Here’s the industry spin: the GMO labeling debate boils down to whether or not GMOS (presumably, all of them – from GMO corn to GMO mosquitoes to GMO salmon) are “safe.” Safe to eat, safe to live around, safe to widely distribute. A pretty complicated question itself, especially in the United States, where inadequate regulation means wildly different standards for approving different GMO products. This is one reason why we need labeling of GMO foods.
But safety issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Consumer rights, state rights and the overuse of “probably carcinogenic” pesticides like Roundup are all crucial aspects in this debate. They go hand in hand with the massive consolidation within the food industry and a lack of choice at the grocery store.
When biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta create GMO seeds, they’re also creating entire systems of food production. By creating a suite of products designed to work together – seeds for crops engineered to withstand Roundup, a probably human carcinogen, for example – they’re able to control the entire farming cycle and block out competition. Not only that, but the explosion of herbicide-resistant seeds has given way to herbicide-resistant weeds, fueling the growth of “superweeds” and ensuring that farmers must continue to buy increasingly harsh chemicals, often from the same company, to compensate.
Beyond this, seed options are slim. In 2009 in the United States, 93 percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn were grown with seeds containing Monsanto-patented genetics.
Choice becomes increasingly illusory as mega-mergers become more common –Monsanto may soon merge with Bayer, and a Dow-Dupont merger was announced and remains on the table. (Agricultural chemical giant ChemChina is also in the process of acquiring Syngenta, for a cool $43 billion). And the dominance of GMOs makes things harder for those who go organic, since organic and non-GMO farmers have to spend time and money to prevent GMO contamination of their fields by crops from nearby farms.
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Meanwhile, the power and influence of these huge corporations have spread beyond the agriculture industry to political campaigns and regulatory processes around the world. Mounting allegations of scientific censorship at the USDA point to the agency making decisions to appease companies like Monsanto. And in 2010, we found that top food and agricultural biotechnology interests spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying Congress between 1999 and 2009 and more than $22 million in campaign contributions.
Agrichemical heavyweights are spending millions to make it hard for us to know if GMOs are in our food. And if we don’t know where our food is coming from, we don’t know how little choice we have about what we eat – or what chemicals are being used to grow it.
Right now, a bill in the Senate would outlaw state GMO labeling laws. It’s up to us to make sure our elected officials don’t support this Monsanto giveaway: