Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the Durbin-Coburn amendment, which calls for a reduction in crop insurance subsidies to the biggest corporate farms.
Thanks in part to all the constituents who spoke up to support the Durbin-Coburn amendment (including thousands of Food Revolution Network members!), it passed the full Senate by a 2-1 margin. Assuming this survives into the final bill, it will save taxpayers more than a billion dollars over the coming decade. This is a victory for taxpayers, family farms, and the environment.
And there’s more to do. In the weeks to come, the Senate will consider a host of amendments on issues that matter to you and me – including blocking GMO salmon and investing in better access to fresh, healthy food for everyone.
Things have been moving fast with the Farm Bill in the last few days, as the U.S. Senate considers many dozens of amendments to the bill before it will vote on the whole package some time in the coming weeks. The U.S. House of Representatives is also at work on its own version, and the two bodies will ultimately reconcile these two versions into a final bill that is likely to become law this year.
It’s a complex enough process that many citizens don’t engage with it at all. But it matters, and matters a great deal. Nearly a trillion dollars, and the future of food systems in America, are on the line.
There’s a saying that all that it takes for the forces of evil to triumph, is for the forces of good to do nothing. If you want to be a force for good in the world of food policy, this is a great time to take action.
If you’re from the United States, you can call your two Senators on the Capitol switchboard at: (202) 224-3121. (For help finding out who your Senators are, click here).
Here’s a suggested mini script to make it easier:
“Hello, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent and a voter. I would like to leave a message for Senator ___’s agriculture staffer. Can you take a message for me, please? The message is: I urge the Senator to support the following amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill.”
You can mention as many or as few of the amendments as you like. Some of my favorites are:
• Begich Amendment #934, to ban GMO salmon until further consultation (For more on the enormous dangers posed by GE salmon, check out my blog post on the topic.)
• Boxer Amendment #1025 to declare a “sense of the Senate” that Genetically Engineered foods should be labeled. (Thanks to the nearly 10,000 Food Revolution Network members who have signed a petition supporting this amendment. If you haven’t signed it yet, you can do so here).
• Brown Amendment #1088 to improve access to local, healthy and organic food by directly helping farmers and communities put solutions into action on the ground. (For more on Senator Brown’s amendment, click here.)
• Shaheen-Toomey Amendment #926: Limit Crop Insurance Payments for Large Corporate Farms. (For more on this and the bigger picture of the Farm Bill, check out my recent article in the Huffington Post).
To sign up for breaking news and Farm Bill action alerts from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, click here.
We won an important victory yesterday. Let’s keep the momentum going! Every step counts.
Sen. Barbara Boxer has introduced an amendment to the 2013 farm bill that would, for the first time ever, demonstrate Senate support for labeling of foods with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. More than 90% of the American public supports labeling of GE foods. It’s time for the U.S. Congress to respond to the demands of the American people.
Send a message now by clicking here, telling your Senators that you stand with Senator Boxer’s amendment, and you hope they will, too
And there’s more you can do.
Every five years, the U.S. Congress allocates nearly a trillion dollars in food stamp (SNAP) spending and agribusiness subsidies through the massive “Farm Bill.”
Today, you have an opportunity to impact where all that money goes.
Do you want to stop your tax dollars from subsidizing factory farms and genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup? Do you want to see local, organic farmers and natural foods have a fighting chance in the marketplace?
The U.S. Senate is debating amendments to the draft Farm Bill this week. It’s a complicated and bureaucratic process, and predictably, all of the lobbyists for Monsanto and big agribusiness are out in full force.
But if you are from the United States, there is one simple action you can take today, that will have a big impact.
Call your Senator’s office. Tell them that you are a constituent and you want them to support two amendments that are currently up for discussion in the U.S. Senate.
Ask them to support the Shaheen-Toomey payment limit amendment #926 that would place long-overdue limits of $50,000 on crop insurance premium subsidies for America’s wealthiest large-scale farmers. And ask them to support the Coburn-Durbin amendment #953 that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies for farmers with incomes over $750,000/year.
Why support these amendments? At a time of record farm incomes and stark fiscal realities, now is the time to ask the wealthiest farmers to pay a little more of their fair share of the costs of doing business.
Find your Senator’s name and number here. Or if you already know their name, you can just call them at the Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.
There’s a lot more at stake in the Farm Bill, including support for organic agriculture, investments in local and sustainable food systems, critical conservation efforts that help farmers protect out air, soil, and water, and dozens of other amendments. If you want to take further action, go to National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s continually updated “take action” page and sign up for action alerts, by clicking here.
The impact of the choices made in Washington this week will have profound impact on millions of lives.
Working together, we can help to shift the course of history.
By Thierry Vrain
I retired 10 years ago after a long career as a research scientist for Agriculture Canada. When I was on the payroll, I was the designated scientist of my institute to address public groups and reassure them that genetically engineered crops and foods were safe. There is, however, a growing body of scientific research – done mostly in Europe, Russia, and other countries – showing that diets containing engineered corn or soya cause serious health problems in laboratory mice and rats.
I don’t know if I was passionate about it but I was knowledgeable. I defended the side of technological advance, of science and progress.
