Food fight heats up in Colorado

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Posted Sat, May 24, 2014

DENVER – A growing movement in Colorado that reflects a national trend, would require statewide labeling for foods containing GMOs. GMOs are organisms that have been genetically modified at the DNA level.  This may include the addition of genetic material from other plants, bacteria or viruses.

Colorado is one of many states, which in absence of federal labeling requirements, are considering legislation that would require labeling for products containing GMOs.  Vt. recently approved GMO labeling legislation set to take effect in July 2016.  And, the National Conference of State Legislatures says 28 other states have had GMO labeling legislation pending in 2014, though none has passed.

Protestors gathered in front of the Denver Post at Colfax and Broadway Tuesday afternoon to urge mandatory labeling for products with GMOs in Colorado.  Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu

Protestors gathered in front of the Denver Post at Colfax and Broadway Tuesday afternoon to urge mandatory labeling for products with GMOs in Colorado. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

Federally, U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., have introduced HR 4432, which allows for voluntary federal labeling.  But the bill would also prevent state legislatures from requiring labeling for foods containing GMOs, and prohibit state ballot initiatives for the same.

The issue recently got attention locally when supporters rallied for GMO labeling in Denver.  The Colorado ballot initiative, sponsored by Right to Know Colorado GMO, a local grass roots branch of a national organization, is working to get the issue before voters on the fall 2014 statewide ballot.

Use of GMO products in the food supply has stirred passionate debate worldwide.  Some call for mandatory labeling and others say consumers should avoid all products containing GMOs, yet supporters say GMOs are harmless.

Brian Loma, interim chair of March Against Monsanto – Denver, said the group is part of a global effort to educate people about the dangers of the privatization and corporatization of our food supply, including the dangers of bio-engineered seeds.

Though Monsanto isn’t the only producer of genetically engineered seeds, it and several other large corporations control a major percentage of the world’s food supply.

Brian Loma of March Against Monsanto - Denver participated in a GMO roast organized by We Are Change Colorado Tuesday afternoon.  Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu

Brian Loma of March Against Monsanto – Denver participated in a GMO roast organized by We Are Change Colorado Tuesday afternoon. [Photo by Melanie J. Rice • mrice20@msudenver.edu]

Loma said after DDT was banned in the 70s, agriculture companies returned to Agent Orange formulas looking for new pest and weed control solutions.

“They started messing with genetic modification to increase crops and decrease energy output, and decrease pesticide use.  The goal was to decrease fuel expenses and water consumption, to provide more food,” said Loma.  “None of this has happened.”

Loma said today’s GMO seeds have been engineered to withstand large doses of pesticide and herbicide, like those produced by Monsanto.  He said some dangers associated with these practices include chemicals, such as neonicotinoids, entering our food supply, our waterways, wildlife and our bodies.  As a result, Loma said, we are experiencing increased health issues while riparian wildlife, bees and butterflies are dying off.

On a local level, Southwest Denver beekeeper, Sarah Gjertson, recently had to relocate her bees after they were exposed to chemicals sprayed by True Green in the backyard where the bees were kept.  When Gjertson obtained a list of the chemicals used, she found that neonicotinoid was a main ingredient in the cocktail.

Sarah Gjertson's bees - photo courtesy of Sarah Gjertson.

Sarah Gjertson’s bees – [Photo courtesy of Sarah Gjertson.]

Gjertson said experts believe there are many causative factors for the decline in bee populations.  However, she said Neonicotinoid has been proven to be one of the most lethal compounds for bees.

“If for some reason my hives don’t make it or they don’t survive because of this chemical exposure, I’m going to start over,” Gjertson said.  “I will be sad, but I will start over.”

Gjertson said small things individuals do, like stopping to read labels or connecting with community groups can have huge impacts.

Larry Cooper, of Right to Know Colorado GMO, said the push for state level labeling is needed because labeling at the federal level is voluntary, and producers are not labeling products containing GMOs.

Cooper said Right to Know Colorado GMO’s goal is to have mandatory labeling on all of our packaged food.  The group is currently working to collect the 86,105 signatures required to get the measure on the November statewide ballot.

“There’s never been any testing independently done to tell us that using GMOs in our food supply is safe,” Cooper said.  “I don’t have any proof that it’s killing anybody but I sure don’t have any proof that it’s safe.”

Cooper said the group isn’t asking for a ban on GMOs but just the right to know what’s in our food, so consumers can decide if they want to consume it or not.

Colorado is a healthy state, said Cooper, with educated consumers – consumers who want to know what they’re eating.  It’s hard to tell with current labels, what’s in the food.

However, proponents say GMOs are safe and as such, there is no reason for alarm or labeling.  GMO supporters say it would be too costly to implement mandatory labeling, particularly at the state level.

The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, a grocery lobby that represents more than 300 food and beverage producers, didn’t respond to specific questions we posed to them about GMO labeling.  They did, however, issue a statement that they support the use of GMOs in food products and that labeling should be done at the federal level.

GMA spokesperson, Brian Kennedy said in that statement, “Every credible U.S. and international food safety authority that has studied GMO crops has found that they are safe and that there are no health effects associated with their use.”

But the debate continues as Coloradans consider the impact of mandatory GMO labeling, both on industry and individuals.

“Why don’t they want us to know what’s in our food,” Cooper asked.  “If GMOs are so great for me, and they’re gonna’ make me healthy, why wouldn’t they want me to know that it’s in my food?”

More Information:
Save the Bees and Butterflies Festival
City of Cuernavaca Park, Denver
3304 Rockmont Drive
May 24, 10 – 2
https://www.facebook.com/events/1392416760996256/

USGS study references GMO impact

USGS:  Pesticide in groundwater

Grocery Manufacturers Association – GMO Fact Sheet

Full Statement from Grocery Manufacturers Association

Learn more about other Colo. ballot initiatives

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About Melanie J. Rice

Melanie Rice is a journalism student at MSU Denver, with an emphasis on both visual and written content.

View all posts by Melanie J. Rice

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