(Cross-posted from Tomorrow Today)
At three meals a day you would think we would have a better read on what we are eating and feeding to our kids, but in fact a lot of the ingredients remain a mystery. Sadly that sits well with the agriculture industry and some of our elected representatives.

Agriculture is estimated to contribute over 7% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions not including the energy footprint from bringing lamb from New Zealand or asparagus from Chile. Growing concerns of a cancer epidemic are often related to the massive dowsing of herbicides and pesticides used in food production before the product hits our tables. Genetically engineered (GE) food with its unknown health effects, fertilizer use choking our lakes and streams and an increasingly globalized food chain amount to a complex problem in need of some complex solutions.

But one of the easiest ways to make changes in production and consumption habits is to give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions. This is as true for cucumbers and cereal as it is for cars and washing machines. Gasoline efficiency information and energy consumption labelling on household appliances (Energy Star) allows buyers to compare products and make greener decisions. We don't have that choice with food because there is limited labelling. What makes this worse is that we only buy a car or washing machine every 10 years or so but we consume food, day in and day out.

Like automobile and appliance manufacturers before them, agri-industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent labelling from expanding because it suits their purposes to keep consumers in the dark, and information vague – if the choice is simply between which apple is reddest, they need to excel at only one variable. Once we begin to provide consumers with more information, there are more variables the industry must manage in order to win over the informed consumer.

What if consumers were routinely provided with information about where a fruit was grown, the carbon footprint to get it to market, the use of pesticides and genetic engineering? Consumers could begin to make informed choices on environmental impact and family health criterion. Extraordinary! And UNACCEPTABLE.

Companies like Monsanto work hard to keep food and agriculture information from consumers – vagueness about the food we eat helps them sell their herbicides and GE seeds to farmers. They lobby politicians hard on this and are aggressive to a fault.

Last week our federal parliament voted against mandatory labeling of GE ingredients in our food. ("Mandatory" labelling is key here, we have had voluntary labelling since 2004 but not a single voluntary label on GE food has been applied to date). Despite the fact that polling shows that the vast majority of Canadians want labelling of GE ingredients in our food, Conservative and Liberal MP's banded together to defeat the bill. Despite the fact that there is little or no independent research on the long term health impacts of GE food, that over 70% of the food you eat may have GE ingredients and that over 40 countries worldwide now have mandatory labelling of GE products (some have outright bans on GE production), the majority of MPs voted against their constituents' views and took the side of Monsanto and Bayer corporations instead.

Consumers want mandatory labeling, industry does not. Regardless of whether you are concerned about GE food safety or not, surely MPs should support the concept that consumers have a right to know what is in their food. What is the problem with knowing?

Improved labelling of the food we eat is a relatively simple solution in a sea of complex problems and solutions. Miraculously, some of our politicians failed even the simplest tests when they chose Monsanto over their constituents.