In the last 10 years I have changed my position. I started paying attention to the flow of published studies coming from Europe, some from prestigious labs and published in prestigious scientific journals, that questioned the impact and safety of engineered food.
I refute the claims of the biotechnology companies that their engineered crops yield more, that they require less pesticide applications, that they have no impact on the environment and of course that they are safe to eat.
There are a number of scientific studies that have been done for Monsanto by universities in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Most of these studies are concerned with the field performance of the engineered crops, and of course they find GMOs safe for the environment and therefore safe to eat.
Individuals should be encouraged to make their decisions on food safety based on scientific evidence and personal choice, not on emotion or the personal opinions of others.
We should all take these studies seriously and demand that government agencies replicate them rather than rely on studies paid for by the biotech companies.
The Bt corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides. But are these insecticidal plants regulated and have their proteins been tested for safety? Not by the federal departments in charge of food safety, not in Canada and not in the U.S.
There are no long-term feeding studies performed in these countries to demonstrate the claims that engineered corn and soya are safe. All we have are scientific studies out of Europe and Russia, showing that rats fed engineered food die prematurely.
These studies show that proteins produced by engineered plants are different than what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using this technology can and does result in damaged proteins. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins.
Genetic engineering is 40 years old. It is based on the naive understanding of the genome based on the One Gene – one protein hypothesis of 70 years ago, that each gene codes for a single protein. The Human Genome project completed in 2002 showed that this hypothesis is wrong.
The whole paradigm of the genetic engineering technology is based on a misunderstanding. Every scientist now learns that any gene can give more than one protein and that inserting a gene anywhere in a plant eventually creates rogue proteins. Some of these proteins are obviously allergenic or toxic.
I have drafted a reply to Paul Horgen’s letter to the Comox Valley Environmental Council. It is my wish that it goes viral as to educate as many people as possible rapidly. Any and all social media is fine by me. This can also be used as a briefing note for the councilors of AVICC or anywhere else. Thank you for your help. [Click here for original source with replies from Dr. Paul Horgen]
— Thierry Vrain, Innisfree Farm
I am turning you towards a recent compilation (June 2012) of over 500 government reports and scientific articles published in peer reviewed Journals, some of them with the highest recognition in the world. Like The Lancet in the medical field, or Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, or Biotechnology, or Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, European Journal of Histochemistry, Journal of Proteome Research, etc â€¦ This compilation was made by a genetic engineer in London, and an investigative journalist who summarized the gist of the publications for the lay public.
GMO Myths and Truths – an evidence based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops. A report of 120 pages, it can be downloaded for free from Earth Open Source. “GMO Myths and Truths” disputes the claims of the Biotech industry that GM crops yield better and more nutritious food, that they save on the use of pesticides, have no environmental impact whatsoever and are perfectly safe to eat. Genetic pollution is so prevalent in North and South America where GM crops are grown that the fields of conventional and organic grower are regularly contaminated with engineered pollen and losing certification. The canola and flax export market from Canada to Europe (a few hundreds of millions of dollars) were recently lost because of genetic pollution. Did I mention superweeds, when RoundUp crops pass their genes on to RoundUp Resistant weeds. Apparently over 50% of fields in the USA are now infested and the growers have to go back to use other toxic herbicides such as 2-4 D. Many areas of Ontario and Alberta are also infested. The transgenes are also transferred to soil bacteria. A chinese study published last year shows that an ampicillin resistance transgene was transferred from local engineered crops to soil bacteria, that eventually found their way into the rivers. The transgenes are also transferred to humans. Volunteers who ate engineered soybeans had undigested DNA in their intestine and their bacterial flora was expressing the soybean transgenes in the form of antibiotic resistance. This is genetic pollution to the extreme, particularly when antibiotic resistance is fast becoming a serious global health risk. I can only assume the American Medical Association will soon recognize its poorly informed judgement.
In 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium of GM foods, safety testing and labeling. Their review of the available literature at the time noted that animals show serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. Monsanto writes “There is no need to test the safety of GM foods”. So long as the engineered protein is safe, foods from GM crops are substantially equivalent and they cannot pose any health risks.” The US Food and Drug Administration waived all levels of safety testing in 1996 before approving the commercialization of these crops. Nothing more than voluntary research is necessary, and the FDA does not even want to see the results. And there is certainly no need to publish any of it. If you remember 1996, the year that the first crops were commercialized, the research scientists of the US FDA all predicted that transgenic crops would have unpredictable hard to detect side effects, allergens, toxins, nutritional effects, new diseases. That was published in 2004 in Biotechnology if you recall seeing it.
I know well that Canada does not perform long term feeding studies as they do in Europe. The only study I am aware of from Canada is from the Sherbrooke Hospital in 2011, when doctors found that 93% of pregnant women and 82% of the fetuses tested had the protein pesticide in their blood. This is a protein recognized in its many forms as mildly to severely allergenic. There is no information on the role played by rogue proteins created by the process of inserting transgenes in the middle of a genome. But there is a lot of long term feeding studies reporting serious health problems in mice and rats. The results of the first long term feeding studies of lab rats reported last year in Food and Chemical Toxicology show that they developed breast cancer in mid life and showed kidney and liver damage. The current statistic I read is that North Americans are eating 193 lbs of GMO food on average annually. That includes the children I assume, not that I would use that as a scare tactic. But obviously I wrote at length because I think there is cause for alarm and it is my duty to educate the public.
