Friday, June 22, 2012

GMO labeling, the Farm Bill, & anti-cancer herbs and spices

In November we will be voting on a referendum in California requiring that all genetically engineered foods be labeled. If it passes, California will be the first state to require such labeling on packaging. Citizens in Europe, Japan and other countries (almost 50 in all) have access to such knowledge. This is an historic occasion for voters – you should know that companies such as Dow and Monsanto will put up a strong campaign against the referendum, and may sue the state if it passes, as they threatened to do in Vermont, where a legislative bill for labeling did not make it out of committee.

The referendum is important because ‘superweeds’ have developed in response to the herbicide ‘Roundup’ (glyphosate). The result has been heavier spraying of the Roundup Ready corn and soybeans that have been genetically modified to withstand such spraying. About 90% of soybeans and 70% of corn and cotton grown in the US are Roundup Ready crops. Additionally, Dow Chemical has asked for USDA approval of a type of corn that can withstand spraying by 2,4D (a defoliant similar to 2,4T used in Agent Orange in Vietnam war days). Many large-scale farmers in the Midwest approve of Dow’s new crops, saying that resistant weeds have become a crisis and without new chemical approaches, farmers would have to plow more and thereby increase soil erosion. On the other hand, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have banned the use of 2,4D, because of toxicity to workers (central nervous system symptoms, dermatitis, possible long term effects on the children of women exposed in pregnancy, and possible increase in lymphomas). Farmers who do not use GMO crops fear genetic drift from the altered plants’ pollen, and also drift of the herbicides used.

This is clearly a complicated question, and we will hear a great deal about it in the run-up to the November election. Here is another reason to exercise your right to vote!

Th US Senate is currently considering the 2012 Farm Bill. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) is opposing a $4.5 billion cut from food stamps, which will then be opposed in the House of Representatives where a majority of Republicans have said they want deep cuts in food stamps. In addition, she wants to help markets that sell fresh produce in areas where it is not available, and encourage the creation of insurance for specialty crops such as apples and onions. To take action on Gillibrand’s amendment that would restore cuts from nutrition programs and redirect $500 million to healthy food programs, you can call Lynn Woolsey (415-507-9554), Senator Boxer (415-403-0100) and Senator Feinstein (415-393-0707). Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Barbara Boxer ( D-California) have introduced an amendment requiring GMO foods to be labeled nationwide. Call Senator Boxer about this as well, if you agree with such labeling.

I have just returned from a nutrition conference put on by the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. One of the speakers on cancer was Jeanne Wallace, who also spoke here at Commonweal last year with chef Rebecca Katz. Wallace listed the top 10 foods to block angiogenesis – the growth of new blood vessels that encourage cancer growth. They are:
*Spices – especially curry, ginger, garlic, parsley
*Berries – all types
*Green tea
*Parsley, peppermint, thyme
*Curry - turmeric, coriander, cumin
*Brazil nuts – for the selenium
*Cold-water fish/ Grass fed meat - for the omega-3 fatty acids
*Traditional soy foods - edamame, tempeh, tofu, plain soy milk
*Peanuts (boiled), red grapes/wine - resveratrol

I will write more about this conference in future columns. In the meantime, if you eat, be a food activist!
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH


  1. "Farmers who do not use GMO crops fear genetic drift from the altered plants’ pollen, and also drift of the herbicides used."

    I'm just wondering, how many percent of farmers used GMO crops? Are there not aware of GMO dangers?

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