I’ve been reading a lot about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in preparation for the debate I am moderating Thursday evening between Virginia farmer Joel Salatin and holistic physician  Joseph Mercola in Atlanta. 

The debate, a fund-raiser for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, assumes everyone is against GMO ingredients in food. It is focused on the best means of informing consumers about the presence of GMO ingredients. Mercola will be arguing for government-mandated ingredients listing, and Salatin for a hands-off market-based approach. 

One of the things I have learned about the GMO issue is that the matter of identifying genetically altered ingredients continues to simmer around the country, even though Californians famously rejected Proposition 37 last fall–in the face of stiff corporate opposition–which would have required companies to identify GMO ingredients in their products. 

Laws requiring labeling, or prohibiting GMO food, have been introduced in nearly half of all states. At least two, Maine and Connecticut, have actually passed laws, though their implementation is based on neighboring states passing similar laws. 

Washington state residents vote today on Initiative 522, which also requires labeling of GMO ingredients. 

What’s intriguing about this bubbling up of concern about GMO foods is that it is happening at the state rather than the federal level. Indeed, the feds have avoided the issue, ever since Barack Obama in his 2007 campaign for President, famously declared, “We’ll let folks know if their food has been genetically modified, because Americans should know what they are buying.” Guess that was before he met the corporate bigwigs who run things.  

The more localized push on behalf of GMOs is similar to what is happening for raw milk. We have seen in a number of states that have sought, in response to federal pressure, to limit small-farm freedom to sell raw milk–including California, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, and Vermont, among others–communities unite in protest against the state initiatives. 

As acrimonious as some of these struggles become, I’d say they are positive for one huge reason–they help unite communities in a common cause on behalf of good wholesome food. In the process, people become educated about the joint corporate-federal partnership designed to promote cheap processed, sanitized, genetically altered food. 

It’s a difficult fight, against tough odds. By some estimates, 80% of all the ingredients in processed foods already are GMO. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gives the federal government, and its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a potential stranglehold on regulation of farms and other food producers, large and small, beginning next year. 

But communities have tremendous power, once they are willing to assert it. 


Lastly, on the debate: There will be a Q&A period following the debate. Readers here are invited to submit questions about GMO labeling, via the comments section, and I’ll be try to use as many as possible. 

The Joe vs Joel debate is sold out, but will be live-streamed via the FTCLDF, by registering here–cost is $19.95, as part of the fundraiser.)