Dr. Opiyo Oloya is a teacher, writer and broadcaster, living in Toronto, Canada. He was born in Pamin-Yai, west of Gulu town in northern Uganda. Twitter: @OpiyoOloya
Now, I may not be smart enough to understand the argument, but why hide from the consumers how the food product you are peddling is really made, refusing to name precisely what is in it? So far, as I understand it, that is the logic of US-based agriculture giant Monsanto which has threatened to sue the State of Vermont for crafting a law that would require all foods to be clearly labelled.
The agri-business multinational let it be known that it will fight the proposed bill known as H-722 (the “VT Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act”) because it discriminates against genetically modified food. The bill still in the initial stages of formulation would require food producers to label their food products, a move that would compel Monsanto to slap the GMO label on all its food products.
The problem for me is two fold. On the one hand, Monsanto which has cornered the market on genetically produced food seem to be saying, “Look here, GMO foods are safe, nutritious and wholesome and you should eat them.”
On this basis alone, one would expect the agri-business giant to embrace food labelling in order to effectively market its food product. If, as Monsanto argues, genetically modified food is the way of the future, the salvation for humankind, then it makes sense that it should be called by its name so that eager consumers will line up for it.
On the other hand, even as it proclaims from the rooftop the safety aspects of GMO foods, Monsanto is slyly shying away from the spotlight, indeed, aggressively ensuring that GMO foods are never labelled.
This contradictory action has two implications, one being that consumers must trust Monsanto when it says that genetically made food is safe, nutritious and healthy. Secondly, Monsanto is also saying that consumers should never be trusted to make choices based on transparent information. The average person, in Monsanto’s warped thinking, is probably an idiot who, given the freedom of choice through food labelling, will always make the wrong choice.
Now I have maintained in many of my previous writings that it is unthinkable that just one or two multinational companies could soon control food production. But is precisely what Monsanto is aiming to do—control food production and corner the market. It goes without saying that whoever controls food production will control human behaviour for eternity, dictating who will survive and who will die, who will reproduce children and who will not because food, after all, is life.
But scratching deeper, the threat to sue a whole state planning to create a law to protect consumers has more immediate implication for Monsanto which is keenly aware that its genetically produced food is contaminating natural food supplies.
There are organic farmers who have begun to sue Monsanto for these contaminations, but by not labelling foods, Monsanto believes there will be a time when all the natural food supplies will be so contaminated that such lawsuits will become meaningless anyway. In the meantime, it is Monsanto that is suing, mostly successfully, farmers whose fields are contaminated by genetically modified varieties, claiming that the farmers in effect stole the GMO patent.
The case is still fresh of the Canadian farmer whose crops was contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified crops and, to add salt to injury, was sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with Monsanto that the farmer indeed infringed on Monsanto’s patent rights.
It is like the cow rancher who cries foul when one of his bulls jumps the fence, mate with one of your thoroughbred cows, impregnates it and produces a mixed breed calf of indeterminate quality. Even though you are the victim, the rancher neighbour yammers loudly for compensation and, worse, the court agrees with him.
For me, genetically modified food remains an undetermined food with many long term ill consequences for consumers.
And although proponents of GMO like to point out that these products are now consumed widely, my rejoinder is simply that GMO is very young when considered in the context of human food production. Fifty years from now, what will be discovered in GMO foods that we are currently blind to?
The history of science, after all, is filled with thousands of victims who suffered serious health consequences after being reassured that certain drugs were safe. We still all remember Thalidomide, the wonder drug that was introduced by a German drug maker in 1957 as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women. By the time it was withdrawn from the market, over 10,000 deformed children were born, many without limbs.
By threatening to sue the State of Vermont, Monsanto essentially wants to have its cake and eat it too. If it is peddling genetically modified food as good, safe and healthy products then it must also allow them to be labelled as such.
I, as a consumer, must know what I am buying from the grocery store. There is no way I can surrender my rights to know what goes in my stomach just so that a corporate giant can have its profits.
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Why GMO Foods Should be Labeled, 9.6 out of 10 based on 13 ratings
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