Taking on Big Food

Author and food activist Michael Pollan rightly points out that Prop. 37 threatens to take the fight for the right to good food into the national political arena

…demand the right to know what the hell we are eating.

…demand the right to know what the hell we are eating.

The right to eat good food
“One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a ‘food movement’ in America worthy of the name—that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system,” begins widely known author and good-food activist Michael Pollan in a lengthy, hard-hitting piece titled “Vote for the Dinner Party,” recently published in The New York Times’ Sunday Magazine.

Pollan’s article is focused on Proposition 37—the California initiative on the November ballot that, if passed, will require foods sold in the state that contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled as such. Prop. 37, notes Pollan, “has the potential … to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too. …

“What is at stake…is not just the fate of genetically modified crops but the public’s confidence in the industrial food chain,” a system that, as he points out, “is being challenged on a great many fronts—indeed, seemingly everywhere but in Washington.” Pollan mentions such things as “animal rights advocates seeking to expose [the meat industry’s] brutality; public-health advocates campaigning against antibiotics in animal feed; environmentalists highlighting factory farming’s contribution to climate change” and the much-publicized controversy over school-lunch hamburger meat laced with (cost-cutting) pink slime—“a kind of industrial-strength hamburger helper made from a purée of slaughterhouse scraps treated with ammonia,” as he describes it.

Pollan gets to the bottom of some of the politics at work in the sleazy game that Big Food plays with what we eat when he talks about “why Monsanto and its allies have fought the labeling of genetically modified [GM] food so vigorously since 1992.” (Hint: it has something to do with the fact that “genetically modified foods don’t offer the eater any benefits whatsoever,” as Pollan writes.)

The Big Food industry “managed to persuade the Food and Drug Administration—over the objection of its own scientists—that the new crops were ‘substantially equivalent’ to the old and so did not need to be labeled, much less regulated.” The FDA’s policy, Pollan notes, “was co-written by a lawyer whose former firm worked for Monsanto.”

At the same time as they were claimed to be the equivalent of normal crops (and thus not in need of labeling or regulation), GM crops were also being touted by Monsanto as a “new agricultural paradigm,” as Pollan points out, and thus “revolutionary enough … to deserve patent protection and government support.” Wow. How’s that for talking out of both sides of one’s corporate mouth?

“It’s worth noting that ours was one of only a very few governments ever sold on this convenient reasoning,” writes Pollan. More than 60 countries require the labeling of GM food.

“Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process; lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends,” says Pollan. “These are precisely the issues that have given rise to the so-called food movement.”

Yet, he laments, this movement has been more successful in “building an alternative food chain” of farmers’ markets, CSAs and so on “than it has in winning substantive changes from Big Food or Washington.”

Now, folks, is the time to take the first step toward taking political control of our food away from back-door corporate wangling and the like and into the hands of we, the people. Vote yes on Prop. 37. If GMOs are so great, why not label them and be proud?

(Go to http://tinyurl.com/pollanroxit to read Pollan’s entire article.)