By Elisa Odabashian Special to The Bee Published: Tuesday, May. 27, 2014 - 12:00 am
California has often led the nation in passing landmark legislation in the public interest. This week, the California Senate could once again be a leader by passing Senate Bill 1381, introduced by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered, or GMO, foods in the state. Consumers Union, the policy arm ofConsumer Reports, urges the Senate to support transparency in the food system and to stand up for consumers’ right to know how their food is produced. Labeling genetically engineered food will give consumers the ability to make more informed choices about the food they purchase.
This week’s vote in Sacramento comes as a larger movement is underway in 26 states and in Congress to seek mandatory labeling of foods made from genetically engineered crops. California could follow in the footsteps of Vermont and become the second state in the nation to label genetically engineered foods. Connecticut and Maine have already passed labeling legislation, but the enactment of those laws is contingent upon other states passing similar legislation.
Last week, residents of the Oregon counties of Jackson and Josephine overwhelmingly voted for a ballot initiative that bans the growing of genetically engineered crops, thereby protecting their organic crops from genetically engineered contamination – despite the fact that Monsanto, Dupont and other giant chemical companies poured about $1.3 million into defeating the initiative in these small, rural counties.
In 2012, California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative requiring labeling of genetically engineered food, narrowly lost. Agribusiness and food corporations spent nearly $50 million in advertising to drown the airwaves and defeat the measure. Now, a groundswell of support by average citizens who are fed up with companies deciding what they should and should not know about their food is making it clear that the public wants to know how their food is produced. Thousands of calls and emails from the public are pouring in to California lawmakers in support of SB 1381.
States are moving ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has indicated that it will support only voluntary labeling of genetically engineered foods, despite receiving nearly 2 million public comments urging mandatory federal labeling. The U.S. is far behind the 64 countries around the world that already require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. Unlike most other developed countries – such as 15 nations in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and even China – the U.S. has no laws requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods.
While opponents claim that there is no mainstream scientific evidence of a health risk of genetically engineered foods, this obscures a more complicated reality. There is wide acknowledgment in the scientific community that genetically engineered foods may contain new allergens or increased levels of naturally occurring allergens, of plant toxins and changes in nutrition, in addition to unintended effects, which is why the European Union, unlike the U.S., requires not only labeling, but also pre-market safety reviews of genetically engineered foods. Even the FDA agrees that such problems can arise and urges companies to conduct safety reviews voluntarily.
The American Medical Association in 2012 recommended mandatory pre-market safety reviews of genetically engineered foods. Without labeling and pre-market safety reviews, consumers have no way of knowing if negative health impacts are tied to genetic modification of their foods. And that’s exactly what the biotech industry wants: to keep consumers in the dark about genetically engineered foods.
Whether or not a food is genetically engineered is a simple and clear fact. National polls show that a large majority of consumers want genetically engineered foods to be labeled. Foods that are frozen, irradiated, homogenized or from concentrate are labeled. Similarly, genetically engineered foods should be labeled so that people can make informed choices for themselves and their families.
Elisa Odabashian is director of the West Coast Office and State Campaigns of Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.
'Creative work in being stewards of the land and co-creators of living soil is not an “input” into a food system, but the most important output of good farming,' writes Shiva. (Public domain)We are made up of the same five elements — earth, water, fire, air and space — that constitute the Universe. We are the soil. We are the earth. What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves. And it is no accident that the words “humus” and “humans” have the same roots.
This ecological truth is forgotten in the dominant paradigm because it is based on eco-apartheid, the false idea that we are separate and independent of the earth and also because it defines soil as dead matter. If soil is dead to begin with, human action cannot destroy its life. It can only “improve” the soil with chemical fertilisers. And if we are the masters and conquerors of the soil, we determine the fate of the soil. Soil cannot determine our fate.
"The claim that the Green Revolution or genetic engineering feeds the world is false. Intrinsic to these technologies are monocultures based on chemical inputs, a recipe for killing the life of the soil."
History, however, is witness to the fact that the fate of societies and civilisations is intimately connected to how we treat the soil — do we relate to the soil through the Law of Return or through the Law of Exploitation and Extraction.
The Law of Return — of giving back — has ensured that societies create and maintain fertile soil and can be supported by living soil over thousands of years. The Law of Exploitation — of taking without giving back — has led to the collapse of civilisations.
Contemporary societies across the world stand on the verge of collapse as soils are eroded, degraded, poisoned, buried under concrete and deprived of life. Industrial agriculture, based on a mechanistic paradigm and use of fossil fuels has created ignorance and blindness to the living processes that create a living soil. Instead of focusing on the Soil Food Web, it has been obsessed with external inputs of chemical fertilisers — what Sir Albert Howard called the NPK mentality. Biology and life have been replaced with chemistry.
External inputs and mechanisation are imperative for monocultures. By exposing the soil to wind, sun and rain, monocultures expose the soil to erosion by wind and water.
Soils with low organic matter are also most easily eroded, since organic matter creates, aggregates and binds the soil.
Soil is being lost at 10 to 40 times the rate at which it can be replenished naturally. This implies 30 per cent less food over the next 20-50 years. Soil erosion washes away soil nutrients. A tonne of top soil averages 1-6 kg of nitrogen, 1-3 kg of phosphorous, 2-30 kg of potassium, whereas soil in eroded land has only 0.1-0.5 per cent nitrogen. The cost of these nutrient losses are $20 billion annually.
