Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that the fight to get GMO foods (genetically-modified organisms) labeled as such is a pretty big deal these days. Everyone seems to have an opinion, so I’ll share mine: I have not passionately joined the fight for GMO labeling, and I think we have a bigger fight in which to engage. Maybe you’re surprised that I feel this way given my relative food-snobbery. Let me back up and say that while I’m in favor of empowered consumers, I think that we humans have a long history of ignoring the root cause of problems and putting our energy into things that won’t solve them.
GMO labeling is like preaching to the choir. Almost all of the people I know that are big supporters of this labeling don’t really eat GMO foods anyway. Instead, they’re people like me who are relatively educated about the evils of our industrial food supply and have been opting out of it to a large degree for years. We’d like nothing more than to hit the Big Food industry where it matters – in the pocketbook – and make it harder for them to make money and sell their garbage. Labeling would certainly do that, and in principle, it’s the right thing to do.
My argument is that labeling won’t solve our underlying problem of why GMOs are so prevalent in our food supply. It’s been said, mostly by companies that market or use GMO foods, that the world’s population is growing so quickly that small-scale agriculture cannot feed everyone. This has been disproved over and over again. We do not have a food production problem, we have a distribution and accessibility problem.
I know from experience in the very small Tomato Envy garden that I produce more than enough food for my family and I am not an expert grower. Besides my personal example, there are really cool organizations springing up all over the place that are working to make good, clean food available to people in urban food deserts and those who otherwise could not afford it. My favorite of these is Growing Power headed up by Will Allen who left a lucrative corporate career to start an urban farm to make fresh food affordable to low income people in Milwaukee. In Detroit, vacant lots are being turned into community gardens. In Brooklyn, urban farmers are putting gardens on the rooftops of old buildings to make food accessible to city-dwellers.
Don’t confuse hybrid crops with GMOs. Hybrids can occur in nature with no human intervention while GMOs occur only in labs.
In third world countries, Monsanto claims that children would suffer malnutrition and die if it weren’t for their products, but who’s really to blame is the corrupt governments of these countries. They routinely block access to a varied diet for their impoverished citizens. Instead of small-scale, diverse farming, Monsanto and these governments promote monocultured farming of GMO corn and soy, just like the kind that’s making Americans fat and sick.
The single best way to avoid eating GMO foods is to stop eating processed convenience foods and conventionally-raised meats. Learning your way around the kitchen and learning to cook meals from scratch is supremely empowering. The vast majority of GMO crops are corn and soy which are turned into all sorts of “products” that line supermarket shelves – think breakfast cereals, snack foods, frozen meals, boxed dinners and such. Just read the ingredients – you’ll be amazed! The rest of the GMO corn and soy is fed to animals in large-scale, industrial feed lots that produce our meat.
With very few exceptions, fresh fruits and vegetables are not genetically modified. For other staple foods, you can simply look for the Certified Organic label, which already exists. Certified organic foods by definition are required to be free of GMOs. For meat, choose at least organically-raised or, better yet, choose locally raised, pastured meat from a trusted source.
I also doubt that GMO labeling will change our eating habits. For instance, if I suddenly discovered that Coco Puffs contained no GMO ingredients, do you think I would start eating them? Hell to the no! Breakfast cereal is still a highly processed product that contains almost no real food. Conversely, if someone who really loves Coco Puffs and eats them every morning finds out that they do in fact contain GMO ingredients, do you think they’ll stop buying? My guess would be no.
The vast majority of people are smarter than we give them credit for. Most people know already that a plate full of home-cooked food with lots of fresh vegetables and simple ingredients is “better for you” than a Hot Pocket from the microwave. The problem is that those people either a) do not have access to good food or b) don’t care all that much that processed food containing genetically-modified ingredients is bad for them.
In principle, I think labeling is a necessary first step. It can’t hurt and may raise awareness of the potential dangers of GMO foods. And, the dangers aren’t just to our personal health either. These crops wreak environmental havoc since they promote copious use of harmful chemicals and they are killing off our natural pollinators. Our big problem is that good, organically-grown food is not available or affordable for too many people and that needs to change right away. Until then, I will never be “against” labeling of GMOs but I hope that we also put our energy into getting at the root of this very, very big food problem.
I want to know what YOU think, so please share your comments with me!