I’ve been following the campaign dollars and the newspaper endorsements surrounding Proposition 37 –where a yes vote would approve the genetically engineered foods labeling initiative.
Polls conducted two months ago showed 2/3 voters supporting it. Now, after a huge ad blitz against the initiative – according to a Reuters article today, $46 million have spent – it’s expected to fail. How sad. The two biggest funders are the major corporations Monsanto and DuPont. Both are major producers of genetically modified (GMO) crops and the herbicides that accompany them. On the other side is a wide spectrum of organic food producers spending one-fourth that amount.
One of the arguments against it, as the Los Angeles Times brought up today in its editorial, is that if the ingredients are a health hazard, the government should step in and require labeling. What’s getting lost in the arguments is when ingredients are an environmental hazard – which GMO crops often are (see below), isn’t that significant? And usually coming on the heels of environmental hazards are human health hazards.
I’ve written about the effect of GMOs on the environment in more detail, but in a nutshell this is the concern: Because more than three-fourths of genetically modified crops are engineered to tolerate applications of herbicides, the use of glyphosphate, commonly known as Roundup has increased. This is an important point: Monsanto manufacturers Roundup.
While the use of pesticides have decreased over the years, no one argues that use of herbicides to kill unwanted weeds has increased, particularly the use of Roundup now that it doesn’t hurt the GMO crop plants. The latest government statistics show that the agricultural use of Roundup has increased from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007. Since GMO crops have skyrocketed since 2007 Roundup will only continue its upward trajectory. Another accepted study is the U.S. Geological Survey showing significant levels of Roundup in air and water samples in Mississippi and Iowa.
The result of this high Roundup use on human health is unclear – some studies show negative effects, many do not. But the effect on environmental health is a concern. Here are my reasons for voting yes on Prop 37:
- Monarch decline and milkweed: A well-publicized study by the University of Minnesota
documented a large decline of monarch eggs and milkweed, the plant the monarch requires for laying its eggs. It tied the decline to the increasing use of GMO crops, suggesting the milkweed is killed by the Roundup use.
- Bee die-off link: Researchers from the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health examined the effect of a neonicotinoid pesticide — which is being used more with GMO crops, especially corn — on bee colonies as part of a recent review. The team discovered that the vast majority — 94 percent — of hives died, even with very minute levels of the pesticide. Articles have been published on this but many do not link the pesticide use to GMO crops. Here’s a Purdue University study that does.
- Why have 50 other countries approved GMO labeling? These represent 40% of the world’s population. Europe has long been the leader in the movement towards organics and less pesticide/herbicide use and I think we have something to learn from them.
- Major newspapers have it wrong: Significant newspapers (two are the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee), to my surprise, came out against the initiative. They have focused on scare tactics brought up by the well-funded opposition. (See below). It’s important to note that both papers say they don’t oppose labeling of genetically modified foods.
The Sacramento Bee said the initiative would result in ‘countless lawsuits against retailers.” The reality is there are no financial incentives to bring a lawsuit – a person would get the company to properly label its product, which is not an incentive for an attorney to bring a lawsuit.
The Los Angeles Times question why bioengineered foods should be labeled when there’s more important concerns such as antibiotic overuse in livestock that’s creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and Prop 37 is a pet concern of individual groups. But more than a million Americans have signed a petition asking for the FDA to label GMOs – far from a ‘groups’ pet concern’.