At the same time, some consumers oppose the labeling. “Our concern with the proposed food labeling bill in California is that it will ban the sale of tens of thousands of perfectly safe grocery products in California unless they are specially repackaged and relabeled just for our state,” says Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for Californians Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, a coalition of family farmers, grocers, small businesses, and food producers. “We believe it will increase food prices for families by hundreds of dollars each year and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in new enforcement and bureaucracy costs.”
That’s “nonsense,” says the Institute for Responsible Technology’s Smith, who points to European countries that have passed similar measures and were able to add labels at negligible cost to consumers. “The real truth is that companies would rather not deal with the hassle of repackaging their products,” he asserts, adding that companies are never going to institute genetically engineered labels voluntarily, so it’s up to consumers to demand more information about the foods they feed their family.
Educated consumers, after all, have a choice. You can seek out certified organic labels—products certified by a USDA-approved accreditation organization to be free of pesticides and GMO seed—and choose farmers’ markets over supermarkets. And don’t forget to ask the farmer or seller about the farm’s growing methods—just because something is grown locally doesn’t mean it’s pesticide-free. You might also ask whether that corn or kale is heirloom, or heritage—two terms farmers frequently use to identify plants that have not been altered by biotechnology.
If the latest numbers are any indication, more and more Americans are making the switch from industrial to organic produce, and they’re willing to pay extra for it. In 2010, while the rest of the U.S. food industry grew at a measly 1 percent, organic food purchases were 7.7 percent higher than the previous year, with more than 11 percent growth in the fruits and vegetables sector, to the tune of $10.6 billion in sales, according to the Organic Trade Association. “The good news is that consumers are voting with their dollars for the organic choice,” notes Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association. “Even as the economic recovery crawls forward, the organic industry is thriving. The latest research shows that more than 75 percent of U.S. families eat organic food,” at least in part.
As for planting your own greens, don’t be so sure homegrown equals organic: Monsanto now owns both the Seminis and De Ruiter brands, whose seeds are sold directly to consumers for backyard gardens. (Big Beef tomatoes and Valentino green beans are both Seminis seeds.) The best way to guarantee the seeds you’re sowing are organic is to check them against the Organic Seed Alliance’s online list of organic suppliers.
Though Monsanto may never win the hearts of Americans who believe that food should come from nature, not a laboratory, the bottom line is that the company isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Many U.S. farms opt for Monsanto seed willingly, because it makes their jobs easier and their crops more plentiful. Which in turn, makes this produce cheaper for consumers to buy. But as OSGATA’s pending appeal indicates, organic farmers aren’t giving up the fight. “I’ve been an organic farmer for 36 years—for as long as I’ve been old enough to think for myself,” says OSGATA leader Gerritsen. “This is my life. They say a man’s home is his castle, and as organic farmers, we intend to protect our castles, no matter how long it takes.”
Julia Savacool is a freelance writer in New York City. She is the author of The World Has Curves and frequently reports on topics of health and wellness for publications including Self, Women’s Health, and USA Today. Her last piece for Gourmet Live was The Truth About Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners.