herbicides designed to soak them and more questions about safety emerging, these slogans are wearing thin. Why, common sense asks, would we want to eat -with no testing – crops that were engineered to be doused in toxic chemicals? (A: We don’t want to eat them but they sure sell chemicals). Why would we want a crop in our food supply that has a protein that makes a pesticide that destroys the gut of the animal that eats it? (A: We don’t, but it sure sells patented seed). In my study of the GMO issue so far, it is clear that there never has been enough testing to demonstrate these ‘ingredients’ are safe. The herbicides and pesticides associated with GMOs pose particular issues. The metabolite of one common herbicide (gluphosinate ammonium) was detected in 100% of maternal and umbilical cord blood samples, and in 67% of the nonpregnant women’s blood samples in a study conducted in Quebec. In the same 2011 study of pregnant and nonpregnant women, the toxin that makes GMO corn produce its own pesticide (Cry1Ab toxin) was detected in 93% and 80% of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively and in 69% of tested blood samples from nonpregnant women.

Canada was one of the first places that allowed GMO crops. The researchers note theirs is the first study that looks at how much of these ‘ingredients’ is getting past our stomachs and into our- and our babies’ – blood. Of concern: GMO crops have been infiltrating our food supply for more than a decade. There’s a proposal before the feds now to allow GMO apples in US markets. Last year it was sugar beets. GMO zucchini is already in our stores. If labeling was required, we would already know where the GMOs are.

The Canadian researchers note: “Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed, particularly those using the placental transfer approach.” The risks to women and their reproductive capacity are among the health problems that have never been determined for GMOs.

In the case of our food, what is healthiest may be a big dose of skepticism of GMO industry claims and a simple label of all GMO ingredients so we are free to make our own choices. Until then, when politicians ask us to choose them, let’s ask them for a real choice on GMOs.

For more information visit the Missouri Coalition for the Environment online at www.moenviron.org or call 314-727-0600.