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Why Dr. Bronner's is on a Soapbox for GMO Labeling

Why Dr. Bronner's is on a Soapbox for GMO Labeling


On November 5, citizens in Washington State will vote on whether to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Win or lose, The Washington Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act is driving the national push on GMO labeling in states around the country as well as at the federal level—just as the narrowly defeated Prop 37 in California did last year.

Contrary to the misleading rhetoric and propaganda espoused by chemical companies like Monsanto and Dow that portrays GMO labeling on food packaging as costly and unnecessary, the truth is we have the right to know important information about our food, and such disclosures on packaging cost virtually nothing. We have the right to know whether juice is from concentrate or not; whether ingredients are artificial or not; whether fish is farmed or wild-caught. We also have the right to know if food is genetically engineered, in order to make informed decisions about what we eat and feed our families.

Chemical companies genetically engineer DNA from bacteria into food crops, causing the crops to either produce or tolerate the pesticides they sell. Overuse of pesticide is creating resistant superweeds and superbugs, which leads to more pesticides being sprayed. Now, chemical companies like Monsanto and Dow are engineering resistance in food crops to increasingly toxic weed killers like Dicamba and 2,4-D, the main ingredient in Agent Orange (which, coincidentally, both Monsanto and Dow also manufactured).

The bottom line is that genetic engineering of food crops is a pesticide industry boondoggle. Just six chemical companies have bought and control the seed industry in this country, and their interest is to increase—not reduce—agchemical inputs. Rather than help farmers move toward more sustainable and less chemical intensive agriculture, genetic engineering has resulted in huge increases in pesticide use and residues of these chemicals in our food. Pesticide Action Network is a great resource on the link between GMOs and pesticides, and the next generation weed killer tolerant crops in the regulatory pipeline. Even the Wall Street Journal has reported on the recent spike in insecticide use.

Just this past week came news about Argentina's pesticide use and reported cancer clusters. In question: the huge increase in pesticide use—and consequential health impacts—since the widespread adoption of genetically engineered crops in Argentina. It's important to understand that no currently commercialized GMO traits, or any in the regulatory pipeline, have the effect of boosting yield to "feed the world." Rather, by far the most important in terms of acreage and revenue are traits designed to increase weed killer tolerance and the short-term profits of the chemical industry. Additionally, of the five major crops that have been genetically engineered so far (corn, soy, cotton, canola and sugar beets), corn and soy are by far the most prevalent, as the number one and two crops farmed in the U.S. However, these crops are mostly not grown for human consumption.

Big Ag lobbies for and profits from unsustainable ethanol fuel mandates that result in 43 percent of total corn acreage going into inefficient ethanol production from GMO corn kernels (not cellulosic waste straw). Most of the remaining corn production, and much of the U.S. GMO soy crop, goes into animal feed. Industrial agchemical farming of GMO crops for fuel and animal feed only exacerbates world hunger. Study after study shows that agroecological organic methods of agriculture in the developing world can feed the world's population twice over while significantly boosting rural development (see the UN Report, "Agroecology and the Right to Food").

Industrial agchemical agriculture relies on finite fossil resources, is a huge contributor to global climate change, and is inevitably doomed. But there are billions to be made in the meantime polluting the world and killing our soil. Since agroecological methods are knowledge-intensive and are not patentable or profitable for Big Ag, chemical corporations spend millions to ensure national policy reinforces their chemical intensive and genetically patentable—but ultimately unsustainable—business model.

Last year, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps joined a diverse, grassroots coalition of consumer groups, health advocates, and environmentalists in California in support of Proposition 37. Pesticide and junk food manufacturers spent more than $44 million to narrowly defeat the initiative with deceptive advertising. Despite its defeat, Proposition 37 sparked a national movement for the right to know whether foods contain GMOs, with states around the country considering or enacting legislation to do so. Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO labeling laws, which, as stipulated in the legislation, will go into effect when at least five more New England states also pass such laws. Washington State is the next battleground with major agricultural sectors concerned that unlabeled genetically engineered wheat, apples, and salmon will compromise consumer trust in these foods.

To help spread the word about the importance of GMO labeling, we have transformed our iconic Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps label for the castile liquid soaps into an advocacy label, to garner support for the Yes on 522 campaign to label GMOs in Washington, and to raise awareness for the importance of transparency in food labeling. For a limited time, wherever you buy Dr. Bronner's quart castile soaps, you'll find this GMO-Info label on the quart size bottles, and we hope you'll take a moment in the shower to read it.

As the "fighting soap company," we seek to push for a number of social issues that we feel are good. All our soaps are certified under the same USDA National Organic Program that certifies food, and all major ingredients (coconut, olive, palm, hemp and mint oils) are also certified Fair Trade. We cap executive compensation at five to one per our lowest paid position, and dedicate profits not needed for the business to charitable and activist causes. We have prioritized labeling of genetically modified foods alongside supporting at-risk youth programs, re-commercializing industrial hemp, animal advocacy, fairness in trade, and other worthwhile efforts. My brother and I wrote this new GMO info label in the tradition of our grandfather, Dr. Emanuel Bronner, and his "All-One" philosophy, and on behalf of our commitment to healthy and sustainable agriculture, corporate accountability, and the consumers' right to know—all of which embody the social and ecological principles that inform the philosophy printed on the original castile liquid soap labels.

Whether you live in Washington, or elsewhere in the U.S., this is a food fight that affects all of us. Learn more about the GMO issue, support the Yes on 522 campaign in Washington, and join the growing movement to demand mandatory GMO labeling in your state and at the federal level.

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