One argument I hear repeatedly is that nobody has been sick or died after a meal (or a trillion meals since 1996) of GM food. Nobody gets ill from smoking a pack of cigarette either. But it sure adds up, and we did not know that in the 1950s before we started our wave of epidemics of cancer. Except this time it is not about a bit of smoke, it’s the whole food system that is of concern. The corporate interest must be subordinated to the public interest, and the policy of substantial equivalence must be scrapped as it is clearly untrue.
Thierry Vrain is a former research scientist for Agriculture Canada. He now promotes awareness of the dangers of genetically modified foods.
Originally published in: Prevent Disease.
This week in the food revolution: Is Your Food Safe? Check out this week’s Food Revolution Summit replays of gamechanging interviews with Jeffrey Smith, Robyn O’Brien, and Andrew Kimbrell. Catch it all here.
Get the Empowerment Package, on sale now! You can all 25 Food Revolution Summit interviews for life! The Empowerment Package is on super duper sale until May 13 at 9 am Pacific time. Get all the info here.
Click button at bottom right of video to view in fullscreen
Michael Pollan is the author of four New York Times bestsellers: Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (2010); In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008); The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006); and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World (2001). The Omnivore’s Dilemma was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by both the New York Times and the Washington Post. Michael was named to the 2010 TIME 100 — the magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people. In 2009 he was named by Newsweek as one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders.” He writes for many publications including The New York Times Magazine, and was featured in a two-hour PBS special based on The Botany of Desire as well as in the Academy Award nominated documentary, Food Inc.
In this interview, bestselling author John Robbins and Michael Pollan engage in spirited conversation about genetically engineered food, how to feed a hungry world, food politics, the future of agriculture, and a lot more.
Catch John Robbins interviewing 24 of the world’s leading voices for healthy, sustainable, humane and conscious food in the Food Revolution Summit.
Whole Foods Market, the grocery story chain, has made the stunning announcement that labeling of genetically engineered foods will be required on all products sold in the company’s 339 stores within five years.
Making the historic declaration, Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Walter Robb stated: “This is an issue whose time has come… With cases like horse meat discovered in the U.K., plastic in milk in China, the recalls of almond and peanut butter in the U.S., customers have a fundamental right to know what’s in their food.”
Will this be a smart business move? Company president A.C. Gallo thinks so, commenting that products that get a “Non-GMO” verification label see a sales spike of between 15 percent and 30 percent.
The number of products certified as GMO-free by the Non-GMO project has been growing exponentially, and Non-GMO certified products now represent more than $2.4 billion in annual sales. Support for GMO labeling in the general public continues to build. In fact a 2012 poll of likely voters found that 91% of respondents supported GMO labeling – including 93 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Independents, and 89% of Republicans.
While 5 years doesn’t exactly sound like Usain Bolt’s version of speedy action, the New York Times reports that the Whole Foods announcement could “radically alter the food industry.” And indeed, the economic landscape is clearly changing in response to growing public alarm at the current state of affairs. So far in 2013, leaders from companies like Wal-Mart, Pepsico, and Con Agra, have been meeting with leaders in the GMO-labeling movement to explore development of a national labeling program.
It looks increasingly likely that the United States will soon be joining the entire European Union and dozens of other nations in mandating labeling of genetically engineered foods.
The question may soon become, what kind of labeling will we get? Food Revolution Summit speaker and Institute for Responsible Technology founder Jeffrey Smith explains:
“The biotech industry is working hard to keep consumers in the dark. They have managed to get loopholes in some countries that, for example, exempt GM soybean oil. Or in Japan, they lobbied to get a rejection threshold of 5% for a GM ingredient. For consumers who want the option to avoid GMOs, only labels that cover the entire product and all of its ingredients will suffice.”
As Food Revolution Summit speaker Michele Simon recently wrote, many activists are increasingly worried about the possibility that a weak federal law, backed by companies like Wal-Mart, could “preempt” more meaningful legislation that would emerge at the state level – rendering any higher state-level consumer protection invalid.
State-level efforts that take effect before any such federal legislation may therefore present the best opportunity to “raise the bar” to what most consumers expect from GMO labeling legislation — the right to know if a food contains GMOs.
Efforts to pass a GMO labeling initiative in Washington State have become a new front line the GMO battle. Like California’s barely failed Proposition 37, Washington’s I-522 would have national implications, and is already beginning to attract national resources. Voters will head to the polls November 5. And efforts are also underway to pass labeling legislation in Vermont, New Mexico, and Connecticut.
Want to take action for your right to know? Here are some steps you can take:
1) Support Washington State’s I-522 (they need volunteers, donations, and public exposure).
2) Sign The Food Revolution Network and Care2’s petition to Congress or the JustLabelIt petition to the FDA.
4) If who want to know what is and is not GMO-free, a list of which foods are likely to contain GMOs is posted by Institute for Responsible Technology here, and you can download the non-GMO shopping guide here.
5) For the passionate activist, there’s always more you can do, like taking advantage of the educational resources offered for free by the Institute for Responsible Technology, and sharing them with friends. Or lobbying your member of Congress, your mayor, your governor, your local media outlets, or your relatives.
