If you’re someone who likes to think you are choosy about what you eat, chew on this statistic: “In our country, 89 percent of all soy, 61 percent of all corn, and 75 percent of all canola are genetically altered.” According to this article, “It would be difficult to avoid eating genetically modified organisms in our country because they are so pervasive in the food system and unlabeled in the grocery stores.”


That last part there seems impossible to me: unlabeled in the grocery stores. Cosmetics companies are required to provide extensive information on their labels, and I would expect food labels to contain MORE information! But several years ago a local dairy here was sued by Monsanto, the company that produces bovine growth hormone (rBGH). They were sued because their farmers took a pledge not to use rBGH, and they labeled their milk so their customers would know this. If Monsanto had their way, dairies would not be allowed to label their products–and customers would not have the choice to buy milk without rBGH. Ben and Jerry’s has recently gotten involved, too; their products are made with rBGH-free milk and they think it’s important to be able to say so on their packaging. Monsanto, and the farmers who use rBGH, disagree. They think customers are being misled into believing that rBGH is potentially harmful. (Canada and the European Union have banned rBGH because of its potentially negative effects on people.)

Monsanto is also the biotech giant responsible for about 90% of the genetically engineered seed grown last year. The long-term ecological and health effects of genetically engineered foods are unknown. How important is it to us as consumers to have choice? Even without absolute proof that a product is harmful to your health, should you be able to choose something different? For me, that answer is YES! Personally, I want to know whether my milk came from cows that were given growth hormones. I don’t think a biotech company should be determining what should and shouldn’t appear on our food labels, but when the FDA decisions are made with the help of former employees of that company, that’s exactly what happens!

The FDA is currently poised to remove even more customer choice by putting small beauty products businesses out of business. The same FDA that can’t keep our food safe (note recent recalls of tainted beef and Salmonella-contaminated tomato? cilantro? pepper? who knows what? fiasco) now wants to charge small cosmetics companies thousands of dollars a year so it can “regulate” them, too. For years, the only way consumers could buy lotion without paraben preservatives or petroleum products was to buy from small businesses; if the FDA Globalization Act passes, many of these folks will be out of business, and we’ll have NO CHOICE but to buy from the big guys. Is handcrafted lotion dangerous? According to the Personal Care Products Council,

“Of the 11 billion personal care products that are sold annually, an average of less than 150 adverse reactions are reported-most of which are minor skin irritations.”

This hardly seems worth all the trouble, particularly when the safety of our food supply has much more serious health implications. But unless we all start speaking up, thousands of small businesses will be gone and many of our product choices will be gone, too.

None of these small companies has the multi-million dollar legal budget of Monsanto, or dozens of people on staff to deal with lawsuits or pleas to the FDA. Our strength is in our numbers. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to know as much as possible about the food I eat and the products I use, and wanting as much choice as possible in selecting what is best for myself and my family. If you have an opinion about this, please share your comments here. But don’t stop here–support companies like Ben & Jerry’s and local small businesses that stand up for customer choice. Contact your local dairy and ask for rBGH labeling. And please let your representatives know that this is an important issue to you!