Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Fight for GMO-Free Food


Will New York State be the first state in the nation to require the labeling of food containing what has become known as GMO—genetically modified organisms?

More than 60 countries have enacted laws banning the use of GMO in producing food or requiring the labeling of food with ingredients that have utilized genetic modification or genetic engineering. But because of heavy pressure by the biotechnology industry, there are no such laws or regulations in the United States.

There was an attempt in California in November to pass a referendum—Proposition 37—requiring labeling of GMO food. But despite initial strong public support, it failed after an advertising blitz led by biotech giant Monsanto.

“There was a very well-funded misinformation campaign,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute. “Forty-six million”—the amount of dollars industry poured into the campaign against the proposition, five times as much as labeling supporters—“buys an awful lot of confusion and misunderstanding,” he commented.

Now political action on a state level for labeling genetically modified food has come to New York with a bill before its State Legislature requiring it.

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, especially concerning products for which health and environmental concerns have been raised,” says the sponsor of the measure in the State Senate, Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson. A long-time educator and an attorney. he says: “My bill was introduced to give consumers the freedom to choose between GMOs and conventional products. Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

Kathleen Furey, education and media director of GMO Free NY——has been busy criss-crossing Long Island, New York City and elsewhere in the state challenging GMOs and pressing for passage of the proposed law.

Crops using GMOs were introduced commercially in the United States in 1996. But “Americans are still dining in the dark,” said Ms. Furey in a recent presentation in Sag Harbor, New York. Ms. Furey, a graduate of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Department with a degree in environmental humanities, said that now in the U.S., 88% of corn, 90% of sugar beets and 94% of soybeans are grown using GMO.  Some 80% of “bottled, boxed or canned foods in the U.S.” contain GMO ingredients.  And livestock feed “is comprised mostly of GMO corn and soybeans.” GMOs “dominate the agricultural landscape” of America today, she said.

People have “the right to make informed choices about what we eat,” she emphasized. “We have the right to be protected from food health risks and the right to stop being used as guinea pigs.”

GMO technology is used to create “transgenic species” of plants and animals. Through it, genes from one often unrelated species are introduced into another.

The biotechnology industry insists GMO technology doesn’t harm people and is useful. It points to how, with genetic modification, plants resistant to some pests have been developed.

But GMO opponents hold it is harmful and various uses have backfired. Moreover, they charge that the U.S. government—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency empowered to protect Americans from contaminants in their food—has been acting as a rubber stamp for the biotechnology industry, doing its bidding. And it’s not that inside of government there isn’t an awareness of the dangers of GMOs, noted Ms. Furey. She pointed to “internal memos from FDA scientists citing the risks of GMO safety and toxicity that were disregarded by their superiors.”

On pest resistance through GMOs, Ms. Furey spoke of how “superbugs resistant to pest-resistanct GMO crops have evolved and are destroying those crops.” Also, “superweeds resistant to herbicides sprayed on GMO crops have evolved and caused farmers to spray more herbicide per acre and resort to the use of even more-toxic herbicides.”

Ms. Furey and GMO Free NY are supported by national organizations.

The Institute for Responsible Technology——based in Iowa, describes genetically modified foods as “not safe.” Its literature stresses a report by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine citing studies finding “serious health risks associated” with GMO food including “infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging…and changes to major organs and the gastrointestinal system.”

Food & Water Watch——headquartered in Washington, D.C., is warning on its website about the Food and Drug Administration now “paving the way for genetically engineered salmon,” which it calls “frankenfish.” This, furthermore, “would open the floodgates” for genetically modified “cows and pigs which biotech companies are waiting in the wings to finally commercialize after years of research and development.”

Just last month, the U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama approved what GMO foes call the “Monsanto Protection Act”—a measure to last initially six months stripping federal courts of the authority to halt the planting and sale of genetically modified crops if litigation is brought alleging health risks. Ms. Furey calls it “incredibly unconstitutional.”

The reach of the biotechnology industry extends into the U.S. Supreme Court. The court had before it in February a case involving Monsanto and genetically engineered seeds, yet Justice Clarence Thomas, formerly a Monsanto attorney, refused to recuse himself.  He refused to recuse himself, too, in 2010 in another case involving Monsanto and GMO seeds and joined in the decision favoring Monsanto’s position. “It’s outrageous,” says Ms. Furey.

Overall, the biotechnology industry’s drive for GMOs has been incredibly undemocratic and the process is quite likely unhealthy. Labeling is a minimum—so people can at least know what food is genetically modified and choose what’s still GMO-free.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”