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by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Over the last few weeks, I have been receiving calls from clients and readers on the question of GMO, and the pending vote on Ballet Measure 92, here in Oregon. To be clear, I have never supported the use of GMO ingredients in food for man or beast. However, this column is about the label wrapped around the food not the food itself.
So let’s start with a little background history on the government’s involvement in food labeling, and what led up to the feds deciding to step in. In 1906, the first food safety measure was passed called the “Pure Food and Drug Safety Act”, it prohibits interstate commerce in miss-branded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs. This was the result of an Upton Sinclair article published in the Washington Post describing the atrocious hygiene, health, and safety conditions in the meat packing industry. This article while sensational brought to light many questionable food additives of the day.
One example would be the case of coffee, more times, than not your coffee would contain stove ash, rye flour and glucose, blackstrap molasses, asparagus seeds, coal ash, dahlia tubers, chopped roots and acorns dyed to resemble coffee beans, egg, and other glazes to resemble freshness. While these may not seem to dangerous an article published in the 1884 New York Times, reported the use of poisons coloring agents on coffee, made from venetian blue, chrome yellow, lead and arsenic.
The Supreme Court in 1924 ruled – the Food and Drugs Act condemns every statement on a product’s label that may mislead or deceive, even if technically true. And in 1958, the Food Additives Amendment enacted, requiring manufacturers of new food additives to establish safety. Manufacturers were required to declare all additives in a product. The 1966, Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires all consumer products in interstate commerce to be honestly and informatively labeled, including food. Now to me that pretty much covers the why behind ballot measure 92, on the topic of disclosing the presence of GMO ingredients. The federal government for decades has said you have to label it.
Now let’s look at the players and the price tag for ballot measure 92.
Citizens of Oregon verses Monsanto, Coca Cola, and Pepsi Co. – corporate headquarters for each of these companies are located outside of the boundaries of Oregon, Washington, and California, they pay a fraction of the taxes paid by Oregon Based companies. Yet they have spent an estimated $ 2,573, 587.73 plus in opposition advertising to convince Oregon voters the measure is going to raise the cost of food and effect farmers adversely. (Some reports say Monsanto has contributed 1.5 MILLION DOLLARS to defeat GMO labeling in Oregon.)
In comparison Oregon businesses and voters have spent $1,286,793.65 to date and the information is fully disclosed on the internet. The oppositions true contributors are part of a political action committee, fronted by Oregonians for Food and Shelter, and determining the true price tag is challenging, but it is a staggering amount just the same. This organization advocates for “the right to responsibly use pesticides and biotechnology.” The group has also been linked to the agribusinesses Monsanto and Syngenta. Names listed on the board of directors for Oregonians for Food and Shelter are, Michael Diamond, the director of government affairs for Monsanto, and Danelle Farmer, who was most recently listed as a senior state government relations manager at Syngenta. The names aren’t difficult to find — and they’re listed along with their corporate affiliations.
There are currently 64 countries around the world that require the labeling of genetically modified foods. This includes all of the nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China. Most major food producers in America already have labels on their products with GMO ingredients if they sell their products in these foreign markets. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumer Reports, says mentioning that some ingredients are genetically modified isn’t any more burdensome or expensive for companies than other details now required on a food label.
“You have to label milk whether it’s been homogenized or not,” Hansen says. “You have to label juices whether they’ve been frozen, or from concentrate or fresh-squeezed. Fish, you have to label whether they’re wild-caught or farm-raised. We have country-of-origin labeling. Most importantly, look at irradiation labeling.” Scott Faber, a former vice-president and lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrote in The Huffington Post:
“What I also learned is that adding a few words to a label has no impact on the price of making or selling food. That’s because food manufacturers are constantly changing their labels to highlight product innovations or to make health claims. Although it varies from product to product, the average “refresh” cycle for a food label is about a year. Adding the words “may contain genetically engineered ingredients” will add as much to the cost of making food as adding the words “can help reduce cholesterol” — nothing.”
Legislatures in three states have passed these labeling laws, but Oregon would be the first to pass it by voter initiative. This year, 35 bills on the topic were introduced in 20 states in response to growing consumer interest.
My final thought fall to events of 2013 when Pacific Northwest Grain Growers lost millions in grain contracts to Korea, Japan, China, and Russia over a small patch of GMO wheat on the edge of a field. When we look at the economic impact to farmers, the labeling of foodstuffs will have no effect in comparison. Oregon already has counties that are designated GMO free due to crop pollination sensitivity’s. The Oregon Department of Fish and Game announced the stopping of GMO grain in their wildlife feed plots in 2014, again none of these areas are impacted by food labeling laws, and already show the drive for Oregon to lead the way for the rest of the Nation.
And that ladies and gentlemen is just what the mega corporations are afraid of, voters taking back control of their states.
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