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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • The right to know is at stake

  • A battle rages between advocates for cleaner food supply and the chemical and junk food industries over the labeling of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). California has taken the lead and had its voters decide whether or not GMOs should be labeled. It was proposition 37 and it failed even though an AB C News poll found that 93 percent of Americans want to know if their food is genetically engineered.
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  • A battle rages between advocates for cleaner food supply and the chemical and junk food industries over the labeling of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). California has taken the lead and had its voters decide whether or not GMOs should be labeled. It was proposition 37 and it failed even though an AB C News poll found that 93 percent of Americans want to know if their food is genetically engineered.
    Genetic engineering is the manipulation of an organism's genetic endowment by introducing or eliminating specific genes through modern molecular biology techniques, according to Charles Hagedorn and Susan Allender-Hagedorn at Virginia Tech –writing in Public Perception Issues in Biotechnology. In other words, food plants have been genetically altered by the addition of foreign genes to enhance a desired trait. The most desired traits are that they are made strong enough to withstand stronger herbicides (more Roundup) and they are made to produce their own pesticides.
    It seems to be true that many people have no concern about the food they eat but the numbers who do care are growing by leaps and bounds. Some of us realize that what we put into our bodies does make a difference in our health and quality of life. Some "experts" claim genetic engineering to be harmless while other scientists give evidence of harm in animal studies. It may be that no one knows the long term effects of altering the food supply in such a way.
    Most Americans think we have the right to know what has been done to our food just as the over 60 other nations who have laws requiring that genetically modified foods be labeled.
    Californians were ready to pass proposition 37 and the labeling of GMOs in that state and they would have set a precedent that would have influenced the rest of the country. But the prospect of Proposition 37 terrified the junk food and pesticide companies that want to keep us in the dark about the food we eat. They launched a $46 million campaign burying the state's voters in an avalanche of misleading ads and outright falsehoods. Their efforts defeated the proposition, 53 percent to 47 percent.
    Monsanto (the largest producer of farm chemicals and GMOs) and their cohorts in the junk food industry not only spent $46 million to defeat American's right to know, they lied and got away with it. By the time the real truths were revealed, the damage was done—the voting was over
    Among the lies that changed the vote of Californians was an official looking document mailed to voters listing four prestigious organizations had concluded that "biotech foods are safe." All but one of the groups, which is an industry front group, denied having endorsed GMOs and were upset at being quoted as doing so.
    The "No" campaign, in a mailer sent to California voters, this message was written along side the FDA logo: "The US Food and Drug Administration says a labeling policy like Prop 37 would be "inherently misleading." How can a $45 million campaign place quotation marks incorrectly on a mailer? The FDA did not and cannot express an opinion on ballot initiatives.
    Page 2 of 2 - Monsanto and other affected industries misrepresented academic affiliation. More than once, the "No" campaign gave the false impression that its go-to expert Henry Miller was a professor at Stanford University, in violation the school's own policy. (In fact, he's with the Hoover Institute, housed on the Stanford campus.) Only when Stanford complained did the "No" campaign edit the TV ad, but many already saw it, and then they repeated the lie in a mailer.
    The "No" side took unfounded scare tactics to new heights when they made wild claims about higher food prices, "shakedown lawsuits" and "special interest exemptions." Each of the claims was easily debunked but being outspent on ad dollars made it hard to compete, especially when all you can say is that it is not true.
    Other lies and dirty tricks by the "No" group included claiming that the San Francisco Examiner recommended a "no" vote when in fact, the paper endorsed Proposition 37. They put up doctors and academic experts as spokes people who were being paid by the industries. Conflict of interests was not disclosed.
    They placed ads in deceptive mailers that looked like they came from the Democratic Party, policemen, and groups supporting the green environmental movement.
    Since these tactics were taken in the last few weeks of the campaign, it didn't leave enough time for those supporting Proposition 37 to raise money and refute the lies.
    California's Proposition 37 died a painful death, despite polling in mid-September showing an overwhelming lead. It was a 53 to 47 percent, which is relatively close considering the "No" side's tactics.
    It is amazing how scare tactics work and folks believe what they see on television, which is supported by the same people who don't want us to know what we are eating.
    (Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, taught home economics, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, has taught numerous health and nutrition classes, and wrote a weekly newspaper column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)
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