Join the Democratic Food Movement, Demand GMO Labeling
By Peter Lehner
Consumers have a right to know what's in their food. And in much of the world, they do, because of government labeling laws. For example, China, Russia and India are among the 50-odd nations that require labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs. Here in America, however, we can't get information on GMO foods. That’s because chemical companies and food manufacturers have a stranglehold on the system of government oversight that is supposed to ensure the safety of our food supply.
And it’s consumers who are stuck paying the price for this broken system.
Foodborne illnesses sicken millions of Americans each year. Intensive use of antibiotics in the livestock sector breeds resistant superbugs that now threaten people. Millions of pounds of toxic pesticides continue to be released into our environment, threatening farmworkers, farmers and our natural resources. The hormone-disrupting chemical BPA is still used in food packaging, despite reams of scientific data indicating cause for concern. Rampant overuse of chemical fertilizers has created a 6,800 square mile dead zone in the Gulf, now utterly devoid of life.
And so public trust in our food system, and on the government mechanisms that are supposed to ensure its safety, is rightfully crumbling.
But in a couple of weeks, California voters will have an opportunity to send a powerful message to food manufacturers—and to Washington—about the need for greater transparency in our food system. Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will require the labeling of GMO foods and food ingredients.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is not opposed to the use of GMOs. Rather, we support increased transparency in our food supply. Advocates of the proposition are just asking for information. A label. There's no ban. Regardless of the potential costs or benefits of GMOs, consumers have the right to make informed decisions about the food they purchase. As Bill Maher quipped on his show Real Time, "We just want what Russia and China have. We just want to be as open as Russia and China."
This vote will also send a message to chemical corporations that are perpetuating the mounting and unsustainable use of toxic pesticides. The next generation of GMO crops promises to unleash widescale use of the older, more toxic herbicides 2,4-D (a component of Agent Orange) and dicamba. This trend is a vicious cycle NRDC is fighting. Replacing millions of acres of GMO corn and soy, engineered to tolerate the herbicide known as Roundup, with these new crops geared to withstand the application of even more toxic chemicals, will truly be a disaster for health and the environment.
California's vote on Nov. 6 is a bellwether for how serious we are about addressing the problems inherent in our industrial food system. If Californians stand up for Prop 37 and demand their right to know, we might, as Michael Pollan observed recently in the New York Times Magazine, really have a true "food movement" on our hands. A democratic food movement capable of effecting real, systemic, lasting change, through the government, on the way we produce and provide food.
Visit EcoWatch’s GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM page for more related news on this topic.
Peter Lehner's post originally appeared on Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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