As a family physician deeply concerned about the health of my patients, I strongly recommend voting YES on Proposition 37 to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The television and radio ads against Prop 37 make superficial and misleading arguments that do not get to the heart of the matter. Freedom of choice is at the heart of this Proposition.
Prop 37 is aimed at finally recognizing and honoring the disconnect between the fact that 90% or more of Americans state that they do not want to be eating GE foods, while in fact over 75% of the foods available in the average grocery store contain GE ingredients.
The FDA has approved the use of some GE foods on behalf of all Americans, against the recommendations of their (our) own scientists who wrote numerous memos against approving these foods. These memos are available online thanks to a lawsuit that was won on behalf of consumers’ right to know these things. The FDA has the authority to ignore the advice of its own scientists, and in this case, this is exactly what was done.
Consumers do not want this food! We understand that science helps us with wonderful advances, but we can also plainly see that there is a price to pay at times. In this case, the price is unknown and the advantages accrue only to the companies manufacturing GE seeds and the pesticides that go with them. GE foods aren’t more productive or cheaper to grow. GE foods aren’t more tasty or nutritious. So why are we growing them in such large quantities?
Can genetic engineering change a plant in a way that will prove dangerous to humans consuming this plant? Yes, this has been the case several times in the recent past. Many GE foods never make it to market because of these devastating health effects. The ones that do make it are tested for very short periods. If we are to uphold our values honoring diversity and freedom of choice, then we must label the food and let reasonable people differ on this question. We don’t want chemical manufacturers making the decision for us as to what is safe or not.
The FDA has inexplicably approved a sea change in the American food supply without strong evidence of safety and without putting in place a mechanism for post-market surveillance. Now that all Americans have eaten GE foods who will say if rising rates of food allergies, autoimmune diseases, cancer and infertility are an echo of the findings in the rare long term studies of rats fed GE foods? Those rats appear to have reproductive problems, develop tumors and die early.
Unfortunately we can’t reform the FDA with a ballot measure.
This country needs a coordinated food policy. Our tax dollars are subsidizing the foods that make us ill and ultimately raise our health insurance premiums. However, clearly, this will take time. What are we to do in the meantime? Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Apart from being extremely helpful to individuals who may not be able to spend extra money on buying organic foods, labeling GE foods is the best and fastest way to encourage the food industry to make safer choices.
The recent study from Stanford showing that organic foods are safer (fewer pesticides, less resistant E. coli and other bacteria) indicates that the scientific community still sees many unanswered questions when it comes to our food supply. GE foods definitely need more research but it could go either way: maybe they are safe, maybe they are unsafe. We can’t be taking chances with our kids while scientists tinker and lobbyists bend ears. The technology won’t go away. Let’s vote YES on Prop 37 and choose safe food.
Myrto Angela Ashe MD, MPH, a member of the MOMS Advocating Sustainability Advisory Committee, practices functional medicine in Mill Valley, CA. She specializes in stubborn, or persistent medical issues that haven’t resolved with other approaches, or seem to require the ongoing use of medication. You can read more at www.marinhealthhub.com.