What You Can Do about GMOs


There is still plenty you can do.  Even though California Proposition 37 failed on the November ballot as a grassroots effort to get genetically engineered food labeled in California, there is still plenty that you can do.  
Since California produces well over 25% of the nation's fruits and vegetables, and nearly 100% of some produce items, California's Proposition 37 was a huge statement to the GMO-pushers, that WE WANT TO KNOW what is in our food.  The ballot initiative didn't pass this time, but we-the-people have not gone away.
The 2012 ballot initiative got turned into a David-vs-Goliath fight.  Corporate profiteers poured an outrageous $46 million into the campaign to suppress labeling, completely bulldozing the humble $9 million scrapped together by grassroots citizens in favor of labeling GMOs.  The corporate interests deluged the general public with misleading television ads in the final weeks of the election season, spreading false information to the unknowing.  Despite all that, the initiative still emerged with 47% of the vote.  And we aren't done yet.
On this first effort, despite overwhelming opposition, at least 47% of the people want to know what is in their food.  Despite scare tactics which claimed "labeling GMOs will make food cost more" (gee, it doesn't cost more to write "low fat" or "gluten free" on the label.  oh wait, that's because the food companies think they can gain profits with those labels!).  Fourth-seven percent, despite losing many voters who would have been pro-labeling but objected to details in how this particular version of the law was drafted, voters who are otherwise opposed to GMOs.  Still, this first effort gained nearly a majority.
In the week before the election, we hosted international food activist Vandana Shiva in Los Angeles.  In a working group session, Dr Shiva urged local food and garden activists:  "Despite what happens in this election, the day after the election you know you'll have work to do.  Get on with it."  On that day, we formed the coalition we call Seed Freedom LA.  
That evening, in introducing Dr Shiva to the public audience, I admitted the bottom line of Proposition 37:  This ballot initiative is merely the opening gambit in taking back control of our food and our seed.  The corporations know it -- that is why they fought so hard to suppress our efforts.  But they aren't going to win this food-fight.  We-the-people have far too much at stake.

What you can do:

1) Buy organic, when you have to buy in mainstream markets.  Especially when you buy certain crops which are the most-likely to be genetically engineered: corn, soy/soybeans, potatoes, tomatoes, canola, papaya, squash/zucchini.  Be careful about sugar: "If a non-organic product made in North American lists 'sugar' as an ingredient (rather than pure cane sugar), it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets," according to the Institute for Responsible Technology.  Download their  "Non-GMO Shopping Tips" and carry it as you shop.  Play GMO-free Portland's Green-and-Red game with the foods which are already in your pantry.     
2) Buy local.  Rather than major "brand names" (which are in jeopardy of getting co-opted by the mega-corporations), with Local you have a much greater chance of having your voice be heard.  At farmers markets and CSAs, even if your vendors aren't "certified organic" they might still be ok -- ask them about their seed sources.  If you let them know you care, they might possibly shift their seed purchases to safe vendors next season.  Plus Local supports greater resilience in general (more at our "Why Eat Local Food" handout).
3) Make your garden GMO-free.  Choose Safe Seed from seed vendors who have taken the "Safe Seed Pledge."  Additional tips are in our "How to make your Garden GMO-free" handout.  You can also label your home garden as a "GMO-free Zone" to raise local awareness.  Become a Seed Sanctuary: adopt one variety of heirloom seed that you will nurture and keep pure and alive.  Support local places where people are preserving our precious seed heritage, like seed banks and seed libraries.
4) Talk to people in your life and let them know the truth about genetic engineering.  Rather than the euphemism, call it by its true name -- genetic engineering -- and convey how coarse and invasive this process really is.  Explain how vastly different genetic engineering is from normal plant reproduction and normal plant breeding (What is a GMO from Vandana Shiva), and that despite all the laboratory intervention the GMO crops aren't working very well.  Tell others how genetic engineering is untested in the U.S. because corporate manipulations at the EPA managed to get them exempted from testing; meanwhile most of Europe does not allow genetic engineering because it has not been proven safe.  (Health and safety: read the World Health Organization's concerns about GMOs)  Help everyone see how risky and scary it is to be messing with our future and our food supply in these ways.
5) Make your favorite organization GMO-free -- your local school, your workplace, your place of worship.  Help others understand the issues.  Bring in films and handouts to help teach.  (suggested films = "King Corn".  "Food Inc".  "World According to Monsanto".  understand Monsanto's power via this 10min YouTube  Beautiful 16min video of Vandana Shiva on solutions)  Use signage in your shared kitchen to raise public awareness.  Share Vandana's Shiva's point that GMO-free is a social justice issue:  that because only the wealthy can afford to seek alternatives, suppressing the labeling mandates that poor people get stuck with bad food.
6) Campaign to create GMO-free Zones in smaller jurisdictions where the idea might gain a foothold with less opposition.  Ask your city council to declare your hometown GMO-free.
already declared GMO-free:
grassroots are campaigns underway in:  Boulder County, CO; Hawaii County & Maui County, HI; state of Idaho; Jackson County, FL; Monterey County, CA; Portland, OR; Santa Cruz, CA; state of Texas.  (My list is incomplete - please add to it via the comments section) 
7) Donate to the brave soldiers in this fight.  Organizations like Organic Consumers Association and Center for Food Safety provide legal and legislative resources behind-the-scenes.  They need your support to keep going as they march forth in this ongoing campaign.
Add to this list:  What are you doing in your local area about genetic engineering in our food supply?  Share it in the comments here and help inspire others!
Joanne Poyourow directs the Environmental Change-Makers nonprofit in Los Angeles.  She is the initiator of the Transition Los Angeles city hub and is part of the Seed Freedom LA coalition.  She blogs at Transition US and Resilience.org and is the author of several books regarding post-petroleum preparedness.  Join Joanne on December 6 for a webinar conversation about "Building a Vibrant Local Economy" through Transition US.


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