Chances are good that Oregon voters will see an unusual question at their polling place this Fall: whether or not to force all food producers, distributors, and marketers to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. State officials said on Tuesday that a group called “Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Foods” (OCCSF) has delivered more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
“Should the initiative become law,” writes Michael Rose in the Salem Statesman Journal, “few food processors and farmers would be untouched. A bewildering array of products could require new labels, ranging from soft drinks sold in vending machines to prepared foods served at supermarket delis.”
OCCSF’s chief organizer Donna Harris tells reporters that she got involved because “I’m a mom and I have two kids.” One of those tykes, in fact, appears on the OCCSF web site, along with a manipulative plea: “Do you know what you’re feeding me?” Read a little deeper into the web site, though, and you’ll discover the real motivation behind this campaign. Kate Lord – the other half of OCCSF’s management team – “works in the natural food industry.” In fact, the Statesman Journal claims that “the lion’s share of the money behind the [Oregon] labeling effort has come from Emerald Valley Kitchen, a Eugene maker of organic salsas and bean dips,” which has already contributed nearly $50,000 to the cause.”
Organic and “natural” food marketers have provided the financial muscle behind much of the anti-biotech-food hysteria in the United States in recent years. For the reason why, we defer to Andrew Kimbrell, leader of the Center for Food Safety, an organization whose board is made up almost entirely of organic food marketers and lobbyists. Five years ago, Kimbrell laid out the battle plan for a reporter with the North Coast Xpress. “We are going to force them to label this food,” he said. “If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it.”
Along with the “natural” food industry’s cash, the Oregon campaign enjoys people-power support from sources like the Organic Consumers Association, whose founder Ronnie Cummins (a former disciple of notorious anti-technology zealot Jeremy Rifkin) sits on OCCSF’s advisory board. Also, the Natural Law Party of the United States, populated by devotees of the Indian mystic Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has been actively raising money for OCCSF since last month. Among the Maharishi’s 9-figure financial empire: thousands of acres of organic-only farmland, and several commercial lines of organic herbs and spices. A Natural Law Party “news flash” claims that the Oregon petition was adapted from draft legislation written by Natural Law Party chairman John Hagelin, in connection with a 1999 event organized by Mothers for Natural Law.
Even religious groups are entering the fray: the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC), funded entirely by diocesan bishops, recently demanded “a moratorium on the commercial introduction of genetically engineered crops.” No stranger to leftist agricultural activism, the NCRLC recently footed the bill for Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to tour the Midwest, attacking America’s pork producers at every turn. Kennedy even claimed that hog farmers are a greater threat to freedom than Osama bin Laden.
The battle in Oregon is likely just one step on the road to a national labeling initiative on genetically improved food ingredients. Last month the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology held a forum on this topic in Chicago, and its executive director openly acknowledged that “most scientists have found [biotech foods] to be as safe as their conventional counterparts.” The director-general of the World Health Organizations has said that biotech foods “can save lives.”
Even the European Union, which is generally more prone to alarmist reactions like biotech food labels, issued a report in October 2001 concluding that GMOs have caused “no new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding.” The report goes on to declare that “the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods.”