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From Jackie with love: What's in a label?

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By Jackie Rainford Corcoran
Explore Big Sky Health Columnist

A few weeks before the midterm elections, my husband Colin and I were in Portland, Ore. celebrating my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday. Oregon had pivotal measures on its ballot, among them the legalization of recreational marijuana and labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms.

At dinner with a group of his close friends, I asked them how they were voting. I assumed that since they all had small children they would be supportive of labeling. About half said they were voting “No.” When prodded, one asked, “Haven’t we been genetically modifying food for thousands of years?”

The short answer is no, not like we are now. GMO technology was introduced to our food supply in 1994. It differs from crossbreeding and cross-pollination in that it transfers genes between organisms that are not sexually compatible and could not breed in nature.

Cost was another argument against labeling. I couldn’t speak to that, but next to me sat Andy Kunkler, Chief Financial Officer of Tofurkey, an environmentally conscious, vegetarian food company based in Hood River, Ore. He confidently stated that food prices wouldn’t increase if the measure passed.

Upon returning home, I watched the Oregon voting results. GMO labeling was narrowly defeated.

I called Kunkler and asked if he would share his thoughts on what happened. He connected me with Tofurkey’s Chief Executive Officer of 10 years, Jaime Athos, who believes the measure didn’t pass due to the “unprecedented amount of money,” that agribusiness spent in marketing against it.

“It didn’t pass because voters were being lied to,” Athos said. “They were told that their annual grocery bills would go up by hundreds or thousands of dollars per year. They were told that small farmers would be put out of business. None of that is true.”

Opponents argue that since no scientific studies have proven GMOs are hazardous to human health, labeling is unfair to food companies and misleading to the consumer. Athos sees it differently.

“I think that there’s very much that we don’t know about the consequences of this sort of genetic manipulation, and to state otherwise is completely irresponsible,” he said. “Giving consumers accurate information is never misleading. It may cause them to make different choices than an agribusiness company might prefer, but that is ultimately the right of the consumer.”

Many European Union countries have banned GMOs while various U.S. bills have been fought over in Vermont, California, Oregon and Colorado. North Dakota and Montana have called for bans on GMO wheat.

The legalization of marijuana did pass in Oregon just as it had in Washington two years ago. We left Portland and traveled to Seattle, Wash. where we visited a friend’s booming marijuana distribution business. At his warehouse, there was an employee labeling their products. By government mandate, fertilizers must be listed. This one was grown with Miracle-Gro. I wouldn’t smoke it.

Hopefully labeling of our food supply will catch up to legal marijuana.

Stay tuned for my next article: Helping your body maintain its pH balance.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at, or find more at

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