As an organization of health professionals and advocates for social justice, we look to the precautionary principle when analyzing public health policies: “when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” That’s why we are encouraging our members to vote YES on Proposition 37, the Right to Know initiative to label food genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed supplier and pioneer of GE food, has successfully lobbied regulatory agencies for the past twenty years to avoid labeling GE foods. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require GE foods to be independently tested. Up to 80% of the food on U.S. supermarket shelves contains GE ingredients, but without labeling we don’t know what we’re eating or feeding our children.
On September 19, 2012, the first-ever, peer-reviewed long-term animal study on the health effects of genetically engineered foods was released. Researchers are reporting major health problems, including mammary tumors and kidney and liver damage, in the animals that were fed GE corn over a two-year period. More research is needed, yet in the meantime, we have a right to know and choose for ourselves whether we want to gamble with our health by eating GE foods that have been inadequately studied and have not been proven safe.
Moreover, we do know that GE crops increase the use of pesticides and herbicides, thereby increasing risk of exposure and harm to farmworkers, their families, and consumers. For example, Roundup Ready® soybeans, alfalfa, corn, cotton, spring canola, sugarbeets and winter canola are genetically modified to resist spraying of the herbicide glyphosate, which can then be used on weeds without harming the crop. Intensive pesticide application leads to a cycle of dependence; pesticide resistant weeds develop and require more frequent spraying of stronger chemicals.
References: (1) Benbrook, Charles. “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years.” The Organic Center. November 2009. (2) California Secretary of State. “Campaign Finance: Proposition 037 – Genetically Engineered Foods. Mandatory Labeling. Initiative Statute.” August 14, 2012. (3) Gurian-Sherman, Doug. “Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops.” 2009 (4) Van Enennaam, Alison. “Use of GE Crops and Animals in California Agriculture.” 2004. (5) Séralini, G.-E., et al. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modiﬁed maize. Food Chem. Toxicol. (2012)