Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Political Desk - I-522: What's in Your Shopping Cart?

 I don’t fear GMOs, but by the same token, I’d like them to be labeled. Let me explain.

The most expensive initiative on the ballot, in terms of how much money people are willing to spend to stop it, I-522 requires we label food that is genetically modified. This is more than just Mendelian crossbreeding, but getting into the heart of the matter and throwing a gene into the genetic chain that might improve yield, or extend shelf-life or act as a naturally-growing pesticide. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. Yes, you can throw that factoid out in the next dinner party. 

And to be honest, this is a pretty cool thing on the face of it. March of science and all that. My friend Wolfgang Baur has provided links from the American Academy of Science (the guys who publish SCIENCE, and usually part of the calm voice of reason) that indicate that GMO crossbreeds are generally as safe as normal crops. Of course, given what we’ve done with our normal crops over the years, that is praising with faint damns (we wash our fruit these days, but more from the concern of pesticides and chemicals than dirt and debris).

But I am still in favor of labels. Why? I’d like the data. I DO read the nutritional information on my multiple attempts to cut calories. I read them to make sure that there are no eggs (the Lovely Bride is allergic) or are free of MSG (gives the mom-in-law headaches). Yes, if you’re tweaking the genes, I’d like to know that there's a bit of chicken in there BEFORE the Lovely Bride has to hit the ER.

And it is not just me. Japan suspended import of US wheat this summer when some GMO wheat was found in an wheat field in Oregon. They found it when a farmer could not clear the field using Monsanto pesticides, in a bit of irony. So yeah, other people want to read the labels as well.

Both sides are pushing hard on this. I think the pro-labeling side is raising the specter of Frankenfood and the overwhelming pressure from Monsanto, who apparently read about the calorie companies in Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and said “Yeah, that’s the dystopia WE want!”. Plus, their opponents of the labeling have been hiding their contributions, finally coming out only when the State Attorney General threatened a lawsuit (The big hidden contributors? Coke, Pepsi, and Nestle. So, what ARE in those Fritos?)

But the anti-side is pushing hard that it is a bad law – too many loopholes, not enough definitions, too many corner cases. Fine. Then let’s pass it and you can spend all the money you are currently putting in to defeat it into helping make the law better. Close those loopholes. Tighten up the regulations. It is not like you guys don't have access to the corridors of power or anything. 

I’m going with YES on this one. Not because of any scare tactics, or that Pepsico doesn't want you to know what is in the Doritos, or because Monsanto wants to be a calorie king, but because I want data. I read the box copy, and I vote.

More later,