"Soil, not oil, holds the future for humanity. The oil-based, fossil fuel intensive, chemical intensive, industrial agriculture has unleashed three processes which are killing the soil, and hence impacting our future."
Fertile soils contain 100 tonnes of organic matter per ha. Reduction of soil organic matter by 1.4-0.9 per cent lowers yield potential by 50 per cent. Chemical monocultures also make soils more vulnerable to drought and further contribute to food insecurity.
Further, eroded soils and soils without organic matter absorb 10 to 300 mm less water per ha per year from rainfall. This represents 7 to 44 per cent decrease in water availability for food production, contributing to a decline in biological productivity from 10-25 per cent.
No technology can claim to feed the world while it destroys the life in the soil by failing to feed it on the basis of the Law of Return. This is why the claim that the Green Revolution or genetic engineering feeds the world is false. Intrinsic to these technologies are monocultures based on chemical inputs, a recipe for killing the life of the soil and accelerating soil erosion and degradation. Degraded and dead soils, soils without organic matter, soils without soil organisms, soils with no water holding capacity, create famines and a food crisis, they do not create food security.
This is especially true in times of climate change. Not only is industrial agriculture responsible for 40 per cent of the Green House gases contributing to climate change, it is also more vulnerable to it.
Soils with organic matter are more resilient to drought and climate extremes. And increasing organic matter production through biodiversity intensive systems, which are in effect photosynthesis intensive systems is the most effective way to get the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, into the plants, and then into the soil through the Law of Return.
Soil, not oil, holds the future for humanity. The oil-based, fossil fuel intensive, chemical intensive, industrial agriculture has unleashed three processes which are killing the soil, and hence impacting our future.
Firstly, industrial agriculture destroys living soils through monocultures and chemicals. Second, an oil-based paradigm intensifies fossil fuel inputs and creates a false measure of productivity which presents an unproductive system as productive.
The trick lies in reducing creative productive work to “labour “ as a commodity, counting people as labour as an “input”, and not counting fossil fuels as an input. Intensive fossil fuel use translates into more the 300 “energy slaves” that work invisibly behind each worker on fossil fuel intensive industrial farms.
People as an input means the less people on the land, the more “productive” agriculture becomes. Farmers are destroyed, rural economies are destroyed, the land is emptied of people and filled with toxics. The creative work of farmers as custodians and renewers of soil and biodiversity is replaced by deadly chemicals.
Creative work in being stewards of the land and co-creators of living soil is not an “input” into a food system, but the most important output of good farming. It cannot be reduced to “labour” as a commodity. Land, too, is not a commodity. Creating, conserving, rejuvenating, fertile and living soil is the most important objective of civilisation. It is a regenerative output.
Third, displaced farmers flood cities. This is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon. It is part of the design of industrial agriculture. The explosion of cities buries fertile soil under concrete. The equivalent of 30 football fields are consumed by cement and concrete every minute.
The Save our Soils (SOS) movement, of which I am a patron, has been started by many organisations including FAO, IFOAM, Nature and More, to wake humanity to the soil emergency, which is also a human emergency.
We need to measure human progress not on the basis of how much cement buried the soil, but how much soil was reclaimed and liberated. This is what “saugandh mujhe is mitti ki” should mean. Living seeds and living soils are the foundation of living and lasting societies.
California consumers, environmental and food safety groups celebrated on Friday as the Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 1381 (Evans) with a 5-2 vote.
The bill now goes to the floor for a full Senate vote by May 30.
“California is on its way to joining several states and 64 countries by labeling GMOs in our foods,” said Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). “Overwhelmingly in California and the nation, consumers simply want to know what is in the foods they eat and feed their families. This bill responds to those concerns.”
Senate Bill 1381 would require GMOs to be labeled in all foods produced for human consumption.
The bill has faced strong and well-funded opposition from large biotech corporations and industrial food manufacturers like Monsanto and Hershey’s.
The issue has garnered massive attention and support in the last few years with 93% of Americans polling in support for labeling protections in 2013.
Last week, Russia banned the import of GMO products likely harming US farmers seeking to sell their crops on the international market.
"We congratulate Senator Evans for championing consumers' right to know if their food is genetically modified,” said Elisa Odabashian, West Coast Director of Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We urge the Senate to pass this measure so that Californians can make more informed choices about the food they purchase for their families."
The news from California is the latest development in a string of successes that show momentum is building across the country for the right to know about GMOs.
On May 9, Vermont became the first state in the nation to label GMOs. On Thursday, in the US Senate, a bipartisan amendment to label GMO salmon passed the Appropriations Committee and will be voted on by the full US Senate. And Oregon just announced efforts to collect signatures for a November ballot initiative to label GMOs.
“This bill is a straight-forward, common-sense approach to empowering consumers,” continued Evans. “If the product contains GMOs, label it. We shouldn’t be hiding ingredients. Moreover, consumer choice is the cornerstone to our free-market society.”
Evans is the chair of the Senate Banking & Finance Committee and represents the Second Senatorial District, including all or portions of the counties of Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin (caretaker), Napa, Solano and Sonoma.