Consumer Choices?

Can consumer choice be a driver of change? The answer is yes, provided that consumers make informed decisions based on awareness of how their purchases impact others and our planet.

If, however, all the available products are produced by the same corporations using the same shortsighted and destructive methods and there is no meaningful labeling, then consumer choice amounts to nothing.

Heritage varieties of Quinoa outside Alausí, Ecuador

One example is what has been euphemistically called the “organic consolidation.” Organic consolidation describes the recent purchase and management of organic brands by large corporations. After buying into the organic market the new owners have been pushing to weaken the standard while at the same time making it cost prohibitive for other smaller companies to enter the certified organic marketplace. This dynamic was very evident in the recent ballot initiative in California to label foods containing genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered ingredients (GMO or GE).

Many people were astonished and outraged that large organic brands and retailers would oppose the GMO labeling requirement. There is a simple reason behind this: These large corporations see the organic brands as luxury goods within their portfolio and are worried about protecting their larger brands from potential revenue loss as consumer awareness of GMOs intensifies.

Why should people be allowed to choose between GMO and non-GMO foods? First and foremost, almost all the studies of GMO food safety have been funded by the same companies that produce the GMO seeds. Does anyone think results showing they are unsafe would be published if the regulatory mechanism is internal?

Only one independent French study has looked at the entire life of GMO test animals, and, although it used a small sample size, it raises serious concerns about GMO safety.

As this research is expensive and the funding is controlled by industry and industry-friendly government agencies, real studies on their safety are unlikely in the foreseeable future (Even ignoring the environmental damage and health consequences of the partner chemicals of the GMO crops, which have been clearly demonstrated to be dangerous).

The GMO producers make the case that GMO products are identical to non-GMO and expect blind trust of their declarations and testing methods. Monsanto is the largest producer of GMO seeds and they have a long record of introducing new products that they claimed were safe. The safety record of Monsanto’s other inventions, DDT and PCBs, are well known.

How many deaths have these dangerous compounds caused? They were certainly viewed as useful in their time and touted as signs of progress. If people knew of the long term consequences, would DDT and PCBs have been widely adopted and incredible profitable? Probably not.

The same argument could be made about the other chemical companies that are now in the GMO business. They have a record of introducing novel chemicals that turn out to be banned later due to health and environmental damage. After this long and troubling history, Monsanto says “We have a new miracle product called GMO. It’s safe! No, really, this time we mean it. It’s so safe that it doesn’t even need to be labeled.”

The real business model of the GMO producers is to buy regulations from the government and sell pollution to unwitting consumers. Only now they have a new form of pollution they’ve invented called bio-pollution. Only after it’s too late will the consequences of releasing transgenic elements (bio-pollution) into ecosystems, and having millions of people ingest massive quantities of transgenic products, be known. Obviously the absence of labeling makes this reckless experiment possible. And remember, we’re the guinea pigs! (Thankfully, some countries are enacting bans on the import of GMO seeds to protect heritage varieties and biodiversity.)

The unsettling truth is that when people in the past bought sugar, chocolate, and bananas they were unknowingly funding genocide, slavery, and tyranny. Likewise, the contemporary consumer is funding the destruction of our life-sustaining ecosystems, which amounts to global suicide for both humans, animals, and plant life. Until there is a connection between our decisions at the cash register and the bountiful and peaceful world we all want, market forces will be ineffective.

Small steps like labeling GMOs are a good start. Consumer choice cannot become a true agent of change until consumers understand what they are choosing. Until people are given real choices and also decide to start taking into account questions concerning human rights, emergy, and cradle-to-grave analysis, we will continue to inhabit a homogenized world of false, damaging and indifferent choices.

Are Pepsi vs. Coke, McDonalds vs. Burger King, Democrat vs. Republican, CNN vs. Fox real choices? Such an incomplete and monotonous life could be our future if our actions do not change. But there is hope! Once enough people see the connection between purchases and what they fund; and there are more products available that are brought to the market in a way that values human dignity and our planet, then everything is possible.

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