California Proposition 37 would have been the first law in the United States requiring retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients had it passed in late 2012. China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, the entire European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India and Chile are among nations that already require such labels on food, but in the United States food is big business, and companies like Monsanto and Hershey poured money into defeating this legislation by arguing that labeling would cost money and disrupt the status quo. Much as the tobacco companies of the second half of the 20th century dreaded the education of the public as to the dangers of nicotine, these companies fear losing customers when science reveals the dangers behind the refining, hybridizing, and genetic modification of our food supply. Gluten, soy and corn intolerances, autism, celiac disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, and cancer might be hidden beneath the rug of ignorance, but unless someone investigates we will not know what connection exists between GMOs and these diseases.
As a person with gluten intolerance, I experience firsthand how devastating the effects of poor labeling can be. Just this week, the FDA has set a standard requiring gluten free labels on any food containing less than 20 parts gluten per million, but there are those of us who react below that level. Brain fog, joint pain, nausea and diarrhea are just some of the symptoms resulting from gluten intolerance. It takes days to get over the effects of one cookie, one piece of candy, or even crumbs left on a pat of butter, not to mention the long term consequences. Our laws also don’t require that gluten free foods produced in a facility that also produces foods containing gluten be labelled accordingly despite the very real dangers of cross contamination, nor do they require full disclosures of ingredients. This means that a company could get away with hiding gluten under different names or inside other ingredients. For example, yeast is gluten free unless it is made from beer, a variety known as brewer’s yeast. This distinction could mean a world of difference to someone sensitive but it is very easy to omit on a label. Many companies are labeling their products well, and I think those companies will see an increase in sales as people become more aware of gluten sensitivity.
What does this have to do with art? Well, creativity and art are a part of everyday life, from the music we hear on the radio to the advertising we see on the internet and television. The following is a film featuring Californian street artists and their works as they seek to raise awareness of the dangers of genetically modified food and build support for Proposition 37 and future legislation like it. Street art is a very provocative and communicative medium, despite its “criminal” connotations in our culture. I very much like the idea of having spaces in our communities where such thoughts can be explored in public.
Voice of Art is a documentary series produced on Pharrell Williams YouTube channel, iamOTHER. It gives artists a platform to advocate for transformation and justice in their communities by allowing their voices to reach a wider audience.