EarthTalk: Can you fill me in on what the “Just
Label It” campaign is and what it is trying to accomplish?
—Eric Altieri, Columbus, OH
present the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't
require labels for foods with genetically modified
ingredients, but labeling proponents believe consumers
have a right to be able to make informed choices
about which foods they put into their bodies and
support with their pocketbooks.
Label It is an effort spearheaded by organic farmers and
food producers, consumer and public health advocates and
environmentalists to persuade the federal government to
require that foods with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients
be labeled accordingly. Consumers have a right, they believe,
to be able to make informed choices about which foods they
put into their bodies and support with their pocketbooks.
Most Americans aren’t aware that some 80 percent of
processed foods at grocery stores contain GE (also known
as “genetically modified,” or GM) ingredients—yet
in polls 93 percent of us support the notion of mandatory
labeling of such foods. At present the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) doesn’t require labels for foods
with GE ingredients.
of Just Label It worry that genetically engineered plants
(and animals) could wreak havoc on human health and natural
ecosystems, given how little we know about them and their
ability to proliferate beyond our control. Among the concerns:
There has been no long-term health safety testing on GE
ingredients because they are so new; unexpected mutations
can occur which can introduce unknown toxins into the food
supply; the increasing use of herbicide-resistant genes
in crops is leading to the overuse of herbicides in general;
and the planting of GE crops that are programmed to generate
their own pesticides means that more pesticides are in our
farms and fields than ever before. Perhaps most worrisome
of all is that, unlike chemical pollution or even nuclear
contamination, so-called “genetic pollution”
(as some critics refer to GE) cannot be cleaned up after
the fact once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle.
unifies many of us is the belief that it’s our right
to know,” Just Label It organizers report. The idea
for the campaign grew out of a 2011 meeting of organic stakeholders
organized by Organic Voices, a project that documents the
oral history of organic farming and sustainable agriculture.
first order of business for the “Just Label It”
campaign was to submit a legal petition—written by
attorneys at the non-profit Center for Food Safety—to
the FDA in September 2011 calling for the mandatory labeling
of GE foods for sale in the United States. At this point,
FDA is taking public comments on the petition and will issue
a final ruling on it later in 2012.
can make their opinions on the topic heard by FDA regulators
by customizing and submitting the form letter available
at the JustLabelIt.org home page. To date some 600,000 people
have sent along comments to the FDA due to the campaign’s
outreach efforts. Just Label It aims to get that number
to one million by the end of spring 2012, and is now working
with 450 different partner groups to help spread the word.
Campaign organizers are hoping that this outpouring of support
will resonate with FDA regulators when it comes time for
them to decide whether or not the U.S. should join almost
50 other countries—including South Korea, Brazil,
China, and the European Union—in requiring GE labeling
across the board.
Label It; FDA;
for Food Safety; Organic
EarthTalk: Cuba just began drilling for oil
not far from U.S. shores and hopes to become a major exporter.
What ramifications does this have for the environment?
—Betsy Shaw, Troy, NY
significant off-shore oil reserves could turn Cuba
into an oil exporter, possibly even thawing relations
with a still oil-hungry U.S. Pictured: The Scarabeo
9 oil rig while still under construction in China
in 2009. It is now 30 miles off of Cuba's coast
and just 60 miles south of the Florida Keys.
began drilling exploratory oil wells 30 miles off of its
northern coast—and just 60 miles south of the Florida
Keys. Earlier this year the Scarabeo 9 oil rig finished
up a long slow journey by sea from the shipyard that birthed
it in China to Cuba’s territorial waters off the capital
city of Havana (the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba
forbids such equipment going from or through the United
that the rock formations off Cuba’s northern coast
could yield anywhere from five to 20 billion barrels of
oil. American foreign policy experts are concerned that
Cuba’s inexperience with off-shore drilling could
lead to a spill in sensitive waters not unlike the 2010
BP oil disaster. They’re also worried that Cuba could
yield more political and economic power if it becomes a
net exporter of oil.
is reportedly using state-of-the-art equipment and is working
with experienced international drilling contractors, some
U.S. environmental groups are still troubled: “A major
oil spill in Cuban waters could devastate both coastal Cuba
and the United States,” reports the Environmental
Defense Fund (EDF).
$60 billion tourism and fishing industries—as well
as the Dry Tortugas marine sanctuary and deepwater corals
in the Southeast Atlantic—are at stake.”
Today Cuba imports
half of the 200,000 barrels of oil it consumes each day
from its friendly neighbor to the south, Venezuela. The
other half of Cuba’s oil comes from its own two existing
on-shore oil facilities. Finding significant off-shore reserves
could end its dependency on Venezuela and turn Cuba into
an oil exporter, possibly even thawing relations with a
still oil-hungry U.S. Indeed, if the find is big enough,
U.S.-based oil firms may want in, and who knows how that
will affect the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba.
Given the environmental
and political implications of Cuba’s foray into offshore
drilling, EDF led a delegation to the island nation in September
2011. The goal of the delegation, which included co-chair
of the BP oil spill commission and former EPA Administrator
William Reilly, was to assess Cuba’s plans and to
share lessons learned about the risks of offshore drilling
with officials there. “The trip put the spotlight
on the lack of dialogue between the United States and Cuba
on how to prepare and respond to an oil spill in Cuban waters,”
says Lee Hunt of the International Association of Drilling
Contractors (IADC), one of the trip’s organizers.
EDF, IADC and others would like to see the Obama administration
initiate direct negotiations with Cuba to ensure that sufficient
environmental and safety standards are in place.
a sensitive political issue because if there were a spill,
U.S. technology might be prevented from being quickly deployed
due to the long-running U.S. embargo of Cuba,” reports
EDF. “The United States has more than 5,000 wells
in its territorial waters in the Gulf. But none are nearly
as close to the Florida coast as the proposed sites off
But with the
test drilling already underway, Cuba isn’t waiting
around for U.S. input. No doubt, if the exploratory wells
are a success, Cuban oil will become a huge political issue.
Association of Drilling Contractors.