THE VIEW FROM MY PLACE: What's in a name?


It's been quietly going on for many years now. Some of you might not even know about it or you may not have figured out why it's important to you. The question you could ask might be, "Why is it a good idea to have a chemical company alter our food supply and not tell us about it?"

The answer is that it's not. The chemical industry, led my Monsanto, has been working silently and diligently for many years now to create seeds that are immune to the fairly nasty chemicals that they produce to kill weeds. Monsanto is the manufacturer of a product called "Round-Up." You may very well have used this product to kill unwanted weeds in your driveway or elsewhere. It works great. It kills every living plant that it comes in contact with. That's the idea.

In order for Monsanto to sell more product, at some point in time someone in this company came up with the idea of creating plants that would not be harmed by this chemical; plants that produce food for people to eat. The idea was that they could then produce a lot more food and feed a lot more people. In a hungry world this all sounds really great; and for all anyone knows it might be. But what if it's not?

Suppose the alteration of our food supply, which is done by genetically changing the seeds, turns out not to be such a hot idea. Then what? You might think that since the Food and Drug Administration has long ago signed off on Genetically Modifying Organisms (GMOs) that they are safe and everything is fine. Remember, Monsanto has amassed an enormous amount of money and they have a lot more lobbying clout in Washington than you ever will. Billions of dollars are at stake and they are not about to let you impact their profits.

The issue before our legislature is whether or not food should be labeled if it contains GMO's.

My old friend, Jim Harrison, of the Vt. Grocers Association, thinks that labeling should come from the federal government; not the states, because it might be confusing and expensive doing it state by state. That certainly is Monsanto's position, as well it should be. They seem to have control over our friends in Washington ensuring that nothing will ever happen in the way of labeling.

If we are ever going to know whether or not the food that we eat has been genetically engineered it will be because the state wants us to know. Don't expect any help from Washington.

When I began my lobbying career back in 1995 one of the first issues I worked on was GMO labeling. I had a small contract with a small client, Rural Vermont. I was called in late in the game and the issue was well underway. My first day on the job I attended a hearing held in Room 11; the largest hearing room in the State House. I listened to the lady representing Monsanto opine about the inconvenience to her company.

When the hearing was over I was introduced to her. I asked her if GMOs were safe. "Of course they are," was her reply.

I asked her if she believed her company was doing the right thing. "Of course they are," she said.

I asked her if she knew what would happen if I pulled out my tooth, put it in a glass of Coke and left it there for a while. "Huh?"

I asked her if she was aware that at the time Coke was spending over $60 million annually advertising a product that would dissolve a tooth. "What's that got to do with anything?"

I asked, "If you believe in your company and the product that you're making is such a great thing, then why is that I am the one arguing for labeling? If this product is so wonderful why wouldn't Monsanto want to proudly insist that all food products containing GMOs be labeled as such and shout it out to the world?

Her face was flushed. If looks could kill I was a dead man. "Goodbye" was her last word before she turned and walked away.

If a company is spending millions, or maybe billions of dollars on a product you would think they would like you to know about it. If they are spending a lot of money on a product and they don't want you to know about it, then I don't know about you, but I sure as hell want to know about it.

Monsanto has gone to the extent of threatening Vermont. They say that if we have the audacity to tell people what's in our food that they will sue us. Since the time I've worked on this legislation many people have looked at the issue and I believe that the bill before the legislature today will survive legal challenge.

Now it's up to you. If you think you should at least know what's in your food then you should call your representative and/or Senator and tell them so.

Bob Stannard is a Banner columnist.


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