Ocean Robbins is founder and co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) of the 85,000+ member Food Revolution Network, an initiative to help you heal your body, and your world… with food. Find out more and sign up here.
Frankenfish could be on your dinner plate by the end of the year.
On December 21, at the very end of the last business day before Christmas week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly released its environmental assessment that found “no significant impact” from the controversial AquaBounty AquaAdvantage transgenic salmon. We’re now in a 60 day comment period that ends on February 25, at which time the FDA is widely expected to initiate formal approval.
What is the rationale behind genetically engineered salmon? Why have scientists spliced genes from an eel-like creature called the ocean pout into the genome of the Atlantic salmon? These genes crank out growth hormone year-round, resulting in a fish that grows faster, cutting the time to reach market weight almost in half. This could mean cost savings for fish farmers, leading to higher profits for the salmon farming industry and (they promise) lower prices for consumers.
But there are massively disturbing ethical, environmental, and health concerns that make the introduction of Frankenfish highly controversial.
Corporations Given the Power to Create Life
Humans have been using natural selection for years to favor certain genetic expressions in animals and plants. But natural selection on the farm is entirely different than taking genes from two or more completely different creatures, and splicing them together in a laboratory.
Some people are concerned that the power to create new life now sits in the hands of corporate interests. Others are disturbed by the notion of eating genetically engineered animals when there isn’t even so much as a label to give them choice in the matter.
With countless more genetically engineered animal creations waiting for approval, the release of genetically engineered salmon could lead to a plethora of new life forms coming onto the market. John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution and many other best-sellers about food, health and the environment, calls this “Pandora’s Pantry.”
Impact on Oceans and Wild Salmon
AquaBounty, the company behind the first Frankenfish, insists that their creation poses no threat to wild salmon populations. But research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.
AquaBounty insists that their fish will be raised in controlled pens and will never be released into the ocean, and that besides, their fish will be sterile. But every year, millions of farmed fish escape from fish farms into the wild. It’s true that initial introduction of AquaBounty’s fish is slated for Panama in highly controlled pens. But AquaBounty is planning to market the eggs, not the fish. Once the production of GE fish becomes commercialized, it will be impossible to control the whereabouts of every single individual and assure compliance with appropriate containment measures. Some degree of release may be inevitable.
As to sterile fish, at present, there is no guaranteed method to produce 100% sterility. In fact, the FDA’s most recent study found that five percent of the animals were in fact fertile. If large numbers of fish escape, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that some fertile fish might not only survive in the wild, but thrive. Because AquaAdvantage fish grow many times faster, and become mature much more quickly, than wild salmon, they may have the ability to outcompete wild salmon for food, and to reproduce at a much faster rate.
By stipulating that AquaBounty’s fish will never by produced in the United States, the company was able to avoid having to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would analyze what would happen if things don’t go as planned. So long as the fish are only produced in countries with relatively lax environmental laws, they may be able to get away without further study.
But if the fish escape into the wild, they won’t stop swimming at national borders. This means that if they survive in the wild anywhere, they may soon be driving wild salmon into oblivion everywhere. The impact on marine and freshwater ecosystems, and on the economic wellbeing of fish-dependent coastal communities, could be devastating.
The FDA chose to review AquAdvantage as an animal drug, rather than a human food. In the FDA’s view, the refashioned DNA that is in every cell of the fish’s body is considered a drug, and that’s what the agency is regulating. If approved, the AquAdvantage salmon would not only be the first GE animal approved for human consumption, but also the first animal drug that’s theoretically capable of swimming off into the ocean and reproducing.
Is It Safe to Eat?
The FDA concluded the salmon to be “as safe as food from conventional (farmed) Atlantic salmon.” While this might be debatable, considering that the genetic makeup of the fish is a new creation, and there have been no long-term studies conducted on humans actually consuming genetically engineered salmon, let’s suppose for the moment that the FDA’s conclusion is accurate.
Is being as safe as conventional farmed salmon such a great thing? Salmon has been widely touted for its prevalence of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. And it’s true that wild salmon has low levels of many of the contaminants found in other fish. But farmed Atlantic salmon is an entirely different matter.
Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group comments: “Nearly all (farmed) salmon (that) Americans eat are grown in dense-packed pens near ocean shores, fed fish meal that can be polluted with toxic PCB chemicals, awash in excrement flushed out to sea and infused with antibiotics to combat unsanitary conditions.”
Many medical experts are already recommending reducing farmed salmon consumption to one serving per month or less. Compared to wild salmon, studies have found farmed salmon to have significantly higher concentrations of contaminants, including such lovely substances as PCBs, dioxins, dieldrin, and toxaphene.
If AquaAdvantage does come to market on a large scale, and if it does reduce the cost of farmed salmon, thus making it more widely available and more affordable, is this really a boon to a hungry world? Or might it be a recipe for even more cancer and environmental pollution?
What You Can Do
Tell the FDA what you think: If you are disturbed by the prospect of a solid green light being given to sale of genetically engineered salmon in the United States, now is a great time to speak up. The FDA’s comment period lasts until February 25. You can submit comments online, or sign petitions like this one.
