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Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) promotes local food knowledge, production and market opportunities for farmers and community members throughout our region.

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Know What You're Eating

Phil Gurley

By Kimberly Griffin

Depending on what you read or what crusades you take on, it is possible that GMO is an acronym you are familiar with. In case it’s not: GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism and pertains to food.

May 8, 2014 was a sunny, breezy, perfect spring day. On my way home, dirt under my fingernails – having spent the afternoon planting potatoes – I headed to Green Mountain Fresh to pick up some fish for dinner. I reveled in living in Vermont. I reveled in the dirty, sweaty work that is farm work. I reveled in my privilege (or is it a right?) to know and care about what I eat and where it comes from.

As I drove, listening to the radio, I tried to sort out all of the recent propaganda surrounding GMOs I have witnessed. Earlier that day, Governor Shumlin signed into law a bill requiring that all foods sold within Vermont boarders that contain GMOs be labeled to indicate such ingredients. And although the governors of both Connecticut and Maine signed labeling laws in June 2013 and January 2014, respectively, Vermont gets claim on being the first state to enact such a law, which one might find confusing.

The difference between the Vermont law and that of the two other New England states is that ours comes with no caveats. Both Connecticut’s and Maine’s versions contain clauses requiring that at least four other regional states also sign labeling laws before their own can go into effect. Vermont’s law takes takes effect July 1, 2016, period.

The road to labeling GMOs has been long and winding, complete with round-abouts and cul-de-sacs. The National Conference of State Legislature shows that there are 84 GMO-related bills in 29 states currently being reviewed.

Initiatives in both Washington State and California failed in 2013 and 2012.

In 2007, during his first presidential campaign, Obama stated “I will, immediately, implement country of origin labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from…. We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified, because Americans should know what they’re buying.”

The first of those promises has been carried out; like our clothing, our food labels now taut where they are from. The latter, however, has not.

Oregon put forth a labeling law on a 2002 ballot, which failed.

In 1992, when the FDA was faced with the charge for labeling GMOs, agriscience industry leaders convinced the federal government that although the modified foods were revolutionary enough to require patents (sparking even more debate around the patenting of life/nature), they were “substantially equivalent” to their non-modified counterpart crops enough to not require labels. This, it seems, is the crux of the whole food fight.

When I was a kid, I spent my summers in Illinois helping my grandfather on his farm where he grew corn and soybeans. He sold, planted, lived and breathed by crops that were engineered to withstand heavy doses of various pesticides.

I installed hundreds of road-side signs advertising which strain of crop was planted on what field.

I would watch, wide-eyed, as my uncle flew over swaying fields of corn, swooping down to release yellowy-green plumes of chemicals, half amazed in the wonder of science and half horrified at the aftermath of bug carcasses and dried up weeds on the ground just days afterward. Not to mention the massive amounts of chemicals leaching into the soil and the water sources.

The crops, however, remained unscathed because their actual DNA had been modified to stand against the chemicals.

Though the verdict is still out as to whether or not there are health risks to humans who consume GMO products, the environmental impact alone is enough to cause one to think twice about the practices of producing GMO crops.

The crops my grandfather grew were not for human consumption, at least not directly. Once harvested, they were shipped to a processing plant and turned into high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, or animal feed.

But, it’s not just processed foods that contain GMOs. Many whole foods such as tomatoes, rice, wheat, and potatoes are commonly genetically modified. One quick way to guarantee that the food you are choosing is GMO-free is to purchase the certified organic option. However, this is not always an option. But, if the food you purchased were labeled as containing GMOs, you could then make an educated and conscientious decision for yourself and the environment.

I want to know what I am eating and generally, if possible, how it was produced. Since I can’t always talk to the farmer who grew it, I have to depend on the words used to label it. On May 8, at Green Mountain Fresh, I was able to buy the fish that I felt was best according to my own principles and opinions. It was farmed-raise, but regionally, and was fed certified non-GMO fish food. I think everyone should have that opportunity and the new GMO labeling law will offer just that; even if it means one more thing to read in the grocery aisle.

Kimberly Griffin is currently working with the College of Saint Joseph to develop an on-campus farm for educational and edible use. She can be reached at kimberly.griffin@csj.edu

Originally published in the Rutland Herald