“Is There Fly DNA In My Soup?” – Or, Why the GMO Labeling Bill is Important
The transition from the Standard American Diet to a Paleo lifestyle is often a gradual one, beginning with reeducation about nutrition science, and generally wrapping up with a focus on food quality. When budget allows, we are encouraged to source local, organic produce, locally raised grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs, and wild-caught, sustainably fished seafood. These qualifiers aren’t exclusive to success with Paleo, but in the same way that eating like a caveman is more about a lifestyle than a diet, so too is food quality as important for our bodies as it is for the environment.
Which is why the GMO Labeling Bill (HB 0903), introduced in Congress in February of this year, should be at the forefront of Paleo political consciousness.
And why not? When we take a trip to the grocery store, we are ruthless in the pursuit of ingredient purity. Any added sugar in that tomato sauce? Back on the shelf it goes. Gluten in that marinade, guar gum in that coconut milk? No thanks.
We’re left to our own devices when shopping the produce section, made to navigate the bins without the guidance of a handy nutritional guide affixed to the skin of a sweet potato. Sure, the only ingredients would be “sweet potato,” but other, less obvious factors come into play – residual pesticides, fungicides, waxes and gaseous sprays linger on our tomatoes and zucchini, unbeknownst to us.
Yet deep within the genetic material of the produce may often be another unwanted additive – a science-driven mutation – that may be harmless, for all we know. But did a caveman eat GMO foods? What says genetically modified organisms won’t have negative repercussions on our own genetic material in the future?
The term “genetically modified organism” is similar to the technical legal one, “living modified organism,” as defined by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the guidelines that regulate international trade in living GMOs. Genetically modified organisms can be anything from livestock to produce to microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast. A result of genetic engineering techniques, this technology splices DNA from different species to create some combination of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or through crossbreeding practices. Most commonly, GMOs are created to stand up to the application of herbicides or fungicides or, in many plants, to produce their own forms of insecticide. Plants like algae and maize have been genetically modified for use in biofuel technology, and other plants are altered to withstand harsh environmental factors or long shipments to the grocery store shelves. Some of the most genetically modified foods include: corn, soy, cotton, papaya, rice, tomatoes, rapeseed (canola), dairy products (rbGH in dairy cows), potatoes, peas, sugar beets, animal feed and farmed salmon.
The GMO Labeling Bill is a simple piece of legislation that, if passed in Congress, would require GMO products to be marked as such. U.S. Representative Jared Polis of Colorado, who introduced the bill, argues that consumers have the right to informed choices.
“It’s important to empower people with information they need to make their own healthy choices,” Polis said in a Food Safety News article. “People have the right to make consumer decisions based on accurate transparency in labeling, and knowledge is power.”
Which, at its core, is the beauty of Paleo – through this diet and lifestyle, we become more attuned to the wealth of natural flavors and nutrients around, and more aware of the inferior artificial substitutes we relied on for so long. How many Paleo “converts” have sung the praises of grass-fed butter or ghee after a lifetime of margarine use? There is simply no substitute for something so purely nutritious, so simply good. Knowledge is power and, in most Paleo cases, knowledge leads to vibrant health.
And just as purchasing grass-fed beef from a local farmer is a way to steer the national discussion of food toward more eco-friendly and ethically responsible methods of meat production, so too will we be able to vote with our dollars with access to specifically labeled non-GMO products.
The Right to Know GMO – A Coalition of States is a grassroots organization lobbying for the common goal of mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. After the defeat of California’s GMO Labeling Bill Prop. 37 in November 2012, 37 states united to make changes in U.S. food policy on a national level. Slowly but surely Right to Know is seeing the fruits (non-GMO, of course) of its labor.
Individual states are gradually approving their own versions of the GMO Labeling Bill. The Connecticut Congress was the first to pass the Bill, and an easy journey through the Maine House and Senate was quick to follow. Although not yet signed into effect, this state legislation will require food manufacturers to label genetically modified ingredients on products’ packaging.
Bioengineering giant Monsanto is at the forefront of genetic modification – both its practices and its politics – and, understandably, objects to much of the GMO-labeling legislation. Monsanto is accustomed to being up in arms, however, as it has been the target of anti-GMO sentiments from the beginning of the agricultural biotechnology movement. For them, this is no new battle.
In a 1998 article in New York Times Magazine, “Playing God in the Garden,” journalist, author and food policy advocate Michael Pollan writes of Monsanto’s New Leaf potatoes, a variety engineered to generate their own powerful insecticide. Pollan plants the genetically modified spuds as an experiment of sorts and, at the end of harvest season, wrestles with the risks of cooking and serving such a mysterious and abnormal species. In the end, his conclusion speaks to the basis of the GMO Labeling Bill now in Congress: the right to choose.
“So there they sit, a bag of biotech spuds on my porch. I’m sure they’re absolutely fine. I pass the bag every day, thinking I really should try one, but I’m beginning to think that what I like best about these particular biotech potatoes — what makes them different — is that I have this choice. And until I know more, I choose not.”
Erin R. Van Genderen is a freelance writer and creative foodie interested in traditional nutrition and health. She blogs weekly at littledutchwife.com.