Take action for labeling: Genetically engineered crops are already unlabeled, inadequately tested, and present in an estimated 75% of the foods in America’s restaurants and supermarket shelves. Surveys have found that as much as ninety-three percent of the American public supports the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Perhaps the prospect of genetically altered animals pouring onto American dinner plates without labeling will tip us over the edge from concern into action. To support labeling, sign the Food Revolution Network and Care2′s petition to Congress, or the Just Label It Campaign’s petition to the FDA.
Protect yourself and your family: You can get a non-GMO shopping guide and mobile app that can help you and your family avoid genetically engineered foods if you want to do so. And the Food Revolution Network offers a complimentary no-GMO action pack.
A guest post by Food Revolution Summit Speaker Ronnie Cummins
On November 6, in the wake of one of the most expensive and scurrilous smear campaigns in history, six million voters scared the hell out of Monsanto and Big Food Inc. by coming within a razor’s edge of passing the first statewide mandatory labeling law for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Prop 37, a citizens’ ballot initiative that would have required the mandatory labeling of billions of dollars of genetically engineered (GE) foods and put an end to the routine industry practice of fraudulently marketing GE-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural,” lost by a narrow margin of 48.6% to 51.4%. Opponents couldn’t claim anything close to a landslide, even though they outspent the pro-labeling campaign almost six to one.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) immediately put a happy face on the narrow victory, repeating its tired old propaganda in a public statement: “Proposition 37 was a deeply flawed measure that would have resulted in higher food costs, frivolous lawsuits and increased state bureaucracies. This is a big win for California consumers, taxpayers, business and farmers.”
But Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, came closer to expressing the real sentiments of the big guns who opposed Prop 37, a measure she had previously said “scared us to death,” in her official statement:
“This gives us hope that you can, with a well-funded, well-organized, well-executed campaign, defeat a ballot initiative and go directly to the voters. We hope we don’t have too many of them, because you can’t keep doing that over and over again . . .”.
Maybe they can’t. But we can. Unlike the Food Marketing Institute and its friends at the GMA, consumers can – and will – “keep doing that over and over again.” We can – and will – propose state laws and state ballot initiatives as often as we need, in as many states as we must, until we have what 61 other countries have: truth and transparency in the form of mandatory GMO labeling laws. Far from giving up, the alternative food and farming movement that was narrowly defeated in California has evolved into a battle-savvy, seasoned national movement, bigger and stronger than ever.
As Zuri Allen, California Field Organizer of the Organic Consumers Association put it, “We may have lost this first major battle in California, but millions of angry and energized consumers across the country are now joining together in a nationwide right to know campaign which will ultimately drive genetically engineered crops and foods off the market.”
That clearly has Big Biotech and Big Food worried. And well it should. We’ve barely rung in the new year, and already GMO labeling battles are heating up in Washington State, Vermont and Connecticut. Other states aren’t far behind.
On Jan. 4, activists in Washington State will deliver approximately 300,000 signatures to the state legislature to guarantee that a mandatory GMO labeling Initiative, I-522, will be on the ballot in November. Initial polling shows that Washington state voters will likely pass this Ballot Initiative, no matter how much money the biotech industry and large food corporations put into an anti-labeling campaign.
On the other side of the country, Vermont is picking up where it left off last year after the governor caved in to Monsanto’s threats to sue the state if it passed a GMO labeling law. Undaunted, and buoyed by 90% support from consumers, legislators will reintroduce a GMO labeling bill in early January. Vermont’s pro-organic, anti-GMO proponents fully expect to pass a labeling bill by May. Connecticut is right behind them, with plans to introduce a similarly popular GMO labeling bill early this year.
Why a win is just around the corner.
Giant biotech and junk food corporations, joined by major food processors and supermarket chains, poured more than $46 million dollars into a vicious dirty tricks campaign to defeat GMO labeling in California. Their tactics included a relentless barrage of TV and radio ads falsely claiming GE food labels would raise grocery prices, hurt family farmers, and enrich trial lawyers. They unleashed “scientific” testimonials manufactured by phony front groups, and they mailed counterfeit voter guides. They may even have engaged in “vote-flipping” by pre-programming electronic voting tabulators.
A statewide pre-election eve poll conducted by Lake Research found that the Biotech Behemoth’s “No on 37” propaganda campaign successfully confused many Californians. As of Nov. 5, the day before the election, the majority of Californians stated that they still supported mandatory labeling of GE foods. But a critical mass, especially the 40% who voted early by absentee ballot, said they were willing to give up their right to know what was in their food if mandatory GE labels might increase food costs, expand the size and power of state bureaucrats, harm family farmers or unfairly benefit trial lawyers and other “special interests.”
That changed once the YES on 37 campaign launched its own modest $3-million ad campaign on October 27. Once the pro-labeling ads rolled out, several million undecided voters saw through the biotech and junk-food industry propaganda and voted Yes on 37. In fact, Prop 37 won the election-day vote. But it was too little, too late. The campaign couldn’t recover from its losses in early voting.
That was California. Washington State promises to tell a different story.
