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