GMO labeling campaign in Davis

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Proposed ballot initiative and anti-Monsanto rally puts bioengineered foods in the crosshairs
By Jean Walker

Fortune 500 corporation Monsanto shut down its local operations last week as protesters, holding signs and taking turns on a handheld megaphone, demanded that genetically modified foods to be labeled as such-if not banned outright.
The Davis rally was in solidarity with a grassroots attempt to shut down Monsanto offices across the globe. Locally, it worked: After catching wind of the planned demonstration, Monsanto employees were directed to avoid work on Friday.
And if the two-day rally is any indicator of a greater phenomenon, as activist Pamm Larry suggested, it's that there's an increasing awareness in the country about food production and safety.
Larry leads hundreds of volunteers across the state in collecting 800,000 signatures before April 22 to qualify the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act initiative for this fall's ballot.
The measure, if passed, would require that any food containing genetically engineered ingredients have a label indicating that the product was derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. It would also mandate that foods cannot be labeled "natural" if they have been processed in any way (i.e., canned, cooked, frozen, fermented, etc.).
"People don't have time to take a college course on what is and isn't labeled," she says.
Genetically engineered foods, according to the initiative, are foods in which the genetic makeup has been altered through vitro nucleic acid techniques, cell fusion or hybridization techniques that don't occur naturally. This includes foods that are genetically engineered to be resistant to pesticides in order to increase crop yields, such as the controversial corn variety created by Dow Chemical that is resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D.
While this initiative will not ban genetically engineered foods, it will allow consumers to make a choice whether or not to buy these foods, Larry says. And, while she did not provide any numbers, she is confident the act will garner enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Meanwhile, a committee called Stop the Costly Food Labeling Initiative has cropped up to oppose the ballot-measure effort. This group is backed by the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Seed Association, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association and the Council for Biotechnology Information.
The committee says regulation would be costly to the state and that it would put California farmers at a competitive disadvantage. Farmers in other states won't be held to the same standards, they argue, and this would increase the food prices.
The committee cites an analysis released by the state Legislative Analyst's Office, which estimates that regulation of the measure could cost up to $1 million annually. The LAO further predicts a cost burden for the courts to pursue violations.
The committee also emphasizes the fact that the FDA and medical experts have deemed genetically engineered foods safe for consumption.
But Dr. Glayol Sahba, volunteer signature gatherer and Sacramento family physician, noted that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium on genetically modified foods in 2009, concluding that "GM foods pose a serious health risk."
The academy cites several animal studies that have shown health risks related to GMO consumption, including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.
"Transgenic foods have only been around 10 years," Sahba said. "We need to not expose people [to these foods] when we are not sure of the consequences to people and the environment."
According to a statewide poll conducted by EMC Research in June of last year, 81 percent of California voters said they would support an initiative that required GMO foods to be labeled. The push for GMO labeling is also gaining momentum around the country; as many as 14 states have attempted to pursue similar measures, including Connecticut, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and Vermont.
Last week, 55 members of Congress signed off on a bicameral letter to the FDA in support of a petition filed by the Center for Food Safety advocating GMO labeling.
Consumers want to see a change in the food system, Larry says, and are demanding transparency.
"People are fired up," she says. "Many of us in the country have felt powerless for a long time, [but] when we unite we can get something done."

New Campaign Gathers Signatures for GMO Labeling Via Ballot Box
Feature Stories | Published 21 Mar 2012, 10:17 am | No Comments -
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Dozens of protesters in Davis, California on Friday shut down an office of the giant biotechnology company, Monsanto, to draw attention to genetically modified foods. The Occupy Davis action was fueled by claims that Monsanto's genetically modified seeds could potentially disrupt the world's food supply. Like most critics of GMOs, the protesters are demanding the labeling of genetically modified foods so that the public can decide whether or not to consume them.
Now, a growing movement across the country, and here in California, is calling for labeling, via the ballot box. A ballot measure aimed at this November's election on GMO labeling has been sponsored by the Committee for the "Right to Know" - a grassroots coalition of consumer, public, health, environmental organizations and food companies in California.
The group is in the process of gathering 800,000 signatures before April 22nd in order get their measure onto the 2012 Ballot, which would explicitly require all genetically modified foods sold in retail outlets to be labeled as such. A recent study by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, found that nationwide, 80 percent of packaged foods contain genetically engineered ingredients. However, because they are not labeled, consumers remain ignorant. The US is far behind other industrialized nations - currently, all the European Union countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea and Russia require GMO labeling.
Recent polls show that 9 out of 10 Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled, a simple step that would have no foreseeable cost impacts on food producers or consumers. However, producers of GMOs like Monsanto, vehemently oppose labeling. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the organic yogurt producer Stonyfield Farms, says the California initiative "gives a voice to the consumer-driven food economy that wants transparency that only labeling can bring." A number of other states are also considering labeling laws and initiatives including Connecticut, Vermont, Washington and Hawaii.
GUEST: Gary Ruskin, Campaign Manager for the California Right to Know Ballot Initiative
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