Looking at the logistics and outcome of the Prop 37 campaign in California in 2012 and comparing these to the upcoming I-522 battle in Washington, there are several major differences that will likely prove to be decisive:
1. Size and campaign costs. California is an enormous state, both geographically and in terms of population. Its TV and radio ad markets are also among the priciest in the country. Tough for a grassroots campaign with a small budget to reach California voters far and wide, on the ground and through the media. Even tougher to compete with an opposition willing and able to spend $46 million to win. Compare that scenario with Washington State, which has one-fifth the population of California, and where $1 spent on TV ads equals $8 in California. Factor in that Washington’s population is highly concentrated in the health and environmentally-conscious Seattle metropolitan area, and it’s easy to see that internet, in-person contact, and radio and TV advertising will cost less and be easier to execute in Washington than it was in California. Experts estimate that Monsanto and its allies will be able to spend only $20 million in Washington on advertising. That’s enough to saturate the state’s airwaves. But it’s not too much for the Yes on I-522 campaign to overcome as long as it can raise and spend $4-$5 million – about half of what the California labeling campaign raised.
2. Timing. In California, Yes on 37 forces didn’t get on the ballot until May. That left only six months for public education and fundraising. In Washington, I-522 proponents have a full nine months before people begin their voting (which is by mail).
3. Support from farmers and rural communities. In California, Prop 37 was supported mostly by consumers and organic farmers. In Washington State, wheat farmers, whether organic or not, apple farmers and fishing communities also vocally support mandatory GMO labeling. That’s because GMO labeling is arguably in the best economic interests of a state where unlabeled GMO wheat, apples and salmon spilling into the market would severely damage state agricultural exports to countries that either forbid GMO imports or require GMO labeling.
4. Progressive elected officials and electorate. California’s Governor Brown refused to take a stand on Prop 37. But Washington’s new elected Governor, Jay Inslee, is a long-time supporter and former Congressional advocate of GMO labeling. Washington voters recently reminded us that they are proud progressives, by approving the legalization of marijuana via a November ballot Initiative. California voters defeated a similar measure in 2010.
5. The Frankenfish controversy. Despite enormous public opposition and warnings by scientists that genetically engineered salmon pose unacceptable health and environmental risks, the Obama administration’s FDA announced in late December that it would nonetheless allow unlabeled genetically engineered salmon to be commercialized. Polls show that Washington voters are adamantly opposed to this fast-growing, likely allergenic mutant salmon – part fish, part eel – entering the market. Fishermen/fisherwomen, chefs and restaurants are already raising their voices in opposition. Meanwhile in Alaska, GMO salmon will have to be labeled because of a state law passed in 2005. The biotech industry is going to have a difficult time explaining why Frankenfish have to be labeled in Alaska, but not in Washington or other states.
6. Divisions between Big Food and Big Biotech. As the comments by the Food Marketing Institute executive suggest, big food companies are starting to worry about their image. They’re worried about having to fight costly, high-profile battles against GMO labeling in numerous states, possibly even simultaneously. A number of large food companies that dumped big money into defeating Prop 37 – companies like Kellogg’s, General Mills, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft and Dean Foods, own “natural” or organic brands. Those brands, including Kashi, Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Ben and Jerry’s, White Wave, Horizon and others, are starting to feel the heat from angry consumers who have joined the “Traitor Boycott.” How long will the nation’s food manufacturers and supermarket chains carry the water and do the dirty work for Monsanto and biotech industry?
It’s only a matter of time before we pass GMO legislation. Once we do, it will mark the beginning of the end for GMO food and farming, just as it did in Europe. But to ensure that this happens, sooner rather than later, state GMO right-to-know campaigns in Washington, Vermont, Connecticut and other states need money, technical assistance volunteers, and endorsements.
Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica. http://www.organicconsumers.org; http://www.viaorganica.org
More and more people are realizing that our food chain is in crisis. Agribusiness has made profits more important than your health — more important than the environment — and more important than your right to know how your food is produced.
Perhaps because so many people are suffering, beneath the surface, a revolution has been building.
From rural farms to urban dinner plates, from grocery store shelves to state ballot boxes, ever more people are finding their voices and taking action. If you believe in taking responsibility for your health, if you believe there is an important link between the quality of the food you eat and the quality of your life, you are part of this movement.
In the seven years after my dad and colleague, John Robbins, released the first edition of his landmark bestseller Diet for a New America in 1987, beef consumption in the United States dropped by 19 percent. The National Cattlemen’s Association, not pleased, pointedly blamed Diet For A New America. Since then, beef consumption has continued to slowly drop, while organic food sales have increased over 26-fold, to now exceed four percent of market share.
People are also taking an increasing interest in the way that the animals raised for food are treated. In fact, a poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from cruelty. Nine U.S. states have now joined the entire European Union in banning gestational crates for pigs, and Australia’s two largest supermarket chains now sell only cage-free eggs in their house brands.
The demand is growing for food that is organic, sustainable, fair trade, GMO-free, humane, and healthy. In cities around the world, we’re seeing more and more farmer’s markets (a nearly three-fold increase in the last decade), and more young people getting back into farming. Grocery stores (even big national chains) are displaying local, natural and organic foods with pride. The movements for healthy food are growing fast, and starting to become a political force.
