By Dr. Mercola
The largest opportunity to give people the right to know if their food is genetically engineered will occur with the California ballot initiative – officially known as Proposition 37. Your support before the November 6 vote can make all the difference between winning and losing.
The California ballot initiative will require labeling of genetically engineered foods, and end the routine industry practice of labeling and marketing such foods as "natural."
In the interview above, Cummins expands and gives an important update on the status of this extremely important initiative, and the upcoming vote.
Encouraging News from California
"The ballot initiative to label genetically engineered food – or now the official Proposition 37 – is quickly gathering momentum," Cummins explains. "Earlier this year in May, we turned in a million signatures of California registered voters, which enabled us to get on the ballot. We've raised approximately four million dollars so far in cash and hard pledges from organizations and businesses. We are getting very good coverage in the press, both the alternative media (online social media) and the corporate media."
The industry is worried; they're starting to pour in more and more money. They haven't yet started their advertising campaign, but we're expecting this TV and radio ad barrage to begin any day now.
…They're starting to panic. They're doing everything they can at the federal level, but the bottom line is that the lobbyists and the large agribusinesses and biotech's' special interest, they don't really have much control over the voters in California. Come November 06, people are going to go into that voting booth. If six or seven million of them vote 'Yes' on Prop 37, this will become a law not only in California, but across the entire United States."
According to Cummins, Canada is watching this issue closely, and if California passes this law for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food, it looks like Canada will do so as well.
Even Grocery Chains Depend on Keeping Consumers in the Dark to Make Profits
It's perfectly clear why biotech companies, which created GM technology, and industrial food giants, which use GM ingredients as staples in their products, would be opposed to Proposition 37, but what about grocery chains? Why would a retail chain be so opposed?
Because the overwhelming bulk of their sales come from conventional processed food products, the very same commodities that will soon be forced to carry labels indicating they contain genetically engineered ingredients. And this is likely to greatly influence consumers' spending habits. Cummins continues:
"…a company like Safeway with multibillion dollars in sales, they have an organics division called O Organics that sells about 350 million dollars a year worth of organic food. But the overwhelming bulk of their sales are two categories: so-called conventional food, which means chemical food. It means food where the animals are drugged up and where the plants are sprayed with horrific pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
The other type of food that these supermarkets sell is so-called natural products. You go into a Safeway, Supervalu, Publix's, Giant store, you see that they're trying to create this green veneer essentially over conventional food products – chemical and GMO [genetically modified organism] food products – and present them as natural.
Basically, why do consumers think a product is conventional or natural? Well, because it doesn't say on the label that it contains genetically engineered ingredients. Once it does, people are going to say, 'Look, most of the food here in Safeway – at least in the processed foods section at the center aisles – carries a label saying, "This is genetically engineered or likely contains genetically engineered ingredients."'
They're going to get concerned about this. They're going to notice that, well, this product used to call itself 'natural.' Potato chips or natural corn chips, none of them are claiming to be natural anymore. Why is that?
Maybe they will take a closer look at the O Organics section in Safeway and start to purchase a lot more from there, or maybe they'll just say, 'You know what? There's a Trader Joe's down the block, a Whole Foods, or an independent natural foods store. I think I'm going to go there.'
This is the horror of the food industry… The member groups of the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America – whether you're talking about Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Safeway, ConAgra, or Cargill – the enormous profits of these companies depend upon miseducating the consumer. You're not going to know what pesticides are used. You're not going to know if they're genetically engineered…"
Why Haven't Whole Foods and Trader Joe's Endorsed the California Ballot Initiative?
The California Right to Know Coalition maintains a list of over 600 groups and retail stores that have endorsed the California Initiative. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are conspicuously absent from this list, which may seem strange on the surface. Aren't these two food chains in the business of selling natural, wholesome foods?
If you live in California and shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, or another retailer that's not on the supportive list, you can make a profound difference on an individual level by taking a few minutes to talk to the store's manager. Tell him or her that you're a loyal customer, and you want them to join the other retail stores and coops that support the California Ballot Initiative to label genetically engineered foods.
The "Food Fight of Our Lives" Is Just Beginning
The opponents are likely going to put in $50 million dollars to fight this initiative, which is why the Organic Consumer Association's fundraising drive must continue at full speed between now and the vote on November 6.
"We need to raise at least as much money as we've raised up until now – 4.3 million dollars – if we're going to win this thing. Because even if we have 10 million dollars to spend on advertising in the last six weeks of the campaign, you can bet the industry is going to spend five times that much. I think they don't have any arguments to make that area very convincing to people.
But if people hear over and over again that it's going to raise the cost of their food (even though that's not true), if they see a television actor on the screen over and over again, 'This is ______. Hey, I'm a California family farmer. This bill is going to hurt me,' it can erode away our support.
We need to redouble our efforts now. That's why we're going to be asking people to go in and get the retail store where they buy organic food to get involved in this campaign. We're going to continue to ask people to volunteer. In about a month, we're going to start organizing a national volunteer phone bank where people from all over the United States will be given a list of California voters (if they volunteer to do so) and give them a call. Talk to them about the campaign. Talk to them about turning out and voting on November 6.
We don't want to be overconfident, but we also need to get over this feeling that you can't fight city hall, the big corporations, the federal government, and so on."
The fight truly is just beginning, because getting this Initiative passed would start the ball rolling toward true transparency in the food industry. As Cummins continues:
"This is just the beginning. I mean, obviously, we've got other untruthful labeling, misleading labeling, fraudulent labeling out there that we're going to have to address.
We can start to demand disclosure of the toxic pesticides that are being used on these products. We can raise the bar and get our rights to know, so that we can exercise our power in the marketplace.
…this is going to be a tremendous victory if we can pull it off. It's going to pave the way for the next stage of the battle, if you will, because this is the food fight of our lives. This relates to natural health. This relates to food and farming. This relates to basic democratic principles. We've approached the point in history where we must make the big changes."
Keep Fighting for Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
While California Prop. 37 failed to pass last November, by a very narrow margin, the fight for GMO labeling is far from over. The field-of-play has now moved to the state of Washington, where the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. As stated on LabelitWA.org:
"Calorie and nutritional information were not always required on food labels. But since 1990 it has been required and most consumers use this information every day. Country-of-origin labeling wasn't required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn't have to be labeled until 2006. Now, all of these labeling requirements are accepted as important for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also says we must know with labeling if our orange juice is from fresh oranges or frozen concentrate.
Doesn't it make sense that genetically engineered foods containing experimental viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled, too? Genetically engineered foods do not have to be tested for safety before entering the market. No long-term human feeding studies have been done. The research we have is raising serious questions about the impact to human health and the environment.
I-522 provides the transparency people deserve. I-522 will not raise costs to consumers or food producers. It simply would add more information to food labels, which manufacturers change routinely anyway, all the time. I-522 does not impose any significant cost on our state. It does not require the state to conduct label surveillance, or to initiate or pursue enforcement. The state may choose to do so, as a policy choice, but I-522 was written to avoid raising costs to the state or consumers."
Remember, as with CA Prop. 37, they need support of people like YOU to succeed. Prop. 37 failed with a very narrow margin simply because we didn't have the funds to counter the massive ad campaigns created by the No on 37 camp, led by Monsanto and other major food companies. Let's not allow Monsanto and its allies to confuse and mislead the people of Washington and Vermont as they did in California. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.
- No matter where you live in the United States, please donate money to these labeling efforts through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- If you live in Washington State, please sign the I-522 petition. You can also volunteer to help gather signatures across the state.
- For timely updates on issues relating to these and other labeling initiatives, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the Washington initiative.