Skip to main content

The right to know if you're eating genetically modified food

By Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Special to CNN
updated 10:52 AM EDT, Fri November 1, 2013
Labels say these snacks don't contain GMOs. A campaign is on in Washington state to require GMO foods to be labeled.
Labels say these snacks don't contain GMOs. A campaign is on in Washington state to require GMO foods to be labeled.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield: You have the right to know what's in your food
  • Washington state to vote on whether to require labels on genetically modified food
  • Writers: A grassroots movement is pitted against agribusinesses such as Monsanto
  • Writers: Corporations spending millions should not determine the outcome of the vote

Editor's note: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield co-founded Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Ben is the founder and Head Stamper at the StampStampede.org campaign, whose goal is to help build the movement to amend the Constitution to get money out of politics. Jerry is president of the Ben & Jerry's Foundation and promotes the company's social and environmental initiatives.

(CNN) -- A modern-day David and Goliath story is unfolding in Washington state over whether you have the right to know what's in the food you purchase. The outcome will likely have national implications.

What's at stake is I-522, the initiative that would mandate labeling food that is genetically modified. In support, you have a large grassroots movement that includes farmers and ranchers, fishermen, business owners and consumers. On the other side, you have a handful of large corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont and Dow that are fueling the food fight by spending millions of dollars to stop the people's right to know.

Jerry Greenfield
Jerry Greenfield
Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen

For Ben and myself, it's simple -- being honest with your customers is the foundation of good business. Companies ought to be proud of the ingredients they use and the products they sell, and they ought to be happy to disclose what's in those products.

About 60% to 70% of processed foods contain laboratory-grown, genetically modified ingredients known as GMOs -- genetically modified organisms. According to a New York Times poll released in July, 93% of Americans want labels on food with GMOs.

Eatocracy: How is genetically modified food labeled?

GMO labeling is being considered in almost 30 states. Maine and Connecticut have passed mandatory GMO labeling laws. But in a political system where money talks, too often the people are silenced.

Mystery wheat strikes fear in farmers

According to analysis from Maplight.org, a similar initiative failed in California last year after opponents spent $46 million -- five times more than proponents. In Washington, supporters of labeling have raised money from more than 13,000 contributors, with the median donation of $25 a pop. The opposition, on the other hand, has raised money from 10 donors, with the average donation of $545,827. As a result, the citizens who support labeling are being outspent three to one.

If I-522 passes in Washington, it would be the first no-strings-attached legislation for mandatory labeling. And that's a good thing. It would create the momentum and the precedent for more states and federal protections to follow. In other words, it would be another big win for David.

Residents of Washington have a big opportunity to vote yes on I-522 and turn the tide on labeling laws. In the long term, we need to level the playing field by reducing the amount of money that big corporations spend influencing legislation and elections.

While I've been in Washington lending my voice to Yes on I-522 , Ben has been traveling around the country with StampStampede.org -- a grassroots movement of tens of thousands of people who are legally stamping messages on dollars that say "Not to be Used for Bribing Politicians" to support the national movement to #GetMoneyOut of politics. Momentum is building.

The use of GMO ingredients in food is similar to the issue of money in politics. At the very least, there should be transparency and disclosure.

People deserve to know what ingredients are in their food and whose money is being spent to influence the laws. In the best-case scenario, we should get big money out of politics, stop big corporations from influencing our laws and reclaim our republic for "We the People."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT