Is the Tide Turning Against the GMO juggernaut?
by Larry K. Fried
Until very recently it seemed that the powerful corporations that manufacture and profit from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were unstoppable in their mission to take over US agriculture with virtual impunity. US and state regulators refused to hold these seeds up for even the most basic scrutiny, not for health safety, not for risks to the environment , not for the potential contamination of other crops, including organics. Courts held GMO seed patents as inviolate, and ruled against farmers whose crops were contaminated by GMO pollen,as guilty of patent infringement. Orwellian as this seems, I am not making it up. And, after more than two decades, Congress has refused to pass a requirement that food products that contain GMOs be labeled as such; even while 64 other countries have done so, including China. Twenty-six countries have banned GMO crops from their lands.
The FDA won’t take up the issue either, dismissing GMO technology – that often involves splicing genes from entirely different species such as bacteria or fish into plant genes, as not substantially different then hybriding, which frankly is just patently absurd (pun intended).
In poll after poll, some 95% of Americans think GMO labeling should be required, and there have been state and local efforts to respond to this essential right to know. Lobbying trade groups, such as the GMA (Grocery Manufacturer’s Association) and individual chemical corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta have spent tens of millions of dollars in campaigns of misinformation and fear tactics and until very recently have stymied all meaningful legislation and initiatives for GMO labeling. Just over the last two years once very popular state GMO labeling initiatives in California and Washington were defeated by the slimmest of margins at the polls.
In 2013 GMO labeling advocates were successful in passing legislation in just two states, Connecticut and Maine. However, both these state laws do not require GMO labeling until a number of their neighboring states also pass similar labeling laws.
There is reason to hope that 2014 will be the year seen as the turning point for GMO labeling, as Vermont became the first state to pass a law requiring labeling without condition. Vermont’s governor signed the law at the beginning of May, and the labeling requirement will begin July 2016. Of course, implementation assumes that the law is upheld against the GMA’s just filed suit to overturn the law on constitutional grounds. Labeling advocates are confidant that the courts will uphold the law, and we can hope their right.
Here in Oregon, 2014 may also be viewed as a banner year. Currently, signatures are being gathered to put a GMO labeling requirement on the November state ballot. If passed, Oregon will be the first state to succesfully pass a citizen’s initiative on the issue. 2014 has also brought a number of county GMO banning initiatives to the state. In our May primary, two neighboring counties in Southern Oregon – Jackson & Josephine passed bans on GMO crops with overwhelming margins. Two other initiatives, under the banner of community rights, seek to get GMO bans on the books in Benton and Lane counties. These sustainable food initiatives take a broader view of protecting our communties right to a sustainable food system and the inherent rights of nature, and focus on the fact that GMO crops endanger such rights. At this time only the Benton county initiative seems to have been approved for signature gathering to qualify for the November ballot. Any of these laws is likely to face legal challenges if passed. Yet, the increasing citizen awareness of the dangers of GMOs to both human health and the environment, is likely to win out in the end, no matter how much money the industry throws at their misinformation campaigns. It’s just a matter of time. Perhaps that time is soon.