Amidst the food movement’s flurry of post-election analysis and reflection, here are two salient facts about California’s ballot initiative fight over the proposed mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food:
1) Pesticide and processed food industries outspent a rag-tag citizen’s coalition of pro-labeling forces by 5-to-1, and still only narrowly (53% v. 47%) defeated the initiative (Proposition 37); and
2) California’s battle over GE labeling kick-started the national conversation in a way that’s going to make it much harder for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue rubber-stamping new GE crops — as the agency is poised to do once again in coming weeks
Numbers & Facts
Proposition 37’s late-game reversal of fortunes is stunning by the numbers alone, and these warrant a closer look. Among California’s 11 very expensive ballot initiatives, Proposition 37 is alone in showing such a clear reversal of public opinion in tight correspondence with corporate ad spending.
Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer Crop Science and BASF (a.k.a. the “Big 6” pesticide corporations) joined processed food conglomerates in spending $46 million dollars to defeat Proposition 37. Meanwhile, supporters of the ballot initiative cobbled together a mere $9 million, and nearly won. Up until early October, in fact, polls showed Californian’s favoring GE labeling by a factor of nearly 3-to-1.
We at PAN were among the many in the trenches of the Yes on Prop 37 campaign, and remember when the tides began to turn (early October). Behind that turn was an apparently unlimited ad budget, coupled with a stunning infidelity to facts. (Watching the World Series here in the Bay Area and seeing one misleading commercial after another attack Prop 37 is something I’ll not soon forget.)
As Tom Philpott notes, the No on Prop 37 campaign was “truth-challenged.” But propaganda and misinformation notwithstanding, at least two myths surrounding agricultural biotechnology have begun to unravel. A broader cross-section of the American (and especially California) public now knows that GE crops drive up pesticide use rather than curbing it, and that in fact, the science around the safety and efficacy of these products is far from settled.
Prior to Prop 37, the link between the pesticide industry and GE crops was almost a secret. (99% of GE crops either contain or are designed to withstand high application rates of a pesticide). Now, even those who opposed the measure and could not tell you exactly how GMOs and pesticides are connected know that it was Monsanto and other pesticide industry heavyweights who came out swinging against GE labeling. And after a century of bad corporate behavior, nearly every world-wise American now knows at a gut level that Monsanto is not to be trusted.
In the fuzzy-logic world of consumer culture, GE food’s brand has been seriously tarnished. And many other state-based GE labeling efforts are in the works even now, including Washington, Connecticut and others.
Whether or not all of this means that the food movement is past the pimply stage of early adolescence, the fact is that California’s labeling fight broadened and emboldened this movement’s power base just as we are heading into a series of regulatory fights over new GE crops in the pipeline, and preparing for what looks like a spring 2013 re-authorization battle over the now-expired Food and Farm Bill.
Prop 37 broadened & emboldened this movement’s power base just as we are heading into a series of vital policy debates.
If the fiscal cliff and other DC distractions succeed in keeping Congress from passing a 2012 Farm Bill in the lame duck session despite our insistence that they get off their duffs, then the very same sustainable food and farming forces that gathered together to push for Prop 37 will turn our attention and newly honed skills to securing the kind of agricultural policy that withdraws governmental support from the system of agriculture embodied by Monsanto. For every additional dollar of funding we win for organic agricultural research, that’s one dollar of public funding that will not be devoted to developing more GE crops that fail to deliver on promises to farmers and the public. And in this Farm Bill fight, we will bring to bear a broader base of power as well as a public disabused of the notion that agricultural biotechnology is the best thing since sliced bread.
Even more immediately, this not-so-nascent movement will be ready to push back when USDA moves to approve the next in Monsanto and Dow’s pipeline of new GE seeds — none of them adequately tested, and each engineered to withstand heavier applications of more toxic herbicides than the last. When our regulators fail once again to do their jobs, and we in the trenches of the sustainable food and farming movement say, “Not so fast!” — we will say so with a louder voice, and in concert with a public who has a fuller awareness of what’s at stake.
Over the past few years, an interesting pattern has emerged, where political supporters of genetically engineered (GE) foods are feasting on organics, while promoting unlabeled GE foods for everyone else.
Most recently, Mother Jones discussed how Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney – whose ties to Monsanto go back to the late 1970’s when GE crops were still in the R&D phase – reportedly makes sure his own meals are nothing but organic…
According to Peter Alexander of MSN Today:
“On Romney Air, or Hair Force One – as Reuters’ Steve Holland like to call it – Mitt Romney has his own galley in ‘forward cabin.’ And, while I’ve never been invited up front, sources close to the campaign tell me the shelves are stocked with a wide variety of healthy fare. Kashi cereals, hummus, pita, as well as organic applesauce.
Everything’s organic, I’m told, including the ingredients to Romney’s favorite, peanut butter and honey sandwiches.”
