What’s In Our Food? South LA Residents Stand Up for Our Right to Know

Last Thursday, a group of South Los Angeles residents and advocates gathered in Leimert Park to declare their support for Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Initiative, which would require genetically engineered (GE) food to be labeled.

“We have the right to know what is in our food so that we can make good choices about what to feed our children,” said Vanessa Lee, a hairdresser and a mother of two.

Up to 80% of the processed food in supermarkets today contains GE ingredients. GE crops have led to a staggering increase in pesticide use in the United States — 400 million pounds over the past sixteen years. This rise in chemical use is especially dangerous to farmworkers and other residents of rural communities.

What’s more, GE food has still not been proven safe for human consumption. A study released in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology on September 19, 2012, showed that rats fed a diet of GE corn developed liver damage, mammary and kidney tumors, and digestive problems at a much higher rate than rats fed a non-GE diet.

“Does genetically engineered food have a harmful effect on human beings? At this point we can’t say for sure, but there is ample cause for concern,” said Ben Hellerstein, Los Angeles Field Organizer for Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR). “That’s why it’s so important to label genetically engineered food, so that we can all decide for ourselves whether we want to eat it.”

Currently, there is no state or national law that requires food manufacturers to disclose if their products are genetically engineered. Proposition 37 is a straightforward ballot initiative that would require the labeling of food that contains GE ingredients. At no additional cost to the consumer, it would protect our right to know what is in our food and to make informed decisions about what to eat.

Among those voicing their support for Proposition 37 on Thursday were Lambert Talley, President and CEO of Grace Center for Health and Healing; Isis Mancil, a specialist on environmental justice issues with Black Women for Wellness; Lawrence DeFreitas, youth and volunteer programs coordinator at Community Services Unlimited, Inc.; and Vanessa Lee, a South LA resident.

Proposition 37 comes at a critical time for food and agriculture in America. Soon to be released is a new wave of GE crops designed to be used with the chemical 2,4-D, a reproductive toxicant and a probable carcinogen. These 2,4-D crops are expected to drive pesticide use up by an additional 50%, making it all the more important for consumers to know if their food contains GE ingredients.

“People have the right to know what is in their food,” said Lawrence DeFrietas, “and if genetically engineered crops are not bad, as some corporations claim, then there should be no reason to prevent that type of information being publicly displayed.”

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