There are plenty of reasons to worry about our food supply. Just this week, we learned of an 18-state outbreak of salmonella in chicken — just as federal inspectors were furloughed. We're also learning more and more about iffy additives like food dyes, growth hormones and sodium nitrite (to name a few). And as we documented in our recent cover story, an entire wheat field just south of here showed up to have been genetically modified. No one can explain how.
Americans are fighting back, favoring restaurants that can pinpoint the sources of the food they serve, reading labels like never before, and, in at least 20 states now, trying to get comprehensive labels on the food they buy. Here in Washington, it's coming in the form of Initiative 522 — a proposal to tell citizens if their food has been genetically modified.
Count me as one of those who are excited about the possibilities of better crops — to feed more people, to require fewer resources. We all want progress, and science continues to make our lives better. But as we unlock the mysteries of our planet, we have also come up against plenty of unintended consequences. We are told the chances of cross-pollination between natural food and GMOs will be small, but we humans tend to downplay the risks. Remember, tobacco was first sold as a health aid, and DDT was just fine to spray on your crops. Then there's Hanford. We need to tread carefully — and with humility.
But I-522 is about more than whether genetically modified foods are safe — I believe most will be proven to be just fine. It's more about, in the words of author and food expert Michael Pollan, "the public's confidence in the industrial food chain."
There isn't much. As yet another sign that our government is failing us, oversight agencies — from Wall Street watchers to food safety inspectors — are defanged, infiltrated and underfunded by Congress. I wish I could be more trusting, but it's hard when our leaders just got done lying to us about how much the NSA is spying on America. It's a sad situation when you can trust Whole Foods (which plans to label GMO foods itself by 2016) more than your own federal agencies.
Americans care about food just as much as all those European nations that have such strict rules; we just don't have a government that looks out for us as much as it should. If we did, measures like I-522 might not be necessary.
This is not a vote to ban genetically modified foods; I just want the truth right there on the label so I can decide for myself. I'm voting yes on I-522. ♦