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If GMOs Are Safe, Why Not Label Them? (64 Other Countries Do)
When Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, began writing about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the early 2000s, he started by asking a reasonable question: “What does a clothing company know about genetic engineering?”
Patagonia Provisions Wild Sockeye Salmon comes only from abundant, sustainable runs—we never use farmed or genetically engineered salmon—and our Tsampa Soup uses only organic, non-GMO ingredients. Photo credit: Amy Kumler
The answer, he said: “Not enough.” And neither does anyone else. In the proliferation of GMOs, Yvon saw a serious threat to wildness and biodiversity.
More than 10 years later, the prevalence of GMOs in everyday food products has risen sharply—but basic consumer awareness remains low.
An alarming bill before Congress aims to keep it that way. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 (H.R. 4432) will remove any requirements for manufacturers to label foods containing GMOs. Even the misleading name of the bill suggests an intention to leave us in the dark.
Yet, in the U.S., various food companies joined together to sue the state of Vermont, the first state to pass legislation requiring labeling of GMO food. (Last month, a district judge ruled in favor of labeling GMO food).
Sometimes a new technology puts us up against an edge that’s hard to see, feel or even define. New technologies, like genetically engineered food, should be labeled, so you can decide whether you want to risk ingesting them.
That seems like common sense to us—so it’s not clear why there is so much resistance to labeling GMOs. Among other arguments, large corporations pushing against labeling say the cost of new labels will be great and passed along to the consumer. But an independent study has shown this is unlikely as manufacturers routinely update labels for marketing reasons.
Further, we have a good, time-tested alternative to GMOs on a global scale: organic farming. Modern organic farming can be highly productive—as good as conventional systems but safer and more sustainable. It can produce high yields from small acreage through the use of locally adapted plants, intercropping, improved nutrient recycling and new techniques to minimize leaching, soil erosion and water consumption.
Claims that genetically engineered seeds will provide significant increases in agricultural production worldwide are probably true—but only in the very short term. In a comparison of organic and conventional yields, Rodale Institute discovered that after an initial decline in yields during the first few years of transition, the organic system soon rebounded to match or surpass the conventional system.
Organic farming puts food on the table (and clothing on our backs) without poisoning the Earth.
Patagonia switched to organic cotton in 1996 because we found out how many pesticides are used in growing conventional cotton. In our new food line, Patagonia Provisions, we only use organic ingredients.
Business is responding with positive steps forward: In the last six months, several food and restaurant businesses have announced plans to reformulate products to eliminate artificial ingredients, including GMOs.
But even if people don’t buy organic, a majority say they want to know what’s in the food they eat. We should be informed and make our own choices about what we feed our families and ourselves.
So, as a clothing company that recently got into the food business, we believe it would be irresponsible not to push hard for transparency and other imperatives that will shape our ability to keep the planet and all its inhabitants alive and healthy in the future.
I’m was proud to join with other business leaders on May 20 in Washington, DC, to talk to lawmakers about the critical need for transparency in food labeling. I encourage you to visit JustLabelIt.org to learn more about how to protect your right to know.
Originally published on Patagonia's blog, The Cleanest Line.
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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
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"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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