Even more interesting, in a 2002 article about Romney’s wife, Ann, she credits a combination of organic foods and holistic medicine for turning her health around after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. The profile reads in part:
“…She was 49 at the time, and the disease was progressing rapidly, she says, prompting the doctors to put her on steroids, which made her so sick she could barely get out of bed. ‘They were killing me,’ she says of the treatment. ‘You have bone loss; they are so bad for you.’
Mrs. Romney was introduced to several practitioners of holistic medicine, who persuaded her to adopt alternative therapies. She now eats organic foods and very little meat. She practices reflexology and undergoes acupuncture treatments. She credits the lifestyle with turning her health around…
‘Everyone has to find their own way,’ she says. ‘Three years ago I was really, really sick and not able to function at all. A lot of the symptoms are [now] gone…'”
Mrs. Romney isn’t the only success story in which food played a center role in beating multiple sclerosis (MS). Last year I posted an article about Dr. Terry Wahls, who reversed MS after seven years of deterioration on the best conventional treatments available, simply by changing her diet.
Wouldn’t it be a nice change of pace if our agricultural authorities, not to mention our President, could reach into their hearts and find the humanity to fight for everyone’s right to eat wholesome food that doesn’t contain foreign DNA, built-in pesticides, and an inordinate amount of synthetic chemicals so that diseases such as MS and cancer could be curtailed before they even get a foothold?
If GE Foods are So Great, Why Won’t the Elite Eat Them?
While Obama has been a huge supporter of Big Biotech during his term, Romney is just as “tight” with Monsanto, having actually successfully guided the company out of lawsuits with Congress in the shameful aftermath of Agent Orange (a Monsanto creation, which was supposed to be harmless to everything except vegetation), and heinous chemical dumping incidents in Missouri and Alabama.
He’s also in favor putting the “Monsanto rider” provision in the 2012 Farm Bill – a rider that would prevent a federal court from putting in place court-ordered restrictions on a GE crop, even if the approval were fraudulent or involved bribery, among other things.
Unfortunately, Mitt Romney is just one in a line of politicians who support and promote GE foods as being just as safe and “natural” as conventional foods while privately serving up nothing but organic for their own families. President Obama, as his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have all reportedly insisted on an organic diet.
Mother Jones writes:
“What’s my evidence that the Clintons and Bushes ate organic? Get this, from someone who knows – Walter Scheib, who served as White House executive chef during the Clinton and Bush years:
‘From 1994 to 2005 I was the executive chef at the White House. This offered me not only the personal honor of serving two unique and interesting first families, but the professional challenge of fulfilling Hillary Clinton’s mandate of bringing contemporary American cuisine and nutritionally responsible food to the White House.’
This meant that nearly all the product used was obtained from local growers and suppliers. There was a small garden on the roof of the White House where produce was grown. The ethic of the purchasing and the cooking at the White House under my direction and under the continuing direction of [current Obama White House executive chef] Cris Comerford is one of respect for the pedigree of the product and manner it is grown, gathered, raised or caught.
The Clinton and Bush families dined regularly on organic foods. Both wagyu and grass-fed beef were frequently used.”
Scheib was again quoted in a 2009 article by Think Progress, stating that Laura Bush was “adamant that in ALL CASES if an organic product was available it was to be used in place of a non-organic product.” Meanwhile, the article lists a number of atrocious food policies instituted by her husband. Who knows, perhaps she was so adamant about organics because she knew the quality and safety of conventional food was rapidly going down the toilet?
Guess Who Said: “Everything That’s in a Bottle or Package is Like Poison in a Way That Most People Don’t Even Know”
The Obama White House may be even more progressive about healthful dining than previous Presidents. In a 2008 article about First Lady Michelle Obama, published in The New Yorker:
“…One morning, during a roundtable at Ma Fischer’s, a diner in Milwaukee, Elizabeth Crawford, a recently divorced caterer with two children, brought up the subject of the eating habits of American families. ‘I really, really hope that Barack will jump on that,’ she said.
Then, having given thoughtful but boilerplate responses most of the morning, [Michelle] Obama suddenly departed from her script. It was the most animated I saw her on the campaign trail. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘in my household, over the last year we have just shifted to organic for this very reason. I mean, I saw just a moment in my nine-year-old’s life – we have a good pediatrician, who is very focused on childhood obesity, and there was a period where he was, like, ‘Mmm, she’s tipping the scale.’
So we started looking through our cabinets… You know, you’ve got fast food on Saturday, a couple days a week you don’t get home. The leftovers, good, not the third day! …So that whole notion of cooking on Sunday is out. … And the notion of trying to think about a lunch every day! …So you grab the Lunchables, right? And the fruit-juice-box thing, and we think – we think – that’s juice.
And you start reading the labels and you realize there’s high-fructose corn syrup in everything we’re eating. Every jelly, every juice. Everything that’s in a bottle or a package is like poison in a way that most people don’t even know…”
Yes, high-fructose corn syrup is one of the most atrocious ingredients in the American food supply today in terms of what it does to your health. Not only is fructose a major contributor to metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity, the vast majority of it is also derived from genetically engineered corn, which has its own increasingly well-documented ill health effects. Most recently, the world’s first lifetime feeding study using Monsanto GE corn found it caused massive breast tumors, kidney and liver damage, and other serious health problems.
Michelle Obama is certainly not the only one who has referred to high-fructose corn syrup as a poison. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, excess fructose does act like a toxin in your body, and Dr. Don Huber has spoken out about the two-fold toxic effects of GE crops: 1) due to the genetic alteration of the plant itself, and 2) the glyphosate sprayed on GE Roundup Ready crops.
President Obama Aware of Issue But Doing Nothing About it
Sadly, while the Obama’s are undoubtedly well aware of the health dangers of processed foods in general and genetically engineered foods specifically, their personal belief system has not filtered into the food policies that affect the rest of the population.
On the contrary, the President has spent the last four years appointing one Monsanto shill after another into key federal positions that wield near-absolute power over agricultural issues. Mrs. Obama’s efforts to promote organic foods, which included a much publicized White House organic garden, were also quickly tempered and toned down by a personal visit from The Mid America CropLife Association, an agribusiness media group, who “urged the first lady to give conventional agriculture equal time,” according to a 2009 Politico article.
Topping it all off, the President has also completely ignored his pre-election promise to IMMEDIATELY label GE foods, should he win, “because Americans should know what they’re buying.”
Well, it’s become abundantly clear that Big Biotech and their political lackeys will not even allow us to make an informed decision on this issue by reading our own food labels. And you’d have to be supremely naïve to not question the absurd dichotomy between public policies on GE and organic foods, and the private decisions made by those in charge and “in the know.”
Monsanto Runs and Regulates US Agriculture
In the first three years of the Obama Administration, 10 different genetically engineered crops, and even a genetically modified animal, have been approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to Food & Water Watch. All without a single shred of proof that these foods are actually safe for long-term consumption (or in the case of today’s children – lifetime consumption). Could this have anything to do with the fact that highly influential people within the USDA were previous employees of, or have other personal ties to, Monsanto?
The Secretary of Agriculture is Tom Vilsack, a strong Monsanto supporter selected by President-elect Obama in 2008. As governor of Iowa, Vilsack frequently traveled in Monsanto’s private jets, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
The director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture is Roger Beachy, a former director of the Monsanto Danforth Center.
The General Counsel for the USDA is Ramona Romero, who came straight from DuPont, another major biotech company with GE crop patents, where she held a number of key positions, including Corporate Counsel for complex commercial and antitrust litigation, and Corporate Counsel and Manager of Operations and Partnering.
Even the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has old ties to Monsanto via the Rose Law firm.
Getting the picture? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal agencies are similarly stacked with former Monsanto employees. Likewise, when it comes to selecting which Presidential candidate might be better for organic foods and our agriculture system, both Romney and Obama’s actions speak louder than words. They do one thing privately, and “sell” another agenda to the public. Neither of them is a champion for Real Food in the US, and both of them cater and yield to the wills of multinational food and biotech companies.
Monsanto VP Now US Food Safety Czar – What’s Wrong With This Picture?
In 2009, President Obama appointed former Monsanto VP for Public Policy, Michael Taylor, as a senior adviser for the FDA, turning a deaf ear to the loud protests from consumer groups. Taylor is currently serving as the deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA – a position that includes ensuring food labels contain clear and accurate information. He also oversees strategy for food safety, and planning new food safety legislation.
To say he’s a fox guarding a hen house would be an understatement. This sentiment is shared by most people who are even remotely aware of food safety issues. At the time of Taylor’s appointment, GE expert Jeffrey Smith commented:
“The person who may be responsible for more food-related illness and death than anyone in history has just been made the US food safety czar. This is no joke.”
Now, the opposition is gaining steam yet again with an online petition13 calling for Taylor’s removal.
“President Obama, I oppose your appointment of Michael Taylor. Taylor is the same person who was Food Safety Czar at the FDA when genetically modified organisms were allowed into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks. This is a travesty,” the petition reads.
Passing Prop 37 is Key to Expanding Sustainable Agriculture in North America
Organic foods specifically prohibit genetically engineered ingredients along with synthetic agricultural chemicals, and eating organic is essentially the only way to ensure you’re not accidentally consuming GE foods, since the US still does not require such ingredients to be labeled.
So what’s with the double standard?
Is genetically engineered food the “cake” fit only for the paupers of the 21st century? Heck, even the staff cafeteria at Monsanto’s UK headquarters reportedly banned GE foods from the menu back in 1999.