In 2012, California voters put an initiative on the ballot that called would have mandated the labeling of food containing GMOs. Monsanto and their buddies in the pesticide and junk food business were forced to spend $46 million burying California’s voters under an avalanche of deception in order to narrowly defeat California’s Proposition 37 in the November election. Although they won the battle, more than six million California voters had come out in favor of the “right to know.” It was clear that the natural foods movement was becoming a political force to be reckoned with.
Now organizers in 30 other states have begun building GMO labeling campaigns, and efforts to improve treatment of animals, to make factory farms pay for the pollution they produce, and to reform the food offered in school lunches are all gaining strength.
What You Can Do
Go to the movies. Eric Schlosser’s Food, Inc., Drs. Caldwell Esslestyn and T. Colin Campbell’s Forks Over Knives, and Jeffrey Smith’s Genetic Roulette are some of the most popular and insightful films currently on the market.
Boycott the bad guys. Many people are choosing to boycott companies that oppose labeling of GMOs, that treat farm animals cruelly, or that profit from the sale of junk food. Other consumers are choosing to buy from the good guys. For example, the non-profit Non-GMO Project, which offers a third party certification program, has now verified 764 products, and had a record-shattering 189 new enrollment inquiries in October. You can also check out the farmer’s market nearest you.
Sign petitions for GMO labeling. Want to work for policy change? A team of organizations, led by Care2 and the Food Revolution Network, have launched a petition demanding that Congress label GMOs, and it has already generated more than 80,000 signatures. And last year’s JustLabelIt petition to the FDA, which generated more than 1.3 million signatures, is being revived in hopes that the FDA might eventually dig itself out of Monsanto’s back pocket.
Get politically engaged. For the passionate activist, there’s always more you can do, like lobbying your member of Congress, your mayor, your governor, your local media outlets, or your relatives. You can also join the Humane Society’s campaign for farm animal protection, or Farm Sanctuary’s work for animal welfare legislation.
Get engaged and informed. For a directory of organizations working for healthy, sustainable and humane food, as well as free access to dozens of cutting edge articles and tools to help you make a difference, you can sign up to join the Food Revolution Summit. Or check out the forthcoming book, Voices of the Food Revolution, which captures some of the top insights of gamechanging food movement leaders.
Big agribusiness would probably like us all to sit alone in the dark, munching on highly processed, genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods. But the tide of history is turning, and regardless of how much they spend attempting to maintain their hold on our food systems, more and more people are saying No to foods that lead to illness, and YES to foods that help us heal.
California could have been the first state in the nation to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered foods. We would have joined more than 60 countries where consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically modified. But the prospect of Proposition 37 terrified the junk food and pesticide companies that want to keep us in the dark about what we eat.
The “No on 37″ campaign spent $46 million burying the state’s voters in an avalanche of misleading ads and outright falsehoods. Their efforts defeated the proposition, 53 percent to 47 percent.
But Monsanto and their peeps didn’t just spend $46 million promoting their opinion. They also lied and got away with it. Check out these examples:
1) They illegally included the FDA logo in a “No on 37″ mailing to state residents, and made up a quote from the FDA, which the FDA refuted. The FDA did not and cannot express an opinion on ballot initiatives.
2) They used the Stanford logo in TV ads and mailers, when the University also did not take a stand on the issue. And they said that Henry I. Miller, their hired gun, is a professor at Stanford when in reality, he works for the Hoover Institution — which rents office space on the campus.
3) They paid a PR firm with expertise in fighting recycling legislation (on behalf of the soda pop industry) to generate a misleading ”study” that was designed to show the proposition raising food prices by hundreds of dollars per state resident per year. This despite independent economic analysis concluding that it would not raise prices in any meaningful way, and that in Europe, mandated labeling was not linked to an increase in food prices. (Do you really believe the pesticide and junk food companies would spend $46 million trying to save you money?)
4) They said there have never been any documented ill-effects from GMO consumption. But many allege that 37 direct human deaths and 1,500 disabilities linked to a toxic batch of the supplement Tryptophanwere caused by a genetically engineered strain of bacteria used in production. And there are numerous reports of livestock that have died as a result of grazing on GMO cotton. There could be far more widespread ill-effects, but without labeling, it’s nearly impossible to find out conclusively.
5) They said Prop 37 was full of exemptions for special interests. But in reality, the exemptions were modeled after those adopted throughout the European Union and every other country that calls for labeling. For instance, livestock that are fed GMO grains don’t have to be labeled genetically engineered unless the animal, itself, is genetically engineered. That’s not a special interest exemption — it’s basic science.
What’s Next For The Food Movement?
In the last decade, the movement for healthy, sustainable food has been growing exponentially, with consumption of organic foods growing from $8 billion in 2000 to $31 billion in 2011. We’ve seen an equally dramatic rise in the number of farmer’s markets and CSAs. Still, it’s a big jump to move from 4 percent market share, to changing national food policy. Tobacco was found to be harmful to health in 1950, and it took nearly half a century to meaningfully change laws.
The food movement is growing fast, but as a political force, it’s still in its infancy. Big agribusiness still controls the purse strings in Congress, and runs the show at the FDA. At least for now.
An ABC News poll found that 93 percent of Americans want to know if their food is genetically engineered. Even after a narrow loss against a heavily financed and deeply entrenched food industry, the rapidly growing food movement may be just getting started.
