After two weeks and 313 miles, hundreds of people gathered outside the White House to protest GMOs, genetically modified organisms. The Right2Know March started in New York and ended in Washington, DC. The protesters were fighting for the right to know what is in our food. GMOs are not currently labeled and there are no laws in America requiring GM foods to be labeled. GMOs have not been proven safe and the FDA does not require intense testing on these foods before they are distributed.
What is a genetically modified organism?
A GMO, also referred to as biotechnology or genetically engineering, is an organism whose genetic makeup has been changed to contain foreign genes. For example, some crops are altered to contain more nutrients; other crops are altered to contain pesticide, herbicide, and weather (frost and draught) resistance features. One of the more well-known GM crops is Golden Rice. Golden Rice has been genetically modified to contain high levels of Vitamin A. This crop was supposed to be distributed to underdeveloped countries, such as Africa, where Vitamin A deficiency is extremely high. Most of these countries are either unable to afford this new crop or are unwilling to risk contamination of native plants.
The Right2Know group is an organization made up of individuals, farmers, businesses, and other organizations all fighting for GMO labeling. On October 1, 2011, the Right2Know protesters gathered in New York City and began their two week march to Washington. Along the way they held several events with speakers and demonstrators identifying the problems with GMOs and why everyone has the right to know what they are eating. The march ended on October 16, with a five hour rally in front of the White House. The Right2Know group wants the Obama administration to keep its campaign promises to begin labeling GM foods.
GMO foods have been around for a while, but until recently they were mainly used as food for animals or ingredients in processed foods. That is not the case anymore. Recently the Obama administration approved the commercial use of GM alfalfa. The approval of alfalfa, along with other pending GM crops, means the direct consumption of GMOS is becoming closer to a reality. These new crops could have unknown, adverse effects on people and without labeling there would be no way to trace it back to GMOs. Labeling will help identify what foods have been altered and help to identify current problems in consuming GM foods. Currently, there are over 40 countries who either require labeling or completely ban GMOs altogether. Most European nations have very strict laws on GMOs. Some countries do not even allow the importation of GM crops. America is one of a few developed countries that do not require labeling.
The Power of Choice
Labeling won’t just happen overnight. It takes people, like the protesters in the Right2Know March, willing to spend days, even months, sometimes years fighting for what is right. It also takes consumers willing to change and assert their opinions by only buying organic foods. In the last few years, consumers’ choice has proven to be the winner in the war for labeling. One examples of this is when people started to buy milk that did not contain rBGH, recombinant bovine growth hormone. A hormone that makes cows grow bigger faster. This hormone had many adverse effects on cows, such as making the cows become so big that their legs could not support their own weight. Eventually, so many people stopped buy rBGH milk that Wal-Mart completely stopped selling it along with other grocery store chains.
The Corporations’ Perspective
One of the main reasons why labeling has not been required is because most corporations do not want to start labeling. The governing boards of major food corporations believe that if consumers saw GMO stickers on food, people would be less likely to purchase those products, causing huge drops in sales. Not only are these corporations afraid of a decrease in sales, but they are also concerned about the new cost for labeling. Some corporations clam that labeling would be very expensive and possibly confusing. These same corporations are often financial backers for legislators and the corporations threaten to pull their support if legislators vote for labeling.
With people like the Right2Know group and other protesters the idea of labeling has become much more prevalent. People are realizing that GMOs are spreading. What started with one product, rice, has grown exponentially. Even with several obstacles, more and more people are willing to fight for GMO labeling, and even though labeling will not stop the GMO industry, it will help in reaching millions of people who unknowingly eat GMOs every day.
Eng, Monica. “Anti-GMO protests heat up this fall.” Chicago Tribune 21 Oct 2011. Web. 6 Nov 2011. http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/stew/chi-food-policy-antigmo-movements-heat-up-this-fall-20111021,0,839760.story
“People don’t want to be a GMO Experiment.” Sacramento Bee 4 Nov 2011. Web. 6 Nov 2011. http://www.sacbee.com/2011/11/04/4031066/people-dont-want-to-be-a-gmo-experiment.html
The Right2Know Website