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—www.gmofreeny.net—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—http://www.responsibletechnology.org—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—http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org—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.

October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria