By Andrew Kimbrell — Originally published on Huffington Post
With the worst broadband coverage in the country, Detroit residents would be left in the dark when it comes to product ingredients
A handful of multinational agribusiness and food companies have spent over $100 million over the past three years to fight Americans’ right to know what is in the products they purchase and consume. It appears Senator Stabenow (D-MI) is trying to accommodate Big Ag — a situation that is particularly tragic for residents of her own state. Right now Stabenow is working hard to come up with a “compromise” on labeling genetically engineered (GE) food products. Her idea is that so-called “smart labels” — digital product information accessed via a smartphone with network coverage — are sufficient for getting consumers access about product ingredients.
Unfortunately, Senator Stabenow’s proposal would only compromise Americans’ — and especially her Michigan constituents’ — right to know what is in the products they buy and feed their families. It is well-documented that rural communities throughout Michigan would be a particularly hard-hit target in terms of being denied information by “smart labels”, as more than half of rural Americans do not have a smartphone, let alone the necessary network coverage that would be required to access the information. But as noted in a recent New York Times article, residents in Michigan’s most populous and economically challenged urban areas would not fare any better. According to the Federal Communications Commission, Detroit has the worst rate of Internet access of any major American city — 40% of its residents lack broadband connections.
If Senator Stabenow’s compromise was implemented, a full third of the American public would be left in the dark in terms of accessing information about the products they purchase, as only 64% own smartphones. Worse still, only 50% of low-income consumers have a smartphone and nearly half (48%) of smartphone owners have had service switched off or suspended due to financial hardship. Many of these same consumers are those who are still struggling to rise above the impacts the Great Recession continues to have on Detroit.
With these numbers, it is easy to see how so-called “smart” labels specifically discriminate against demographic groups who deserve equal access to information — and right in Senator Stabenow’s backyard. National polls consistently show that 90 to 95 percent of Americans support labeling. Consumers in Michigan and across the country want to know what is in the food they buy and feed their families. That includes whether or not their food has been genetically engineered. Corporations cannot continue to dictate what information people are allowed access to — especially when it comes to the food we eat — and it is shameful that any elected officials would support keeping their own constituents in the dark.