GMOs, Palm Oil, and the Effects of Consumer Pressure

Laboratory.There’s good news and bad news. The good news is about GMOs. The bad is about palm oil. First, the good news. On Wednesday, March 16, the Senate said No a second time to legislation that would ban states from passing GMO labeling laws. The first time was in 2015 when they refused to take up House bill  H.R. 1599 (known to many as the Dark Act) that would have established a voluntary labeling system and prohibited states from passing their own GMO labeling requirements.

The second time was last week when the Senate refused to include a policy rider in the must-pass omnibus spending bill that would have blocked states from implementing mandatory GMO laws.

Listening to Consumers (Constituents) Is Good for Politicians
This is good news for consumers. By an overwhelming majority – ranging from 88% to 97% depending on the survey – American consumers say that genetically modified organisms should be
Bornean Orangutanlisted as such on ingredient labels, just as unbleached enriched flour, high fructose corn syrup, and folic acid must be included. Americans feel that GMOs should be listed despite industry efforts to scare consumers into thinking that costs will go up and GMO products will be unfairly tainted. Unlike the GMO industry, the Senate has listened, perhaps not for all the right reasons, but they listened.

Good for Science, Too
This is also good news for science, though the GMO industry has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to characterize proponents of labeling as extremist, uneducated, and anti-science. It’s good news for real science, though not for what the GMO industry has practiced. From the beginning, their science has been suspect.

Deforestation And Replanting Of Young Oil Palm TreeThe first GMOs were approved by the FDA – against their own regulations – based not on independent testing, but on tests conducted by the industry itself. In the time since, the GMO industry has funded and influenced numerous studies that lack the credibility of independence. It’s also recruited pro-GMO articles from university researchers and then presented them as independent science. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that it looks like they’re hiding something.

For Palm Oil, Out of Sight Shouldn’t Be Out of Mind
Now for the bad news. Despite global efforts to to publicize the disaster visited upon Indonesia by palm oil plantations, despite non-deforestation commitments from large palm oil producers, there hasn’t been much improvement. Deforestation continues, as does habitat destruction. Add to that the corruption inherent in the global Slash And Burn Cultivation, Rainforest Cut And Burned To Plant Cpalm oil market, and the consequences get worse – massive human rights violations and human trafficking.   

There’s really only one reason for the difference. The palm oil disaster is happening, for most of us, way across the world. If it were happening here, we’d have no choice but to see it. It couldn’t be out of sight or out of mind. And the kind of consumer pressure that is altering the GMO landscape would alter the palm oil landscape as well. Campbell’s and Kellogg’s have both understood the mistake of insisting on the corporate way of doing things in the face of consumer demand. Palm oil producers should be learning the same lessons. Protesting alone won’t work. We need to be working on a sustainable palm oil future. Some of us are, but we all need to be. And we should have started yesterday.

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