Food labeling fight that’s hard to swallow

The David and Goliath battle being fought in Washington State over the labeling of genetically modified food (I-522) goes to the vote on November 5, but whatever the outcome it won’t deal with an underlying lack of transparency about what’s in our food.


 “Big Ag” has plenty to answer for in this regard with its squalid practices, revolting standards and profit-at-all-costs attitudes; it also makes an easy target for consumer ire in the current debate.

Much harder to swallow is our part in this sorry state of affairs. For the most part we passively tolerate the behind-the-scenes manipulations we all know of but would rather not think about.

Time and again we choose price over quality, price over decency and price over compassion.

People coyly describe things as being inexpensive or good value when what they really mean, but can never quite bring themselves to say, is cheap. Cheap is synonymous with tawdry, with nasty, with poor quality, with corner-cutting, which is where we are with much of our food chain.

Yet cheap is what we require of “Big Ag”. And we reinforce this message every time we go to the supermarket. Cheap chicken is cheap for a reason. Every time we choose one over more expensive alternatives we are endorsing practices we claim to dislike.

Cheap is the reason corn oil finds its way into bread and chocolate and infant formula and thousands of other unlikely places. Cheap is the reason antibiotics are routinely used in meat production where animals are kept in close confinement. Cheap is why we have monoculture crops needing genetic manipulation to resist pesticide sprays. Cheap is why we have habitat loss and wildlife population crashes.

When viewed in this way our food choices aren’t quite so cheap. In fact they come at a very high price. And they’re paid for by the animals we eat, the landscapes we despoil and the water resources we plunder.

The “No” lobby on I-522 will continue to claim that the GM labeling requirement is ill-conceived, unworkable and will add to weekly grocery bills. They will continue to obfuscate and sow doubt and promote confusion.

But as consumers we shouldn’t allow that to cloud the real issue: We have a right to know what’s in our food, a right to transparency about its production and a right to hold the industry to higher standards.

Until we accept that we’re prepared to pay more and start showing that through our shopping habits “Big Ag” won’t budge. If things are to change we have to start by rewarding the producers who meet these requirements and by leaving on the shelves the products of those who do not.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s