Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Knowledge is Power: How Monsanto is trying to keep us in ignorance about genetically "enchanced" dairy cows

Do consumers have a right to know what goes into their food? Do people have a right to know what they’re eating? Most importantly, do parents have a right to determine exactly what they’re feeding their kids?

The answer would seem to be an obvious yes. As Americans with busy lives, we’re used to scanning nutrition and ingredients labels to make educated decisions about what we do or don’t want to eat. But someone is waging a battle against this information, directed by massive corporations with cash and political clout, and it’s aimed directly at the local grocery store.

In a thinly veiled grass-roots campaign, Monsanto, the producer of genetically modified foods including Bovine growth hormone (known as rGHB or rbST), has led several states to pass or seriously deliberate laws that would make it illegal for farmers of hormone-free milk to label it as such. Using incomprehensible political power and access, the company has brainwashed legislators into believing it is bad for consumers to know what goes into their food. Why? Because a simple label stating that a jug of milk is “produced from cows free of growth hormones” might cause us to choose that milk over a label-free container. Monsanto spokesman Michael Doane says the hormone-free label “implies to consumers, who may or may not be informed on these issues, that there’s a health-and-safety difference between these two milks, that there’s ‘good’ milk and ‘bad’ milk, and we know that’s not the case.”

Do they? Do they know it absolutely? Enough to risk our children’s health? Considering that Monsanto has pressed genetically modified foods from corn to tomatoes on the American consumer and then insisted that we had no right to know what was modified and what wasn’t, I have a hard time trusting their claims of the milk’s safety.

There are two issues here. The first is Monsanto’s assertion that non-hormone-free milk is in no way worse for human consumption than the regular stuff. If the genetically modified hormone is perfectly safe, why is it banned by Canada, Australia, Japan, and every European country? I have little faith in the Food and Drug Administration’s impartiality in declaring the product healthy when so many other countries have banned it. And since growth hormones were only approved for U.S. dairy cows in 1994, I, as a consumer, have absolutely no faith that enough time has passed to see the long-term effects of these hormones on adults, much less on children.

The second issue is a far more basic right. No matter what the hormone-free label implies, consumers and parents still have a right to know what’s in their food. Does a “suitable for vegetarians” label imply that a vegetarian diet is better for you than a meat-eating one? Hardly.

I refuse to buy milk without a hormone-free label. That’s my right, as a consumer and as a mother. The further Monsanto pushes this issue in any state, the closer they drive me to buying milk from a farmer down the road, someone I can look in the face and trust. Because it seems I can’t trust my legislators to make the right decisions for my children’s health.

Pennsylvania was one of the first states to adopt a law against hormone-free labeling. A consumer outcry forced the state to reverse the ban. As mothers, our most basic duty to our children is to ensure the food they eat is safe as well as nutritious. If your legislators quietly try to strip you of the right to know your milk, fight back.

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