A Civil Rights Perspective on GMO Labeling

Posted on September 8th, 2014 by Michelle A. | Posted in Notes & News

GMO_illustration1If you’ve been reading about GMOs and the hullabaloo about labeling them, you’ve probably run into countless arguments both pro and con. Most of the time, these arguments get bogged down into the muddy question of whether or not they are safe and, if so, to what extent. Concerns of “propaganda” fly on both sides of the argument.

Regardless of your personal feelings about the safety of GMOs, there is something we—on both sides of the equation—have in common. We all have a right to know what we are eating, so that we can make an informed decision whether or not to eat it. It’s really that basic. It doesn’t matter why we choose to eat, or not eat, something. All that matters is our right to know what it is before putting it into our bodies.

Rather than continue to argue back and forth about GMOs themselves, let’s address the issue as an effort to provide for the rights of the people to be free from having special interest agendas from making our decisions for us. It’s about transparency, plain and simple.

Our right to be informed about something as essential as the food we nourish ourselves and our children with—as well as the ecological environment in which we all live—trumps any and all arguments regarding cost of creating new labels, rising food price fears, potentially misunderstood or propagandized information, or other rationale. In Europe, and elsewhere in the world, food is already properly labeled with GMO information. The sky didn’t fall.

Some folks think that we’re making mountains of molehills when we address people’s need to know what they eat. Yes, it’s possible that some people could eat GMOs their whole lives and never know the difference, and never care that they don’t know what they are eating.

However, there are growing numbers of people for whom such consumption might lead to health issues. There are in vitro studies—as well as mountains of anecdotal evidence—that suggest various hazards, but the fact is that GMOs are such an unknown factor that nobody knows anything for sure. They are a gamble with as yet unforeseeable consequences. Nobody should be forced, by having information deliberately hidden from them, to participate in that gamble.

Sure, you’ll encounter plenty of GMO apologists who will claim, correctly, that correlation does not equal causality. That’s true. So far, we have not been able to prove, empirically, that all GMOs are dangerous for human consumption. However, the opposite is also true.

For all the claims of GMO safety, there are no long term, empirical, neutral third party studies proving any such safety. A 90 day, limited focus study conducted by the companies that produced the product—and have a financial stake in it—does not prove “safety.” All it proves is that, in three months, there wasn’t sufficient information definitively proving danger from exposure during that limited time. That’s not safety. That’s just lack of evidence. Sadly, it’s being passed off as a seal of approval to go ahead and throw an unknown genetic factor into our global food supply which can never be removed, even if it’s later proven to be detrimental.

Most people reading this will agree that it makes sense to just put the info out there and trust people to make their own decisions for themselves. Unfortunately, we are being inundated with a tidal wave of doom and gloom forecasts if we interfere with biotech trying to “feed the world.” If you stand back and look at it from a rational perspective, you’ve really got to wonder why they are so afraid we’ll impede their noble goal. Why don’t they just provide people with information and trust that we’re smart enough to make the right decisions for ourselves? We all want the people of the world to be fed. Is it really necessary to do so using lab created food, and to introduce it covertly, without the consent of the people who will be consuming it?

It’s hard not to be paranoid about biotech’s intentions when you start asking questions that are avoided rather than answered. It gets even more suspicious when, on one hand, biotech is claiming that labeling GMOs will increase food costs, but, on the other hand, they have no problem shelling out tens of millions of dollars to keep us ignorant of their existence in our food supply. How much profit do they stand to make if they can afford to spend so much now to ensure we don’t have an informed choice?

In addition to the potential health hazards GMOs pose for vulnerable individuals, we should acknowledge the environmental and economic impact on small producers of organic and heirloom crops and seeds which are sold
worldwide. Imagine what will happen to a family business that has produced quality food and seeds for generations if they become irreparably tainted by GMOs. The farmers would lose everything. Decades of work, gone in the blink of an eye. Permanently. In a state like Oregon, where industries like this account for tens of millions of dollars of revenue each year, think about the economic impact of having all of that disappear in a poof of biotech smoke.

Imagine, also, the potentially devastating impact of having a minimally tested, highly invasive lab experiment introduced into our environment. We’re not talking about something that, if it doesn’t work, or produces results we don’t like, can ever be reigned back in. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, it’s open. For good or bad, there is no turning back. Don’t you think that we should at least KNOW when and where this is happening?

We, as Americans, and as human beings, have the right to Bodily Integrity. It’s against the law to force a person to accept something done to their bodies without their consent. Yet, when we are denied the knowledge of the existence of GMOs in our food, we are being denied our explicit consent before putting them in our bodies. Refusal to inform us of the presence of GMOs in our food is a human rights violation, plain and simple.

In November, thanks to the efforts of grassroots groups, especially Oregon Right To Know, there will be an initiative—Measure 92—on the statewide ballot which will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods sold in Oregon. Voting “Yes on 92” is a vote to ensure personal freedom to decide what we put into our bodies.

Contrary to the special interest propaganda, it’s not a vote to increase prices, deny anyone access to affordable food, or interfere with business profits. All it is, is an acknowledgement of our right to make informed choices, rather than having the government, or special interests, make them for us.

Regardless of individual feelings about GMOs, everyone can agree that “We, The People,” should be the ones to choose them—or not—based upon our own preferences. A “Yes on 92” vote will allow us to make informed choices, thus preserving our right to Bodily Integrity, a fundamental human right.

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