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Friday, October 25, 2013

GMO…OMG!…From the Editor’s Desk…

contented bovines“…or of the force or the grace of nature as she appeared when left entirely to herself, without human interference.”

M. Proust, Swann’s Way

Just like colorful amanita mushrooms they’re sprouting up on every corner…campaign signs. Yes, it looks like a record crop of tomato stakes this season—and high quality wooden stakes they are, too—not those flimsy wire withes that flap about in the wind like elephant ears whenever a vehicle passes. ‘Tis the season of rhetoric, promises…admonitions,…recriminations,…ah, yes, we’ve heard it all before ad nauseam.

As I thumbed through today’s mail, I came across a glossy propaganda flier urging me, for the welfare of my family, to vote NO! on Initiative 522 which would require grocery items produced by GMO technology to be labeled as such. A young woman, a homemaker one assumes--definitely a brunette--is superimposed against an array of shelved grocery items. Chin in hand, a quizzical look on her face that seems to say: “There’s has to be a mistake on this grocery receipt slip I’m holding.” (Or perhaps she left her list at home and is puzzling over “I’ve forgotten something…I just know there was something else.”)

I-522: “ To label, or not to label” appears to be the controversy de jour of Washington State’s 2013 political circus. So who’s to believe: the long-haired blonde who reads labels when she shops as the bulbs dim around her (Sorry…The Ripple does not stoop to blonde jokes), or the brunette who casts a critical glance at her grocery receipt? And where, I ask, is the redhead for the swing vote?

The Ripple prides itself on steering clear of politics, but because our Valley has a good portion of acreage planted in herbicide-resistant silage corn, The Ripple invokes its editorial privilege in this post by addressing what appears to be the hot button of the political season’s thin crop of initiatives.

Let me, as the saying goes, “leap into the breach” with a few observations about “To label” or “Not to label.” First of all, I believe both camps do little to make a legitimate case for their respective positions on the issue. The labelers maintain it’s their right to know what grocery foodstuffs contain and how the foods they buy are produced; it’s a  freedom of information sort of thing. There is a new generation of consumers out there, young families with young mothers who are super vigilant about their family’s wellbeing and  diet and where their children’s nutrition is concerned are hyper-sensitive. They are the “more fresh fruits and vegetables, less processed foods” contingent. GMO is anathema to them--as if the word denotes “tampered with” or “contaminated.” Rather than using the “right to know” tack, it seems their cause might be better served by bringing some science to their argument, present some facts, some statistics, some rock solid proof that consumers should be leery of genetically tweaked comestibles. Besides, a label that reads “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be produced with genetic engineering” provides as much helpful information as packaging that states the container is“made from recycled paper.”

“A horrible truth in America: money talks. Not truth, not society, [not health], not art, but money, and when money talks, it doesn’t tell the truth, it talks money.

                                                                                   Garrison Keillor

On the other hand, the “Vote No” camp, instead of promoting GMO technology as a harmless and beneficial use of science, sidesteps the issue and zeros in on the financial burden to consumers, a red herring that twists the issue’s focus to fiscal health instead of physical health. The anti I-522 campaign has outspent the pro camp three to one. Why? Because, they say, they’re concerned about cost, but cost to whom? Well, cost to agribusinesses, of course, and the food conglomerates, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, all of whom have a bottom-line interest in producing and marketing their merchandise. The Office of Financial Management has projected I-522’s cost to taxpayers at three million dollars (three of four areas of expenditures are deemed “indeterminate”) over a five year span, a minimal amount compared to the expense taxpayers bear for transportation costs incurred by state government officials over the same period, it would seem. Such a minimal sum for a six or seven word label would hardly deter those shoppers who regularly pay more per pound for “organic” and “certified organic” produce at the grocery store. (The label on my gallon jug of milk tells me its contents come from cows not “treated with rbST”; I don’t recall the cost for this labeling ever being an issue.)

A few more considerations: Washington State is the only state in this election cycle voting on a GMO issue. (A similar initiative failed in California where corporate monies overwhelmed the “Yes” contingent.) Why Washington State only is the issue’s battleground this time around is puzzling. If the initiative passes, not only grocery products would require labeling. I-522 mandates that any seed or seed stock produced through genetic engineering must be labeled accordingly, also. (In regards to seed: there is a class action suit pending against Monsanto Co. by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Associates (OSGTA), producers of seed from openly pollinated crops. OSGTA’s concern is that genetic drift from GMO crops will taint non-GMO crops and fears that Monsanto will bring legal action against its members, claiming patent infringement. That GMO seed could affect the state’s economy is a concern I-522 addresses, as well. In recent months Japan imposed a temporary embargo on Oregon wheat, fearing GMO contamination.)

While innovation is a human prerogative (and passion), sometimes new technology brings with it unintended consequences: for instance, cellphone and other handheld electronic gadgetry have made our roadways, in my opinion, at greater risk for safety. GMO technology and its products may prove the same. Who knows? There just hasn’t been enough time gone by, studies done, to say for sure. And it’s not that easy to put one over on Mother Nature without some consequence or other. Soybean growers in the southern states have used GMO-Round-Up resistant seed to combat the omnipresent pigweed only to discover that a new, hardy R-U resistant strain has evolved. Soybean farmers now have to employ fieldworkers to remove the pigweed by hand, adding additional labor costs to their profits. A weed is by nature evolutionally programed not only to survive, but prevail and triumph. A concern of mine is how many new herbicides/pesticides must be concocted and applied to cropland to stay one step ahead of these New Millennium herbaceous pests and what effect will these new applications have upon livestock, wildlife, and human health?

That a few extra words on a package should cause such a firestorm of controversy borders on the ridiculous, a tempest in a teapot, if you will; however, for the consumer concerned about the diet, health, and wellbeing of their families, what could a little more information hurt?

As to where the editor stands on shopping, labels and labeling, let me share the following anecdote. During one ballgame Hank Aaron, the great “Hammerin’ Hank,”stepped up to the plate for his turn at bat. He dug in, settled into his stance, and was awaiting the first pitch when one of his teammates issued a warning about the position of Hank’s bat: “Hey, Hank! You’ve got the trademark pointed the wrong way.” Hank signaled “Time,” stepped out of the batter’s box, turned to the dugout and said: “I’m up here to bat, not read.”

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