A non-genetically engineered dinner and film Saturday in Oakhurst filled about 80 area residents with good food and alarming statistics -- including that 70% of all packaged food in America contain genetically engineered ingredients, also referred to as GMOs.
"We have hundreds of millions of acres of genetically modified crops that have been planted in the United States and yet most people are not aware," said U.S. congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in the film shown Sept. 22 at the Sierra Senior Center titled "Genetic Roulette" by Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology and author of "Seeds of Deception."
The non-GMO dinner, film and discussion that followed was organized by area residents to encourage others to vote yes on Proposition 37 on Nov. 6 -- The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which would require all genetically engineered products sold in California to be labeled as such at the grocery store.
To date, 49 countries -- including Europe, China and Japan -- label food that is genetically engineered.
"Americans get sick more often than people in Europe and other industrialized countries and they are getting sicker," stated information in the film, adding that infant mortality has also skyrocketed. "Since the mid 90s, the number of Americans suffering from at least three chronic illnesses has doubled ... People are getting sicker -- what's changed? One thing that's changed is our food."
Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, talked about how genes of completely different species are being forced together with "gene guns" -- including those from a spider and goat.
"The process of insertion plus cloning creates massive collateral damage," Smith said. "There can be hundreds of thousands of mutations up and down the DNA."
When this happens, it creates a new, completely foreign genetic sequence that is not found in nature, Smith said. Seeing this sequence as an invader, the body attacks it, and that causes an inflammation -- which is the precursor of all diseases and allergies, he and others added.
"The Food and Drug Administration policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) released in 1992, claims that the agency had no information showing that GM foods are substantially different," reported the Institute for Responsible Technology. "Thousands of secret memos later made public by a lawsuit reveal just the opposite. FDA scientists repeatedly warned of possible allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems and urged long-term safety studies. But the FDA official in charge of policy at that time was Michael Taylor, Monsanto's former attorney, later their vice president, and now the U.S. Food Safety Czar."
Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation, is the world's leading producer of Roundup and genetically engineered seed.
"Looking further into this issue, I discovered an article in Scientific American (August 2009) which reported that to date, there has been no third-party independent testing on the long-term health effects of GMOs," wrote Oakhurst resident Dave Williams in a column published in the Sierra Star Sept. 13. "Test results provided to the U.S. government on GMO safety are done by the companies that produced them, such as Monsanto."
Williams and his wife Victoria organized the dinner and film, which included live music from Jimmy Collier and dinner prepared by Betty Persson with help from members of Yosemite Area Move to Amend and the Sierra Senior Center.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine urge physicians to advise all patients to avoid genetically modified food. They stated that several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.
The Committee for the Right to Know reported that genetically engineered crops have increased the use of pesticides in the U.S. by over 318 million pounds from 1996 to 2009.
"It's not about feeding the world, it's not about the blind shall see and the lame shall walk. It's about chemical companies selling chemicals," stated Andrew Kimbrell in the film, executive director of the Center for Food Safety and author of "Your Right to Know."
"The world can get rid of it, the world should get rid of it, the sooner the better: now," followed Shiv Chopra, former Health Canada microbiologist.
One woman in the film recounted a violent seizure and allergic reaction her young son had after she had unknowingly fed him genetically engineered corn.
"What has been done to my children? And what has been done to them without my consent?" she asked.
The Institute for Responsible Technology reported that a majority of U.S. crops are genetically engineered, including 89% of soy (found in baby formula, chocolate, bread, shakes and tofu), 83% of corn (including high fructose corn syrup, found in sodas, cereals, cookies, candy, salad dressing, spaghetti sauces and 1,000 other products. Also cornstarch, vegetable oils and breads), 83% of cotton (chips and fried snacks use cottonseed oil) and 80% of canola (fried products use canola oil, along with baked goods and many health products).
To date, about $32.5 million has been raised fight Prop 37 that would require labeling genetically engineered food -- donations dumped in from companies like Monsanto, Nestles, Pepsi and Coca Cola, said Judy Nelson, Fresno volunteer leader for Yes on Prop 37 who spoke after the film.
Nelson recalled one individual from a major food corporation who said, "if you have to label them, we won't use them (GMOs) because it will be like putting a skull and crossbones on it."
She paused and added, "Yay!" to a sea of laughter from the crowd.
Nelson said if Prop 37 is passed, companies would have a year and a half to change their labels on packaged food, which they normally change every year and a half anyway.
Bills to label genetically engineered food have been introduced in 19 states, but California has a "real chance" to make it happen because it's presented as a ballot initiative, stated information in the film.
"As California goes, so goes the rest of the country as far as food labeling goes," Williams said. "It's up to us to pass this -- like Mahatma Gandhi said, 'We have to be the change we want to see in the world.'"