GMOs at the Polls: 7 Things to Tell Your Friends Before Election Day

Americans are the world’s GMO guinea pigs, say Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé. But California’s ballot initiative on labeling GMO foods would give everyone the choice to change that for themselves.

Farmers and eaters around the country and the world are watching the November 6 election witha very important question at the forefront of their minds: Will California's Proposition 37--requiring labeling of GMOs--pass?

Sixty-one countries already require such labeling. But here in the U.S., GMOs took off in the 1990s with no public debate, and today they're in most processed foods, making Americans the world's GMO guinea pigs.

We know it's easy to get sunk by "information overload" and agribusiness advertising. So far the largest GMO maker, Monsanto, and other industry giants have plowed at least $35 million into killing Prop 37.

To help us think straight, we've prepared seven points--backed by peer-reviewed studies, a physicians' 10-year investigation, and UN data--to consider and share with your friends. Here's what they reveal:

1. GMOs have never undergone standard testing or regulation for human safety.

And now that they're in 70 percent of processed foods, it's extremely difficult for scientists to isolate their health risks.[i]

2. But we know that GMOs have proven harmful in animal studies.

A 2009 review of 19 studies found mammals fed GM corn or soy developed "liver and kidney problems" that could mark the "onset of chronic diseases."[ii] Most were 90-day studies. In a new two-year study, rats fed genetically modified (GM) corn developed 2-3 times more tumors--some bigger than a quarter of their total body weight--and these tumors appeared much earlier than in rats fed non-GM corn. Among scientists, the study has its defenders and critics, but even the critics underscore that we need more long-term studies.

3. And the most widely used GMOs are paired with an herbicide linked to serious reproductive problems and disease.

The urgent question isn't about "more." It is, how can all of the world's people gain the power to secure healthy food?GM crops Roundup Ready soy & corn are treated with the herbicide glyphosate. A physicians' study found people exposed to glyphosate had increased risk of miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, and neurological problems in children. Neurologists report that herbicides, especially glyphosoate, "have been recognized as the main environmental factor associated with ... Parkinson"s disease." [iii]

4. The consequences of GMO technology are inherently unpredictable.

Inserting a single gene can result in multiple, unintended DNA changes and mutations. "Unintended effects are common in all cases where GE [genetic engineering] techniques are used," warn scientists . One such environmental consequence--genetic contamination of other plants--is already documented. Note that unlike food, once released into the environment, seeds can't be "recalled"![iv]

5. GMO-makers intimidate and silence farmers and scientists.

GMO corporations use patents and intellectual property rights to sue farmers, block research, and threaten investigators. "For a decade," protested Scientific American editors in 2009, GMO companies "have explicitly forbidden the use of the seeds for any independent research," so "it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised."[v]

6. GMOs undermine our food security.

Within the biotechnology market, Monsanto alone controls 90 percent of GE crops worldwide. And Monsanto is one of three GMO companies, including DuPont and Syngenta, that control 70 percent of the global seed market, reinforcing monopoly power over our food. GMO seeds are costly and must be purchased every year, so they worsen farmers' indebtedness, dependency, and vulnerability to hunger.[vi]

7. GMOs aren't needed in the first place, so why would we take on risks and harms?

Studies show that safe, sustainable farming practices applied worldwide could increase our food supply as much as 50 percent. And keep in mind that the world's already producing 2,800 calories for every person on earth every day--more than enough. And that's just with what's left over: Half the world's grain goes not to people directly but to feed, fuel, and other purposes. Plus, one-third of all food is wasted. So the urgent question isn't about "more" anyway. It is, how can all of the world's people gain the power to secure healthy food? And a good start is knowing what's in our food.[vii]

Shopping in the know (not GMO)

  • Avoid processed foods! It's a simple way to reduce exposure to the four most common GM ingredients: non-organic forms of soy, canola, cottonseed, and corn, including high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Look for the voluntary "non-GMO" label.
  • Buy "certified organic," which ensures that no GMO ingredients were used.
  • Visit for a list of thousands of GMO products and brands.

See below for full citations

Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Frances is author of the legendary best seller Diet for a Small Planet, and many other books. She is co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and is a contributing editor for YES! Magazine. This article draws on material from her latest book, Eco-Mind, Nation Books, 2011.

Anna is the author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope's Edge. She is a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute.

[i]Source for GMOs in 70% processed foods: California Department of Food and Agriculture, "A Food Foresight Analysis of Agricultural Biotechnology: A Report to the Legislature," Jan. 1, 2003. for safety testing: Freese, W. & Schubert, D., "Safety testing and regulation of genetically engineered foods," Biotechnol Genet Eng Rev, 2004: 299-324. .

[ii]Source for GM corn study : Seralini, G.-E., et al., "Long term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,"Food and Chemical Toxicity, Source 19 GM corn and soy studies: Seralini G.-E. et al., "Genetically modified crops safety assessments: Present limits and possible improvements," Environmental Sciences Europe, 2011; 23(10).

[iii]Sources for miscarriages, birth defects, cancer: Report from the 1st NATIONAL MEETING OF PHYSICIANS IN THE CROP-SPRAYED TOWNS, Faculty of Medical Sciences, National U. of Cordoba. Aug 2010, University Campus, Cordoba Coordinators: Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, Prof. Dr. Carlos Nota. . Also see: Eriksson, M. et al, "Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis." Int J Cancer. Oct 1, 2008; 123(7): 1657-1663. Source for cell toxicity: Gasnier C. et al., "Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines," Toxicology. Aug 21, 2009; 262(3): 184-191. .

[iv] Source for unpredictability: Wilson, A.K. et al., "Transformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications," Biotechnol Genet Eng Rev, 2006; 23: for 1st quote: Freese, W. & Schubert, D., "Safety Testing and Regulation of Genetically Engineered Foods," Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews, Nov 2004; Vol. 21. . Source for genetic contamination: Quist, D. & Chapela, I., "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico," Nature, Nov 29, 2001; 414: 541-543. Source for 2nd quote: Cummings, C. H., "Trespass: Genetic Engineering as the Final Conquest," WorldWatch Institute, World Watch Magazine, Jan/Feb 2005: 18(1),

[v] Center for Food Safety. "Monsanto vs. US farmers: Nov. 2007 Update." Washington, DC & San Francisco, CA. Nov. 2007. . See also: Waltz, E. "Under wraps - Are the crop industry's strong-arm tactics and close-fisted attitude to sharing seeds holding back independent research and undermining public acceptance of transgenic crops?" Nat Biotechnol, Oct 2009; 27(10): For Scientific American editors: The Editors, "Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?" Scientific American, Aug 13, 2009.

[vi]Source for Monsanto 90% statistic: Marie-Monique Robin, 2010, "The World According to Monsanto: pollution, corruption and the control of our food supply," The New Press,

Greenpeace, Monsanto: Get out of our food, accessed 19 December 2011:

Center for Food Safety, Monsanto vs. US Farmers, 2005: Source for GMO monopoly statistic: GRAIN, "Global agribusiness: two decades of plunder," July 13, 2010. .

[vii]Source for producing plenty: Badgley, C. et al., "Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply," Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 22 (2007): 86-108. Statistics calculated from : FAOSTAT, Agricultural Production Indices, Net Per Capita. Index 100 = FAOSTAT, Food Balance Sheets, Commodity Balances, 2009.

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This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.