Her chariot is an empty hazelnut [ . . .]
And in this state she gallops night by night [ . . .]
o'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees
--- Mercutio, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 4
Not that lawyers only think of (or dream about) fees, however it is worth noting that when Californians vote this November 6th on the Right to Know Genetically Engineered Foods Act (aka the GE Foods Mandatory Labeling Initiative), they will not only, fortunately, be taking an historic stand for consumer rights but also, unfortunately, throwing down a wild card on the table, one that could potentially open up the floodgates to private actions (lawsuits) against makers of all manner of raw and processed foods, food supplements and packaged goods, in short: 60 to 80 percent of products on store shelves in The Golden State.
While the fish tomato thankfully never made it to the produce aisle, other cross-species combos have. A gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria was inserted into corn to combat a corn-eating worm; today, 63 percent of the U.S. corn crop uses this Franken-seed.
The use of genetically engineered bacteria to create nutraceutical compounds has had a disastrous track record. Case in point: in 1989 over 1,500 people became very sick and nearly 40 died as a result of ingesting contaminated L-tryptophan that had been made by a foreign pharmaceutical company using genetically engineered bacteria.
This is a perfect example of the grave concerns over 90 percent of Americans have regarding GMOs and why they want products with GMOs to be labeled as such.
The European Union (EU) took a more aggressive approach, at least initially, with a six-year moratorium on gene-altered products than ran from 1998 to 2004. Sadly, the U.S., Canada and Argentina challenged it in court and, in 2006, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the EU ban was illegal.
Will GMO Labeling Help or Confuse Consumers?
|Courtesy Robert Huffstutter|
And lawsuits for GMO labeling are a very real prospect, indeed.
While the organizers of the California initiative point to the fact that the lawsuit will not authorize the awarding of Prop 65-like “bounty hunter fees” to lawyers who bring suits, which is true, what is not brought out is that (1) anyone can sue to enforce the new statute, (2) they can be awarded their attorney fees and costs of bringing suit, and (3) they don’t have to prove anything---such as facts, damage or loss---or to even win the case as such for the Court to award them fees.
In a legal analysis of the initiative by James C. Cooper, JD, Ph.D., entitled “Proposition 65 and the Proposed California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Foods Act: A Comparison of Litigation Incentives,” Cooper wrote: “The adoption of Label GMO likely would result in private lawsuits to enforce its provisions.”
In an interview with The Gormley Files, when asked as to how widespread the “private lawsuit business will be,” Cooper said: “As I note in my paper, because there is a private right of action, we can expect private suits, however there are reasons to believe that the GMO ballot initiative will not yield the levels of abusive litigation associated with Prop 65.” We shall see.
Will Labeling Stop the Virulent Spread of GMOs?
|Deforestation in the Pacific Northwest|
It is predicted that by the year 2050, 25 percent of the world’s 250,000 plant species will disappear due to deforestation, the shift to genetically uniform crops, over-grazing, water control projects and urbanization.
In April 1991, plant geneticist Jack Harlan (1917-1998) warned: “The diversity of our genetic resources stands between us and starvation on a scale we cannot imagine.”
To prevent worldwide disaster scenarios such as this, groups are tracking down the wild relatives of modern crops in habitats believed to favor their survival, then preserving their germ plasm in a global network of seed banks (or gene banks)---such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault---and protected natural sites.
However, better oversight and controls need to be devoted to these efforts, as not only have many seed banks fallen into decay but the funding for these efforts appears to have been, thus far, subverted by the same company that rules the GMO roost.
The Way Forward?
Perhaps modest incentives and tax breaks can be offered to GM seed makers if they agree to phase out the development and sale of GM seeds and GM-seed-specific pesticides and help farmers in remediation efforts to restore their crops to non-patented, non-GM varieties, and agree to cease the persecution of farmers for using traditional, seed-saving practices that have been part of agriculture for 10,000 years. Certainly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would need to phase out its GE/GM development mission, as well.
A world free of GM plants and crops may well be the ultimate answer. Not just the “The Right to Know,” but the “Right to No.”
As in no GMOs.