GE foods pose a risk to organics

Sound Consumer | May 2002

by Cameron Woodworth, The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

The news for organic agriculture hasn't been especially encouraging in recent weeks. First, scientists discovered in January that genetically engineered (GE) corn has contaminated the indigenous maize of Mexico's Oaxaca state, even though Mexico prohibits the growing of biotech corn. This raises questions about the diversity of corn in the region where the plant first was domesticated millennia ago.

Second, a European Union study released in March revealed that GE crops inevitably contaminate organic farms, create superweeds, and drive wild plants to extinction. GE oilseed rape has cross-pollinated non-biotech crops up to two-and-a-half miles away. Research in Scotland indicates that bees can carry the pollen of GE plants six miles away.

Though GE foods were introduced to the U.S. marketplace on a wide-scale basis just six years ago, two-thirds of the processed foods in supermarkets today are genetically engineered or contain GE ingredients.

Even some biotech advocates concede that the strategy of biotech companies such as Monsanto is to so permeate the nation's food supply with GE ingredients that it's almost impossible to turn back the clock to a world where the food is more pure.

"The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GE organisms] that there's nothing you can do about it, you just sort of surrender," Washington, D.C. biotech industry consultant Don Westfall told the "Toronto Star" last year. '

While the picture is grim, there still is something we can do about it, and it's clear that popular opinion is on our side. Our most effective course of action is to convince Congress to pass legislation that would require all genetically engineered foods to be labeled.

Ninety-three percent of Americans want genetically engineered foods to be labeled, according to a telephone poll of 1,024 adults conducted by ABC News last summer.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) plan to introduce labeling legislation before Congress this year. You can help pass the legislation by visiting The Campaign's website at www.thecampaign.org, printing out form letters to your members of Congress and to President Bush, and sticking them in the mail. You can encourage your friends and co-workers to sign the letters as well.

While The Campaign supports a moratorium on GE foods until further safety testing is completed, we're putting most of our energy behind labeling, since Congress is more receptive to labeling than to a moratorium.

Labeling is a consumers' right-to-know issue. As it stands, there's no way to tell if the foods we're buying contain GE ingredients. Labeling would give consumers the ability to purchase non-GE foods if they choose. Additionally, labeling may have the effect of curtailing sales of GE foods, as 57 percent of Americans in that ABC News survey say they'd be less likely to purchase a food if they knew it was genetically engineered.

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