Local activists presented 350, 000 signatures supporting I-522 to state legislators in March, an initiative requiring labeling on all genetically modified foods in Washington state by 2015. The Washington state House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee later approved the initiative to be placed on the ballot for voters in November 2013.
“This is a topic that is relevant for everybody,” says Beverly Goldie, the spokesperson for GAG, also known as the GM Awareness Group of the North Olympic Peninsula.
As a retired educator, Goldie pursues her passion for teaching through educating consumers about genetically modified foods. She says the best way to combat big agribusiness is through becoming educated and buying local, organic foods.
Consumers should know what they are buying and eating. According to another GAG member, “We’re now trillions in debt, and billions of that is for passing on freedom and democracy, the U.S. kind, and I’d like some of that at home.”
Consumers have increasing concerns about labeling for the health of their children and the future of Washington’s farming economy, Goldie says.
A spokesperson at the March 6 hearing said “rice farmers in Washington lost $100 million due to contamination of crops by genetically modified pollen,” due to the restriction of genetically modified foods in countries importing foods from Washington.
He said Europe, China and Japan have banned GM products in their food supply, and restricted imports of Washington state rice. Farmers fear the same will happen to wheat crops and cause economic loss in an already declining business.
“GMOs are a big deal here, and they ought to be,” Pierce College environmental science professor John Rosenthal says.
Rosenthal says most of the civilized world has rejected GM foods, although 98 percent of U.S. corn has insecticides built in.
Currently, corporations like $44 billion American companies Monsanto and Cargill are not required to label biotech foods, although they are implanted with insecticides that haven’t been,
nor are required by the FDA, to be safe for human consumption.
As chemical producers of Agent Orange, Monsanto has a long history of producing bio toxins. Monsanto’s Bt corn contains doses of insecticides that don’t kill people, yet, Rosenthal says. He thinks there will be long-term effects on health, similar to coal dust effects on the lungs. He explained that larger, long-term doses of bio toxins may build up in humans consuming these foods.
Rosenthal says the best advice he can give students is to be educated, talk to local farmers and buy organic the one or two foods they eat the most.
GMOs have been a topic of concern since1973, when Stanford University scientist Stanley Cohen demonstrated his breakthrough in microbiology called recombinant DNA. It revolutionized the relationship between commercialism and life. Stanford University fought for a patent for more than six years, gaining it in 1983, an issue that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The controversy lasted in the academic and legal community due to the fact that DNA is a naturally occurring substance and not a human invention.
Patents have proven to be a difficulty for small farmers in the US. Monsanto sued 144 small farmers between 1997 and 2010 for patent infringement because the farmers’ crops had been contaminated by biotech seed. American farmers say that inadvertent contamination is impossible to prevent. Monsanto demands royalties from any small farmer’s field that receives contamination, although wind from a nearby field can carry pollen contaminants without human intervention. Other areas of the world, like India, are also affected.
Within the last two years, there have been concerns growing in India over the infiltration of biotechnology and its effects on traditional farmers. The Indian government accused Monsanto of “biopiracy” for stealing the indigenous eggplant to produce a genetically modified version in 2011, according to the news organization Focus in France.
Experts have rising concerns over the health effects of the foods American’s consume. UW biology professor Toby Bradshaw has been using genetic engineering processes in his study of poplar trees, and he agrees that these, as well as other GMOs, will need to undergo considerable controlled scientific monitoring before they could be released confidently for commercial use. Although experts and the majority of the world’s countries agree, genetically modified food still is not monitored in America.
A recent publication by the American Academy of Environmental Sciences advocates for a “moratorium” of GM foods, after finding several health risks associated with their use, including infertility and changes in the gastrointestinal system.
Although officials for GM producers such as Monsanto say their products can be used to stop world hunger and promote peace, questions arise as to what the long-term effects on the environment will be. Many Washington citizens still say they would like the option of choice. Choice has always been an issue that fits the American ideal in any case.
California’s Proposition 37 recently was defeated, but the Washington state Initiative is expected to pass due to its high number of supporters.
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