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Sorry Hipsters, Your Craft Bacon Will Give You Cancer

Prop 65 might mean warnings on meat.

Cured meats are known carcinogens. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks ham, bacon, sausages, and other processed meats as some of the most carcinogenic substances you will ever encounter, on par with asbestos and arsenic. But that’s not your only problem: as little as two slices of bacon a day can increase your risk of diabetes by 50%.

Red meat is slightly less risky, but it too has been linked to pancreatic, bowel, and prostate cancers, along with the usual risks of heart disease, obesity, fatty liver disease, and general premature death.

This brings us to the issue at hand: California Proposition 65, passed in 1986, which requires warning labels on all substances known to the state of California to pose an increased risk of cancer. You cannot step outside or back inside in California without seeing one of these placards.

A valid argument against over-regulation could be made here, since just about everything could probably increase someone’s cancer risk these signs are plastered on virtually every flat surface in the state. We’re used to them, we don’t even notice them any more, they’ve become meaningless through repetition.

And yet there are no Prop 65 warning labels on that package of bacon, known to be as risky as asbestos. Let that sink in: asbestos. For those of you who might be unfamiliar, this is what asbestos removal looks like:

The legal battle over Prop 65 labels on meat products has been ongoing since at least 2005, and at that time the USDA argued that labels are not required because the federal laws relating to USDA inspection preempt state law, including Prop 65. That’s right, the United States Department of Agriculture argued in court against informing you of the known health risks posed by the products they inspect. The issue flared up again in 2015, after the WHO study referenced above, and there will certainly be future litigation but so far there has been no change in labeling requirements.

Now that bacon has caught your attention, there is more recent Proposition 65 news and it is amazing.

Just last month, on July 7th 2017, glyphosate was officially added to the Prop 65 list — meaning warning labels will be required as of July 2018. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp, produced by the agricultural monolith formerly known as Monsanto.

A complete list of countries that have banned glyphosate is difficult to compile, but it is extensive. Sri Lanka was the first, and last year the entire EU rejected even limited use of glyphosate, thereby banning it outright and leading to an EU-wide recall of RoundUp. The herbicide is terrible for a lot of things for a lot of reasons, and one of the the primary reasons for resistance to GMO food.

Genetic modification of naturally occurring organisms is not bad in and of itself. The problem is what the organism is modified to do, and by far the most popular is an engineered resistance to glyphosate — so called “RoundUp ready crops.” Because the crop itself is immune to glyphosate, farmers can spray more RoundUp more often, including immediately before harvest. This is fine for the plant — it is immune — but I haven’t been genetically modified for immunity to weed killer. Have you?

The controversies around GMOs, glyphosate, Monsanto’s singular control over global food production, and its vicious abuse of seed patents have made Monsanto a globally-recognized name. And this is not what Monsanto wants. Not at all. The name has become so synonymous with evil, in fact, that in 2016 Monsanto arranged a $66 billion deal to be acquired by Bayer. They arranged to be bought by the aspirin company, just to get rid of their name.

Monsanto, now Bayer, will aggressively fight Proposition 65 labeling in court, over the next year and beyond. And even if the corporate giant is unsuccessful, you may still not see warning labels on your food because of what is known as a “safe harbor” level, set at 1100 micrograms (approximately 4,000 times higher than the level found to cause liver disease in laboratory rats). Crops sprayed with glyphosate will not require a warning label, so long as the remaining chemical residue is under this lower threshold.

And if you wonder why I go out of my way to buy non-GMO and organic certified food, this is why.