A scene from the Rally for the Right to know in NYC, one of 23 such events held to demand labeling of GMO foods.
RODALE NEWS, NEW YORK CITY, NY—According to official surveys, 90 percent of Americans want to know if they're eating genetically modified (GMO) foods. If you believe a less scientific informal poll that ran last month on the website MSNBC.com, the number in favor of labeling GMO foods is as high as 96 percent. Yet, time and again, the large biotech companies that produce GMO seeds, as well as the toxic pesticides they're designed to resist, have managed to keep laws that would require GMO labeling from ever getting passed. This Saturday, activists with the Millions Against Monsanto campaign run by the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association organized 23 rallies across the country, with the intention of fighting back and demanding that GMO foods be labeled as such. "I simply don't want to eat GMOs," said Karen Haight, one self-described "concerned consumer" who attended the New York City iteration of the Rally for the Right to Know.
THE DETAILS: The rallies took place as far away as Maui, Hawaii, and in heavily agricultural states like Indiana, with the largest just outside the White House in Washington, DC. About 50 people showed up to the rally in New York, where community organizers, a clinical nutritionist, and the founder of the Safe and Healthy School Food Coalition spoke about the dangers of genetically engineered crops and how they impact our health. Citing statistics that up to 90 percent of corn and soy that are now grown are genetically modified, Kielsen Baker, a clinical nutritionist, said, "Consuming GE corn and soy creates a whole myriad of health problems," adding that GMOs have been linked to problems like allergies, inflammation, and accelerated aging.
In a letter addressed to rally attendees, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) announced that he was reintroducing three bills to this session of congress: the GE Food Right to Know Act, the GE Safety Act, and the GE Technology Farmer Protection Act, all of which, he said, "would provide a commonsense approach to making sure GE foods do no harm." The first of the three bills would require labeling for GMO foods, while the second calls for federal safety standards on the GMO foods currently on store shelves. The third bill gives farmers the right to save seeds (a practice that is eons old, but something biotech companies claim infringes on their seed patents), and would place liability on the shoulders of the biotech companies for things like GMO contamination of non-GMO crops, rather than on the farmers who never wanted GE crops in the first place, which is the current situation. "We have been asked to accept without question the very real potential of adverse effects of the manipulation of genes without any significant study of the potential allergenicity, toxicity, antibiotic resistance, increased exposure to heavy metals and other effects," Kucinich wrote. "Yet, consumers do not know whether they are eating GE food, because there is no labeling requirement."
WHAT IT MEANS: That right to know was the primary draw for many of the people participating in the rally. "The general lack of a right to know what we're eating has been less publicized than many of the other dangers of GMOs," said Haight. "If we're able to get labeling in this country, GMOs will fail as they did in Europe." In the European Union, labeling laws require full disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients and as a result, they aren't widely grown because the public won't buy GMO foods. Eric Smith, a chef by trade, attended the rally because he was bothered by the fact that he can't serve people GMO-free foods. "I should have the right to know what I'm serving my customers," he said. "I like food, I love food. I want to be aware of what I'm eating so I can make these sort of informed choices."
If you weren't able to make one of the rallies, but still want to demand that marketers start labeling GMO foods, here are some ways to take action:
• Form a local chapter. The rallies kick-off a year-long "right to know" campaign being organized by the Organic Consumers Association. The goal is to get 1 million people (2,300 people in each of the 435 congressional districts) to join local chapters and connect with their representatives in congress by World Food Day, October 16th. You can join, or start, a chapter by visiting MillionsAgainstMonsanto.com.
• Contact your reps. The first of Kucinich's three bills, HR 5577, Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act has already been introduced. Call your senators and representatives and ask them to support it.
• Call your favorite grocer. The best place to start demanding labeling for GMO foods is at the supermarket, says Alexis Bader, political director for the Organic Consumers Association. And keep buying organic foods, she adds. Though organic doesn't require testing of processed foods to ensure they're GMO-free, Bader says certifying agencies are required to test organic crops for GMO contamination if the farms are located in an area where cross-contamination is a concern.
• Try going GMO-free. One way to understand how pervasive GMO foods are is to try completely avoiding them. Check out the Rodale.com GMO-Free Challange for details.