In this age of information, why is there so much about the food we eat that
America's agricultural establishment doesn't want us to know?
Ironically, there are nutrition labels on almost everything. They tell us
important facts such as the protein content of bottled water and the amount
of saturated fat in chewing gum. But, we are not supposed to know or care
about new technologies such as genetic engineering, hormone use in animals
and irradiation, all of which radically change the foods we eat.
Agribusiness offers a choice of dozens of kinds of colas and potato chips,
but try to choose between beef and dairy products produced with or without
hormones, between genetically-engineered food and plain old-fashioned food,
or soon, between irradiated and non-irradiated meats. There just isn't any
The genetically-engineered growth hormone rBGH (developed by Monsanto to
make cows produce more milk) provided an early example of the hard-ball
tactics which that company uses to suppress information. When rBGH
appeared on the market, surveys overwhelmingly indicated that consumers
didn't want this product and they wanted its use to be labeled. (Besides
adding to the already large surplus of milk, rBGH puts extra stress on cows
which makes them sick more often, encourages antibiotic use and shortens
Farmers who didn't drug their cows were happy to say so in order to give
milk drinkers the information they wanted. However, Monsanto took some of
these dairies to court. It worried that full disclosure of information
would negatively impact its hormone sales. Since several of Monsanto's
former employees were now making decisions at the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), the government sat by while Monsanto sued those who
wanted to provide consumers with the information they desired. The
government's labeling policy was developed by Michael Taylor, who for years
has alternated between working for Monsanto's Washington law firm and for
the FDA. Now, only a few years later, most non-organic dairy products in
the US contain some milk from hormone-treated cows.
It's not that way in other countries. Earlier this year, despite nine
years of pressure from Monsanto, Canada permanently banned the use of rBGH.
The European Union, Japan and Australia have also banned this hormone
because of concerns about its effects on animals and people. Last month,
the EU said that the risk of breast and prostate cancer in humans could be
increased by milk from hormone-treated cows.
The situation has had one beneficial effect in this country: an enormous
increase in the demand for, and production of, organic dairy products
because hormone-use is prohibited in organic farming.
Perpetuating this lack of information is so important to the industrial
food system that agribusiness and its friends in government would rather
start a trade war between Europe and the US than clearly identify beef
that's been fattened using growth hormones and food grown from
European consumers do not to want artificial hormones in their beef, or the
herbicide marketing genes and internal pesticides that agricultural
chemical companies now engineer into the most common seeds. Europeans
demand truthful labeling. Without it, assume that beef animals are treated
with hormones and that corn, soybeans, canola and potatoes have been
Although the current law requires food that has been treated with
irradiation must be labeled, the FDA is holding hearings that may eliminate
that requirement. Send your comments to the FDA before May 18.
The next two weeks have been designated "Global Days of Action Against
Monsanto and Genetic Engineering." For more information, go to www.
purefood.org on the web.
This dangerous corporate and government collusion for secrecy and greater
profits provides yet another reason for growing more of our own food and
connecting directly with local farmers.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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