The Washington fight over food labeling matters to Oregonians

By Rick North of Durham, Oregon. Rick is the former executive vice president of the Oregon American Cancer Society and former project director of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility's Campaign For Safe Food. Rick says, "I retired two years ago to confront the undue corporate influence of big money on our elections, government and most aspects of our lives."

I’m sitting here looking at a box of Trader Joe’s pancake mix.

On one side are nutrition facts identifying almost everything you’d want to know – calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, cholesterol, possible allergens like nuts, and all the ingredients. These are all of interest to consumers and most are required by the FDA to be listed.

What’s missing is any information about whether any of the ingredients identified – wheat, barley, soybeans, corn, oats, rice, milk – are genetically engineered (GE). This isn’t because of lack of consumer desire or interest. For decades, dozens of polls have found that the public overwhelmingly wants GE labeling, often over 80% or 90%.

So why no labeling for genetically engineered food? In a word, Monsanto.

The St. Louis – based corporation is the poster child for the revolving door in Washington, DC, where their executives have effectively infiltrated the federal government, turning it into little more than a rubber stamp for the growing and consumption of GE crops. This is in spite of the fact that there have been numerous credible scientific studies raising red flags on their safety for both humans and animals.

On November 5, voters in Washington state will decide on Proposition I-522, a citizen’s initiative that would require labeling of GE food. This follows a similar attempt in California last year that barely lost, 51% - 49%, after a massive $46 million infusion of cash from Monsanto and their friends. They deluded just enough California voters with an advertising blitz warning that GE labeling would harm farmers and jack up family grocery bills by hundreds of dollars.

We’ve seen the same bogus scare tactics before. In 2002, Oregon was the first state to attempt GE food labeling through Measure 27. Polls indicated 70%-30% support for the measure before agribusiness’s money started rolling in. By the time their TV and radio ad tsunamis had swamped the airwaves, the measure was defeated by the same numbers, a total reversal.

The script hasn’t changed and neither has the financial landscape, where democracy is for sale again. Monsanto just dumped nearly $4.6 million into the NO campaign and Dupont chipped in another $3.4 million. The NO forces are now out-spending the YES campaign by $3.5 million.

Incredibly, the opposition only lists five donors - Monsanto, Dupont, Bayer Cropscience, Dow Chemical and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The GMA recently scrubbed its website of its membership, effectively closing the window on finding out which food companies are supporting Monsanto and the biotech firms through their trade association. This is in stark contrast to the widespread support and transparency of the YES campaign, which has thousands of donations listed from individuals, organizations and businesses.

Monsanto and their friends know very well that labeling is the kiss of death for GE foods. If consumers can find this information easily on the label, as they can in European and other nations, many will seek out non-GE foods. Moreover, national food companies won’t be able to label for just one state, so a victory in Washington should result in labeling for at least Oregon and other northwest states.

You won’t find a more well-defined battle between consumer demand and corporate control of our food supply. For more information and specific actions you can take to help, see YesOn522.com.

We have a right to know what’s in our food. It’s time we become empowered to exercise that right.

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