In 2008, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) made a push about palm oil in products (May Contain Rainforest Destruction) using stickers — and as far as I can tell, not much changed. Palm oil, in various forms, still exists in a lot of products — including a lot of products at my local food co-op. I’m hoping things are different for Label It Yourself (also available on Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook if you’re more conscious of social media).
LIY encourages people to mark products that may contain GMOs — and they provide a long list of products that might fit this category, among them pretty much all the major field crops that are not certified organic (canola, soy, corn, cottonseed) — which translates to it being in things like:
- Vitamin E
- Xanthan gum (a corn byproduct, used as a binder)
- Baking Powder
and many others. The LIY website as a list of items likely to contain GMO — and how to know what not to label. In fact, they even provide you with a template you can use to print off your own stickers.
If those stickers aren’t you thing though, and this concerns you, you can make your own like Cynthia LaPier, or you can sign a variety of online petitions, write letters, etc. I’m personally in favor of direct action because it acts not only to raise awareness on a local level, but also has the potential to raise awareness on a larger level, perhaps especially if you can connect your actions to others using social media.
But maybe you’re wondering “what’s wrong with GMOs?” As with everything, there’s a long answer to this and a shorter one. So you’ll stay with me (and feel free to skip this section if you’re already well-versed in this), I’ll give a pretty concise response. GMOs, genetically modified organisms, contain DNA that has been manipulated in a lab. If you’re wondering this is different from selective breeding. Instead of selecting particular traits, GMO products often have these traits — which might not even normally be a part of their DNA — added to them in laboratories. This is how “round-up ready” crops and other such things come into existence. The fundamental question a lot of opponents are asking about GMO products is that if there’s no danger, as the government & other regulatory bodies claim, then why aren’t products containing GMO labeled as such? Another concern is that GMO crops will cross-pollinate with non-GMO crops, which will leave organic farmers unable to obtain recertification, and which could permanently alter our food supply.
The side of this argument that wants no regulation on labeling claims that labels might cause people to reject GMO foods (in my mind, they can probably spin it so people who don’t currently care still wouldn’t care, but they didn’t ask me) and that GMO foods are necessary to solve the world’s growing demands on food. With this second point, they choose to ignore that food scarcity has less to do with food production (also, please consider these major GMO crops & biofuel production) than with food distribution.
Right now, some products voluntarily label “GMO-Free” because they feel it provides marketing cache (and most likely it does, kind of like the “gluten-free” fad of things that probably shouldn’t contain gluten anyway, like my fresh berries or a bag of rice, being labeled gluten-free). But as Anna Lappe points out in Diet for a Hot Planet, this may be more greenwashing than anything else — if you look at the ingredient label and you’ve done your research you might notice that at least for some of these products, none of the ingredients are available in GMO form.
The call to action from LIY is simple and in the name. They provide resources to help you along and encourage you to post photos to social media. Consider this another opportunity to Occupy the Food System — and to have your voice heard.