“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Chason Gordon
- The Capitol Hill Times -
I’m pretty sure that foods with GMOs are safe, because the other day a genetically modified banana told me so. “Trust me, I’m safe,” he said. “Why would I lie to you? Do you think I want to be eaten? I’d rather slowly rot and be put out to pasture.” That’s a pretty strong argument. Granted, bananas aren’t supposed to be able to talk, but apples talk, and no one seems to mind that. What?
As the various snacks on my table indicate, it’s initiative time again. On the docket (what’s a docket?) this month is The People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, also known as I-522, also known as “The Blind Man’s Gambit,” “Sweet Six Shooter” and “Baby Cakes McGee.” Unfortunately for you, I have a very vague understanding of this issue, but I shall try my best to explain it, as long as you have no questions.
“GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism.” Sometimes, scientists will take a little old organism and decide that it’s not good enough, so they’ll mutate or replace the genes, which always causes Mother Nature to cry and storm out of the room. Manipulating the DNA of a plant in a well-lit, scary lab enables us to develop bigger, more abundant crops that resist disease, insects, drought and sexual advances from other crops. In the U.S., you typically find GMOs in cotton, corn, canola, sugar beets, soybeans and your poop. There are a lot of them in your poop.
At the grocery store, where I’ve spent a large chunk of my life, most processed and packaged foods (the good stuff) contain GMOs, in the form of popular genetically engineered ingredients like aspartame, maltodextrin and high-fructose corn syrup, which, strangely, is all that I have on my grocery list at the moment. Proponents of the initiative say that GMO labels provide consumers with a more informed choice, and believe that the safety of genetically modified food requires additional research. Opponents argue that the GMOs are perfectly safe, and that labeling will burden farmers and drive up the cost of food. What both sides do probably agree on is that I have done an awful job of articulating their respective positions. Oh well.
When discussing such an issue, it’s always important to metaphorically sprint down the slippery slope and imagine the dystopian hell at the end of it. What if opponents block this initiative and companies are able to do whatever they want? We’ll have grocery stores filled with smoking, glowing food that begs us to eat it. Apples will heal their own bruises, cereal will solve the puzzles on the back of the box to kill time, and granola bars will check themselves out in the mirror, because they’re vain. At farms, the corn stalks will be so modified and unnatural that dead baseball players will actually emerge from the fields and teach us all about fatherhood.
That slippery slope can go in the other direction, however. Labeling genetically modified food might lead to unnecessary, highly specific labels, like ones for the mode of harvest or death, the food’s possible exposure to secondhand smoke, and whether the dead, raw chicken was a democrat or a republican. One day there might be so many labels that we’ll have to peel them all back to see what the food is. You think it’s annoying to peel that one sticker off of an apple now.
Each side has been amping up their campaign. On the Yes side, you have grassroots funding, the Seattle City Council and Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One, a California soap company who makes a fine peppermint soap (send me some free soap for mentioning you!). They’ve raised nearly $5 million.
On the other side, you have contributors like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience and my friend Pete. They’ve raised a whopping $17.2 million. That financial difference may make it seem like a done deal, but polls show that voters are leaning toward a Yes vote, mainly because names like Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences sound incredibly evil.
If you find yourself confused and exhausted with the whole debate, and can’t tell whether the potential GMO label means that the product is good or bad, just ignore the food altogether and eat the label. Can’t go wrong there.