by Susan Lerner

Genetically engineered (GE) foods, the nightmare biotechnology that has been sneaking its way into our lives, began moving forward in 1980 when the Supreme Court gave patent rights to genetically engineered oil-eating bacteria. The Court ruled that laboratory-created living things were not “products of nature” and were thus patentable. To seal the deal, the Reagan White House determined that no new laws were necessary to regulate biotechnology since it didn’t pose any special or unique risks.

Calgene’s Flavr Savr™ tomato became the first GE food on the market, followed by Calgene’s GE canola and Monsanto’s first Roundup Ready soybean, all approved by the USDA in the early 1990s. Since then, GE agricultural introductions have been keeping a steady pace—including from Monsanto: NewLeaf ™ potato (pest protected), GE insect-resistant corn, Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugar beets, insect-resistant Bt soybeans, and soon to be on our tables Roundup Ready and insect-resistant sweet corn. Other big chemical corporations such as Bayer, Syngenta, Dow and Pioneer have also had GE products approved by the USDA or the FDA. In 1996, only 7% of soybean and 1% of corn acres in the United States were planted with GE seeds; by 2007 GE cultivation had grown to 91% of soybean and 73% of corn acres. In 2010, 93% of soybean and 86% of corn acres have adopted GE varieties. In 2012, we are poised for the introduction of GE salmon into the food chain. If approved, GE salmon would be the first “transgenic” animal allowed into our food supply. It’s unlikely that this GE salmon will be labeled as such, so you will NOT know when you are eating it!

Fifty countries around the world enforce mandatory labeling for GE organisms. Some ban them altogether. Wisely, the European Union operates under the “precautionary principle,” determining the safety of each food before sending it to market. In the U.S., however, the FDA does no independent testing of its own, and instead relies on the biotechnology industry to be self-regulating—the fox guarding the hen house!

The biotech corporations, of course, insist these GE life-forms are safe, although if you look at Monsanto’s track record for creating destructive products and concealing their potential harm, you wouldn’t trust anything they say. For instance, Monsanto knew back in 1937 that the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) it produced presented a serious health risk, but carried on production until PCBs were banned in 1977, resulting in forty years of unnecessary human and animal suffering and premature death and environmental destruction.

Despite Monsanto’s misrepresentations that GE products are harmless, there has been independent, peer-reviewed research that reveals serious concerns. Studies with rats and GE corn have shown deteriorating liver and kidney functioning. Mice fed GE soybeans had impaired embryonic development. Other studies found biotech genes in milk from dairy cows eating a GE diet, which suggested that the transgenes (the genes spliced from one species into the other) can survive pasteurization—and thus be passed on to humans. GE insect resistant crops may contain potential allergens, indicated by the allergic lung damage and skin problems in test mice. But in the U.S. there is no regulation to ensure that potentially allergenic GE crops are kept out of the food system.

This November, San Juan County in Washington State passed an Initiative Measure making it illegal to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms which have been genetically modified.” That is progress, but it is unacceptable and embarrassing that the United States is so far behind the rest of the world in the protection of its citizens. The U.S. government allows potentially harmful foods to be introduced to the food chain. According to a 2008 CBS?/?NY Times poll, more than half of American consumers would choose not to buy GE Foods and 87% want all GE ingredients to be labeled.

A 2010 Consumers Union poll found that 95% of U.S. consumers favor mandatory labeling of meat and milk from GE animals. It took $46 million in dishonest and misleading advertising by Monsanto and their big food allies like Kraft, Kellogg’s, Heinz, Pepsi, Coke, General Mills and others, flooding California just before Election Day, to confuse enough voters to change their Prop. 37 vote to “No.” It is obvious that these companies don’t care about our right to know or the protection of our health. What they care about is protecting and growing their wealth. They are a strong force that doesn’t want labeling. Why are they so opposed to us knowing what’s in our food? And, more importantly, whose rights should we be looking out for—those of the corporations or those of the people?

Stimulated by California’s valiant effort, labeling campaigns have sprung up throughout the United States. Food & Water Watch has initiated “Let Me Decide” GE labeling campaigns in 15 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. These are grassroots campaigns working to make the labeling of GE food mandatory in each state, because there are no long-term studies that indicate that genetically engineered food is safe for human consumption. YOUR help is needed! Sign on to learn more, support the cause and join your local campaign at

The”>http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/campaigns/make-ge-labels-the-law/.

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Florida Let Me Decide campaign already has three legislators willing to sponsor and co-sponsor a labeling bill. In the short time the campaign has been active, we have collected more than 7,000 petition signatures and more than 150 coalition partners throughout the state. Hippocrates Health Institute was one of the first coalition partners in West Palm Beach, and will be hosting a campaign information table at its free monthly “Save Your Life” events. The campaign is just at the beginning; we must educate the people of Florida (indeed, the country)?—?the everyday people and the legislators, increasing the grassroots network to the inevitable tipping point, when it will go our way!

Fifty years ago, President John Kennedy issued his “Special Message to the Congress on Protecting the Consumer Interest.” He called for government action to protect four consumer rights: The right to safety; the right to be informed; the right to choose and the right to be heard. We have learned that we need to demand those rights. We must speak up and demand that our legislators change the laws to favor and protect people instead of corporations.

We deserve to know where our food came from and how it was produced. We deserve to have a food system where it is safe, as Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, said to “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”

Food & Water Watch Mission Statement

Food & Water Watch works to ensure that the food and water we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable, so we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink. We help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

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