By now, most people are aware of the controversy surrounding genetically engineered (GE) foods. You know: giant tomatoes designed to taste super-sweet, corn that naturally repels insects, and virus-resistent papayas.
As debate continues over the safety of our nation's genetically modified grains and vegetables, a new type of genetic modification is making its way to a plate near you: genetically modified animals.
We recently reported on the "Frankenfish," AquaBounty's GE salmon. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration began paving the way for approval the fish, known as AquAdvantage. Designed to look like its natural Atlantic salmon cousin, it can reach market size in half the time -- so it can get to market sooner and make more money, faster.
Recently, the FDA declared the all-female, sterile salmon would have "no significant food safety hazards or risks," but many environmentalists remain concerned, suggesting the fish could contain harmful hormones, while a small percentage of these "Frankenfish" may remain fertile, and would most certainly escape man-made confines to contaminate naturally-occurring species.
While the "Frankenfish" may not be on your plate just yet, as the first transgenic animal approved for human consumption, it could open the floodgates for other genetically modified animals like cows and pigs.
And that's a scary thought, especially considering a number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture can lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, a threat to numerous microbial, plant and animal species.
Despite these long-term and wide-ranging risks, our government has yet to pass a single law intended to manage genetically engineered foods responsibly -- which is why The Food & Water Watch (FWW) -- a national non-profit watchdog group that works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced -- wants to do something about it.
They've targeted five districts throughout the state -- including Tampa, Tallahassee, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach -- to promote their "Let Me Decide" campaign, which calls for legislation that would require labeling of GE foods in Florida.
To raise awareness on genetically modified foods at a local level, and to support laws that would make way for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in Florida, West Palm Beach resident Susan Lerner -- also the local coordinator for the FWW "Let Me Decide" campaign -- has organized a public event to be held at The Center for Inspired Living on Monday, February 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Like Lerner, FWW activists have been trying the legislative route here in Florida, where they've been petitioning and lobbying since California's Proposition 37 (a ballot measure that would require GE foods to be labeled) was defeated in at the polls last November after a massive infusion of money and advertising by Monsanto and other agribusiness giants.
The campaign claimed a Florida victory in October, when state House Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) agreed to sponsor a bill in the coming legislative session in March, and is currently drafting GE labeling legislation. In Palm Beach, House Rep. Mark Pafford is also on board, as well as Janet Cruz (D-Tampa).
"We have the right to know where our food comes from, and how it was produced," said Lerner, who also works as an interfaith minister, natural health educator and Florida-certified master gardener. "I want to walk into the supermarket and...trust the source of the food. Over 50 countries in the world require labeling of GE foods, or have completely banned them. Why not us? We all deserve to know what we are eating."
The event will also feature special guest FWW Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, who will be discussing her book, Foodopoly, which outlines the implications of our government-controlled food and farming system, urging consumers to think more deeply about the politics and economics that dictate how and what we eat.
"The food system is in crisis because of the way that food is produced," writes Hauter. "Solving it means we must move beyond the focus on consumer choice to examine the corporate, scientific, industrial and political structures that support an unhealthy system."
In addition to concerned local citizens, a number of local organizations from across the state are also calling on lawmakers to support labeling GE food in Florida. A diverse coalition of over 200 organizations has joined Food & Water Watch in signing a letter to lawmakers urging them to support labeling, including the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, Slow Foods Glades to Coast, AGvocacy, Annie Appleseed Project, Hippocrates Health Institute, Palm Beach Photographic Centre, The Prem Yoga Center, South Florida Conscious Events and Unity Church in Palm Beach Gardens.