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Michael Pollan: California’s Prop 37 Fight to Label GMOs Could Galvanize Growing U.S. Food Movement

"This is the first time for the food movement to pass from that moment of voting with your fork to voting with your votes for a different kind of food system," said Pollan.

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And genetic modification is part of that disconnect. It is—there is a story about how this food is produced that the industry would rather you not know. They’re happy to talk to, you know, editorial boards in op-ed pages and the elites at conferences about feeding the world, and this is the only way we can feed the world and drive up yields and save the forest, but for some reason they don’t want to have that conversation with consumers, the people who actually have to eat the stuff.

And the reason for that is quite simple. Consumers would probably avoid genetically modified food if they were given the choice. At least that’s the fear of the industry. Now, why would they do that? The industry likes to depict that as irrational behavior, you know, this fear of the unknown or of this new technology. But, in fact, it’s perfectly rational to avoid genetically modified food, so far. And the reason is, as Stacy said earlier, it offers the consumer nothing. It may or may not offer farmers some edge in terms of convenience, but to the consumer, all it offers is some uncertainty, the doubts that have been raised by certain studies about it, and also a type of agriculture that some consumers want to avoid: giant monocultures, you know, under a steady rain of herbicides, which is what most GM crops are. So, faced with that risk-benefit analysis, some undetermined possible risk versus no benefit whatsoever, what’s the smart thing to do? Smart thing to do is just avoid it until we know more about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the forces that you’ve come up against in your many books, as well, and in speaking around the country, that are behind. I mean, what Dr. Zilberman was just saying is that people like to make it sound like this is a corporate movement, but he says it is not, the movement against Prop 37.

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, you know, genetically modified organisms may have been developed in laboratories by scientists in places like Berkeley, but make no mistake, they’re owned by very large corporations. Monsanto and DuPont now own something like 47 percent of the seed supply in this country. The real benefit of GM to these companies is really the ability to control the genetic resources on which humankind depends. It is like putting a bar code on every plant. You can tell if it’s your plant in the field. And you—farmers are forced to sign contracts forbidding them from saving seed and forbidding researchers, by the way, from studying these crops.

So—and this is perhaps my biggest objection to the technology. I’m not persuaded there is a health threat attached to GM; I think we still need to do a lot more work on that question. But what I know and don’t need to be persuaded of is that this represents a whole new level of corporate control over our food supply, that a handful of companies are owning the seeds, controlling the farmers and controlling our choices. And the food movement is all about diversity. The food movement is all about consumers connecting directly with farmers and cutting out that narrow waist of the hourglass that all our food has been passing through, these monopolies and oligopolies.

And, you know—and the consumer desires something else. But the consumer needs knowledge in order to make good choices. And there are a certain number of people who would simply like to avoid this kind of food. David Zilberman was saying that, well, you can avoid it by buying organic, but organic is expensive. And there are people who want to avoid it who can’t afford organic. We can’t have a two-class food system where people who want to avoid GM and buy sustainable, humanely raised meat, they get to have this good food, and everybody else is stuck with this industrial crap because they can’t afford anything better. I think we need to democratize the ability to choose good food. And this is—this is a way to do that.

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