So really, why are the elite making organic foods a priority for their own families? And why won’t they support labeling, so the rest of us can make an informed decision about the foods we eat? And why are they imposing regulations that limit the availability of organically- and/or locally-grown foods for so many communities?
It’s quite evident that we have no real champions for food safety and labeling of genetically engineered foods within the federal government. But right now we do have a great opportunity to change this situation by circumventing Monsanto’s posse entirely.
Twenty-four U.S. states have, as part of their state governance, something called the Initiative Process, where residents can bring to ballot any law they want enacted, as long as it has sufficient support. California has organized such a ballot initiative, known as Proposition 37, to get labeling for genetically engineered foods sold in their state.
Although many organic consumers and natural health activists already understand the importance of Proposition 37, it cannot be overemphasized that winning the battle over Prop 37 is perhaps the most important food fight Americans – not just Californians – have faced so far. But in order to win this fight for the right to know what’s in our food, we need your help, as the biotech industry will surely outspend us by 100 to 1, if not more, for their propaganda. Please remember, the failure or success of this ballot initiative is wholly dependent on your support and funding! There are no major industry pockets funding this endeavor. In order to have a chance against the deep pockets of Big Biotech and transnational food corporations, it needs donations from average citizens.
So please, if you have the ability, I strongly encourage you to make a donation to this cause. You can also contact EVERY person you know that lives in California and encourage them to view some of these videos and get educated on the issues so they can avoid succumbing to the propaganda, as Monsanto and company are paying tens of millions of dollars to deceive the voters in California. We need EVERY vote we can to win next month. The election is only FOUR weeks away.
It’s important to realize that getting this law passed in California would have the same overall effect as a national law, as large companies are not likely going to label their products as genetically engineered when sold in California (the 8th largest economy in the world), but not when sold in other states. Doing so would be a costly PR disaster. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.
Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort, through the Organic Consumers Fund.
If you live in California and want to get involved, please contact CARightToKnow.org. They will go through all volunteer requests to put you into a position that is suitable for you, based on your stated interests and location.
No matter where you live, please help spread the word in your personal networks, on Facebook, and Twitter. For help with the messaging, please see CARightToKnow.org.
Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods.
The possibility of having genetically modified salmon for dinner did not sit well with many independent scientists, consumer groups, environmental organizations, and especially the healthy consumer.
Although the genetically modified salmon, commonly referred to as “frankenfish”, has not yet been approved for consumption, it seems that certain US organizations are determined to place the fish on your plate.
One can only wonder why an organization like the USDA would fund research to help the frankenfish’s approval while one part of the legislative branch of government shoots it down. The question is, what could possibly cause the USDA to fund Aquabounty while there is so much controversy surrounding the salmon on a government level? Why would the USDA, an organization which stamps organic products with their seal to indicate no use of genetic modification, give money to a company to research and ultimately sell genetically modified salmon? The answers are unclear, but the actions exhibited by the USDA could very well reflect the personal goals of the members. Perhaps USDA members could have vested interest in the approval of genetically modified fish.
“If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” – Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994
After two decades of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically engineered (GE) foods to animals and humans, it’s time to move beyond defensive measures and go on the offensive. With organic farming, climate stability, and public health under the gun of the gene engineers and their partners in crime, it’s time to do more than complain. With over 1/3 of U.S. cropland already contaminated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), with mounting scientific evidence that GMOs cause cancer, birth defects, and serious food allergies and with new biotech mutants like alfalfa, lawn grass, ethanol-ready corn, 2,4 D-resistant crops, and genetically engineered trees and animals in the pipeline, time is running out.
Living in Monsanto Nation there can be no such thing as “coexistence.” It is impossible to coexist with a reckless industry that endangers public health, bribes public officials, corrupts scientists, manipulates the media, destroys biodiversity, kills the soil, pollutes the environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and economically enslaves the world’s 1.5 billion seed-saving small farmers. It’s time to take down the Biotech Behemoth, before the living web of biodiversity is terminated.
Toxins from genetically engineered foods have been found in the blood of pregnant woman and foetuses, according to new research from Canada.
Research from the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec found traces of Bt toxin Cry 1 – an insecticide genetically engineered into GE food crops such as maize and potatoes – in pregnant women’s blood.
These findings have prompted the Soil and Health Association of New Zealand, which opposes GE derivatives in food, to call for a rethink on GE derivative based foods.
NEW York: On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today against Monsanto Company challenging the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their crops ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed.
Monsanto has sued farmers in the United States and Canada, in the past, when their patented genetic material has inadvertently contaminated their crops.
The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald. Plaintiffs in the suit represent a broad array of family farmers, small businesses and organizations from within the organic agriculture community who are increasingly threatened by genetically modified seed contamination despite using their best efforts to avoid it. The plaintiff organizations have over 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers.