This July 4th, A Food Awakening

By Robyn O’Brien

As we come together to celebrate the 4th of July this year, something amazing is happening.  It’s an awakening, a movement, inspired by patriotism, to restore the health of our families and the health of our country.

We know what makes America great: founding families, pioneering spirits, liberties and freedoms.  And we also know how quickly those freedoms can be compromised by disease.  But what is incredible this 4th of July is that a patriotic movement is spreading across the nation.

This Independence Day, we are celebrating a movement and a fundamental freedom Americans are seeking, a civil liberty, a right to know what is in their food.  As we are quickly learning that our food supply is loaded with ingredients that we didn’t have in our foods when we were kids, our country is having a food awakening.  We are realizing that these foods weren’t in the foods we ate as kids, they weren’t part of our picnics and weren’t part of our BBQs.  They simply didn’t exist.  But today these genetically engineered ingredients are found in our everyday foods, ingredients manufactured by the chemical industry specifically for their chemicals, and they have been quietly slipped into so many of the foods that we feed our families.

But the incredible thing to stop and observe this holiday is what makes our country great: what Americans are doing about it.

Upon learning that 64 countries around the world label these ingredients, people around the country are seeking those same liberties here in the United States for all of us, too.

Americans are doing what they do best: fighting for their freedoms and the right to know and to choose what is in the foods they are feeding their families.  No one wants big brother telling them what to eat.  In no way is this more transparent than in the movement to label genetically engineered ingredients in our food supply.

These seven examples show the steps Americans have recently taken to bring transparency, liberty and food democracy to all Americans who want to know what they are eating, not just those that can afford organic foods:

  1. Connecticut became the first state to pass labeling legislation; Maine was 2nd, and many more states are not far behind, like Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington State.
  2. 2 million objections to genetically engineered salmon have been filed with the FDA, an unprecedented number that led to GE salmon being rejected by 2,000 stores, from Texas grocery stores like HEB to Whole Foods, Target and many more around the country.
  3. In our government, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to label genetically engineered salmon. It is the first recorded vote on GE labeling by the Committee, establishing a precedent for the right to know movement.
  4. Rather than usher in another genetically engineered product, introduced by the chemical industry to withstand their chemicals, the USDA extended the review of a corn engineered to withstand a component found in Agent Orange, 2,4-D, as consumer sentiment and concern around these products continues to grow.
  5. For the first time, the USDA approved a label for “non-GMO” meat and liquid egg products, which indicates that the livestock feed going into these products is not from GE crops, giving consumers more information and insight into how their foods are being produced.
  6. A federal bill to label genetically engineered foods was introduced this spring, and currently has 11 Senate co-sponsors and 37 House co-sponsors.
  7. Commitments have been made by Chipotle, Target and others to label products with genetically engineered ingredients, bringing this choice to eaters beyond the food movement, Whole Foods and those traditionally being seen as the ones who can afford to opt out.

In other words, this food awakening is happening across the country, touching all of us. We’ve learned that we have been left behind, and that 64 countries around the world have labeled these genetically engineered foods, including China, Saudi Arabia and even Kazakhstan.

And while some food companies and manufacturers claim that labeling will increase food prices, that hasn’t happened in any of the countries that have already implemented labeling, and the sum of those countries covers nearly half of the world’s population.

In light of the recent changes to our food supply and escalating rates of diseases, Americans are joining them and saying, it is no longer enough for food companies to tell consumers more about calories, sugar, fat and sodium.  We need more information about what is going into how our food is produced.

We already know whether food has salt, sugar or fat, if it contains high fructose corn syrup or allergens, and if chemical food additives are added to make it look better and last longer.  We know if milk is pasteurized or if orange juice comes from concentrate.  But in light of all of that, we still remain in the dark about whether our food has been genetically engineered by the chemical companies for their chemicals.

The adoption of labeling all over the world has not impeded our ability in any way to feed the world.  Food waste remains a massive problem, as do escalating rates of obesity around the globe, and that is something that we can all do our part in fixing.

Labeling these genetically engineered ingredients in our food won’t mislead consumers into thinking the food is dangerous; if food is dangerous, it is taken off the market.

And of growing concern is the fact that these genetically engineered crops, while promising to reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides, have resulted in skyrocketing use of these pesticide products by 527 million pounds over the past 16 years.  And while this may drive profitability for shareholders, it is sounding alarms for stakeholders in our food supply.

The bottom line is that this is not another regulation.  There have long been rules that govern labeling, and those rules keep companies from engaging in deceptive behaviors, ensuring consumers know what that they have the right to know.  The FDA requires labeling of numerous ingredients, additives and processes.  Remember, they even require orange juice to be labeled from concentrate.

The regulatory system we have for these genetically engineered crops was created more than 20 years ago, before these crops even reached the market, before the skyrocketing rates of allergies and autism, and before the Presidents Cancer Panel reported that 41% of us are now expected to get cancer in our lifetimes.  No pre-market safety testing was required.

This outdated regulatory system relies heavily on industry-funded science.  And as we gather around picnic tables, we only need to talk to our grandmothers to be reminded of the outcome of the tobacco industry’s industry-funded science to know where relying on that kind of data might lead us.

So would these labels help our economy?  They would make international trade easier, opening up markets for our farmers.  Many of the countries we trade with, especially countries within the European Union, have tighter regulations than the U.S. regarding labeling, and this has put trade barriers on U.S. agriculture exports.  In May 2013, genetically engineered wheat was discovered in a field in Oregon, causing Japan to cancel a planned purchase and the European Union to conduct costly tests of all wheat imports from the U.S.

As we come together to celebrate our independence this 4th of July and make some noise, perhaps we should also be grateful for those working around the country to bring food freedoms to all Americans.  They are working so that all of us, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, income or political persuasion, can enjoy the civil liberty and freedom to choose what is in the foods we are feeding our families.

In light of the impact that this could have on everything from global trade to our farmers’ well beings, it just might be one of the most patriotic things that we could be celebrating.

Robyn O’Brien was a financial analyst, is the author of The Unhealthy Truth, founder of the AllergyKids Foundation and board member of Just Label It

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