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California Food Fight: Just Say No to GMOs
(Photo: David Robinson / Flickr)

California Food Fight: Just Say No to GMOs

(Photo: David Robinson / Flickr)

California’s Proposition 37 enshrines the idea that we have a right to know what we eat. Most Californians favor this directive, while corporations spend millions to defeat it. The consequences will affect the lifelong health of every person who eats.

Every four years, we hear the hackneyed rhetoric that this election is “the most important of our time.” One of the reasons that may actually be true this year has nothing to do with the presidential race. It has to do with the outcome of Proposition 37 on the California ballot. Americans throughout the country need to get involved in California’s food fight by contacting their friends and family in California and encouraging them to vote in favor. Here’s why.

Proposition 37 requires that most foods that are genetically modified (GMOs) be labeled as such. People should have a right to know what they are eating. It’s a simple, reasonable directive, and most Californians are in favor. But the downstream consequences are profound, and the ripple effect will reach every dinner table in the country and affect the lifelong health of every person who eats. And powerful corporations who stand to lose financially are desperately spending millions to defeat it.

Most of our food comes from huge monocultures of staple crops – corn, soybeans, wheat – and enormous confined feed lots of livestock. Fresh fruits and vegetables, a far healthier dietary emphasis, are merely an afterthought in the marriage of government and agribusiness – a k a Big Ag – that dominates the food chain ending up on our plates.

Big Ag’s modus operandi depends on heavy use of fossil-fuel fertilizers, massive amounts of antibiotics fed to livestock, and staple crops that are now genetically modified to withstand repeated pesticide applications and/or have pesticides directly inserted into the plant’s DNA, which then ends up in your digestive tract [1]. The end result is meat and grains literally bathed, inside and out, in antibiotics, hormones, toxic chemicals and heavy metals. You’re even getting drugs like Prozac in your McNuggets because it is fed to chickens so they can tolerate their cramped, putrid and pathetic lives as future Happy Meals. Seriously.

From beginning to end, this entire system is a reeking indulgence in corporate welfare, a massive waste of fossil fuels and a major source of greenhouse gases. The Big Ag method sterilizes and depletes the soil of essential microbes and its carbon sequestration capability, kills beneficial organisms – earthworms, bees, ladybugs, butterflies – and promotes a rapid and aggressive evolution of pesticide resistance in harmful insects and weeds. Big Ag responds by escalating the chemical and pesticides arms race, with each new generation of chemicals becoming a stepping stone in an upward spiral of biologic toxicity.

At the heart of this broken system are GMOs, unaffectionately called Frankenfood. But the most direct danger of GMOs is not some vague, Frankensteinian deviation from nature; it is that GMOs are bred specifically to withstand repeated applications of pesticides designed to kill everything else. The most common system is made by Monsanto, which makes both the potent herbicide Roundup and the crop seeds whose plants are resistant to Roundup.

Inevitably, nature fights back, and there are now widespread infestations of monster weeds unaffected by Roundup. To fight this emerging battle, Dow Chemical is now heavily marketing a new corn seed resistant to 2,4-D, a new herbicide using the main ingredients from the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, one of the most toxic products ever created and which the US used to deliberately poison millions of acres in Asia during the Vietnam War. So, the answer to the failure of the Roundup system has now become Agent Orange Corn. This GMO story is very similar when we look at other companies, other crops and other pesticides. These companies’ business model is to profit from the very problems they are creating, much like the fossil-fuel companies exploiting an ice-free Arctic.

The sales pitch has been that GMOs increase crop yields and are needed to feed the world. A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists reveals that claim to be false. Twenty-two academic corn experts warned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that GMO crops could devastate the future of agricultural production.

The chemical corporations don’t want you to know that pesticides don’t just poison harmful insects and plants; they are also poisonous to humans, especially fetuses and children, and especially the brain and nervous system. Children from mothers exposed to more pesticides have lower intelligence [2, 3, 4, 5], brain abnormalities [6], including thinner cortexes and poorly developed motor skills. A single significant exposure during adulthood is associated with a cognitive decline equivalent to four years of aging [7]. Neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s are more common with greater pesticide exposure. Roundup causes liver toxicity, reproductive disorders [8], adverse pregnancy outcomes [9], birth defects [10,11,12], allergic and immune disorders, [13] and increases the risk of cancers like lymphoma. GMO foods decrease the amount of good bacteria in the gut because of their contamination with Roundup. Pesticides can even cause epigenetic changes in chromosomal function that can be passed on to subsequent generations [14].

Every link in the food chain dominated by Monsanto and Big Ag is being contaminated, threatening the very foundation of life: living, nutrient-rich soil, clean water, resilient crops, healthy livestock, stable climates and the genetic integrity of virtually every organism on the planet. Call your friends in California and tell them to vote for Proposition 37. It’s an important start in preventing further damage.

Monsanto uses a slogan, “Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” Truth in advertising should require this version instead: “Without Monsanto’s chemicals, life itself will once again be possible.”


Arisa A, Leblanc S. “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada” Reproductive Toxicology Volume 31, Issue 4, May 2011, Pages 528-533doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2011.02.004

Horton M, et al. “Does the home environment and the sex of the child modify the adverse effects of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos on child working memory?” Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/

Horton M, et al.”Impact of Prenatal Exposure to Piperonyl Butoxide and Permethrin on 36-Month Neurodevelopment.” Pediatrics 2011; 127:3 e699-e706; doi:10.1542/peds.2010-0133

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Starks SE, Gerr F, Kamel F, Lynch CF, Alavanja MC, Sandler DP, Hoppin JA. 2011. “High pesticide exposure events and central nervous system function among pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study.” Int Arch Occup Environ Health; doi: 10.1007/s00420-011-0694-8 [Online 7 September 2011].

Claira E, Mesnagea R, Traverta C, Séralinia G. “A glyphosate-based herbicide induces necrosis and apoptosis in mature rat testicular cells in vitro, and testosterone decrease at lower levels Toxicology in Vitro.” Volume 26, Issue 2, March 2012, Pages 269–279

Rauch SA, Braun JM, Barr DB, Calafat AM, Khoury J, Montesano MA, et al. 2012. “Associations of Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticide Metabolites with Gestational Age and Birthweight.” Environ Health Perspect.

Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Seralini* “Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells.” Chem. Res. Toxicol., 2009, 22 (1), pp 97–105 DOI: 10.1021/tx800218n

Paganelli, A., Gnazzo, V., Acosta, H., López, S.L., Carrasco, A.E. 2010. “Glyphosate-based herbicides produce terato-genic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling.” Chem. Res. Toxicol., August 9.

Relyea, Rick A. 2012. “New effects of Roundup on amphibians: Predators reduce herbicide mortality; herbicides induce antipredator morphology.” Ecological Applications 22:634–647.

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Crewsa D, Gillettea R, Scarpinoa S, Manikkamb M, Savenkovab M, and Skinnerb M. “Epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of altered stress responses.” Published online before print PNAS May 21, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1118514109