“The arc of history is long,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us, ”but it bends towards justice.” As we’ve seen time and time again, when enough people demand it, eventually, change does come.
Monsanto, you may know, is not likely to win any contests for the most popular company. In fact, it has been called the most hated corporation in the world, which is saying something, given the competition from the likes of BP, Halliburton and Goldman Sachs.
This has gotten me thinking about, of all things, ice cream, and of how Monsanto’s clammy paws can be found in some of the most widely selling ice cream brands in the country. These brands could break free from Monsanto’s clutches. So far they haven’t, but maybe this is about to change.
Ben & Jerry’s already gets all its milk from dairies that have pledged not to inject their cows with genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Why, then, can’t companies like Haagen Dazs, Breyers and Baskin-Robbins do the same?
Starbucks now guarantees that all their milk, cream and other dairy products are rBGH-free. So do Yoplait and Dannon yogurts, Tillamook cheese, Chipotle restaurants, and many others. But ice cream giants Haagen Dazs, Breyers and Baskin-Robbins continue to use milk from cows injected with rBGH, a hormone that’s been banned in Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and all 27 nations of the European Union. As if to add insult to injury, Haagen Dazs and Breyers have the audacity to tell us, right on the label, that their ice cream is ” All Natural.”
We have Monsanto to thank for rBGH. Monsanto developed the artificial hormone and marketed it aggressively for years, before selling it in 2008 to Elanco, a division of the Eli Lilly drug company. Of course, Monsanto (and now Elanco) wants us to think the hormone is in every way completely safe. Monsanto’s party line has consistently been that there is “no significant difference” in the milk derived from cows that have been dosed with the hormone compared to those who haven’t.
Pardon me for not swallowing Monsanto’s hooey, but if that’s so, why have so many countries outlawed rBGH? Are these countries all run by ignorant Luddites who oppose technology and progress? Or might there actually be compelling reasons?
There are, indeed. One of them is that injecting the genetically engineered hormone into cows increases the levels of a substance called IGF-1 in their milk. Monsanto’s own studies found that the amount of IGF-1 in milk more than doubled when cows were injected with rBGH. Studies by independent researchers show gains as much as six-fold.
Does it matter whether there are excess levels of IGF-1 in milk? It decidedly did to the European Commission’s authoritative international 16-member scientific committee. Their report said the excessive levels of IGF-1 found in the milk of cows injected with rBGH may pose serious risks of breast, colon and prostate cancer.
How serious is the increased risk? According to an article in the May 9, 1998 issue of the medical journal The Lancet, pre-menopausal women with even moderately elevated blood levels of IGF-1 are up to seven times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with lower levels.
As if these risks to human health weren’t enough reason for nations to prohibit the use of rBGH, there are more. The artificial hormone is also notorious for causing the cows much pain and distress. It does this by increasing painful and debilitating diseases like lameness and mastitis in cows who are injected with it. And because it increases udder infections in cows, it has greatly increased the use of antibiotics in the U.S. dairy industry. If you wanted to design a system to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, you’d be hard pressed to do better.
Does the increase in udder infections have an effect on the milk, and thus any ice cream, cheese or other product made from it? Most definitely, according to Dr. Richard Burroughs, a veterinarian deeply familiar with rBGH. “It results in an increase of white blood cells,” he says, “which means there’s pus in the milk!” The antibiotic use, he adds, “leaves residues in the milk. It’s all very serious.”
How, then, was such a dubious and tainted product ever approved for use in the U.S.? The answer provides a glimpse of how successful Monsanto’s efforts have been to exert control over our nation’s food policies.
By all accounts, the FDA’s 1993 decision to allow the use of rBGH was one of the most controversial in the agency’s history. Made amid widespread criticism from scientists, government leaders and farmers, including many researchers and officials inside the FDA, the decision was overseen by Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Policy from 1991-1994.
Was Taylor unbiased? Prior to holding that position, he was an attorney at King & Spaulding, Monsanto’s law firm, where he presided over the firm’s “food and drug law” practice. After he made the decision to give the green light to rBGH, he left the FDA and resumed working directly for Monsanto, as vice president and chief lobbyist.
How significant was Taylor’s role in getting rBGH approved? As of August 15, 2010, his Wikipedia entry said that he “has long been hostile to food safety,” and “is widely credited with ushering recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) through the FDA regulatory process and into the milk supply — unlabeled.” (This statement was removed from Wikipedia immediately after I referred to it in a comment following an article I wrote for The Huffington Post on the topic. Apparently, if you can get your people in and out of key positions at the FDA, messing with Wikipedia is a piece of cake.)
Congressman Bernie Sanders was specifically referring to Taylor when he said “the FDA allowed corporate influence to run rampant in its approval of BGH.” Documentaries including “The World According to Monsanto” and “The Future of Food” present Taylor’s pro-Monsanto actions at the FDA as a dramatic example of the how corporate influence has exerted massive control over the FDA. Today, Taylor again works for the FDA, now as Deputy Commissioner of Foods.
Things have taken a different turn in Canada, but not for want of effort on the part of Monsanto. During Canada’s scientific review of Monsanto’s application for approval of rBGH, Canadian health officials said Monsanto tried to bribe them, and government scientists testified that they were being pressured by higher-ups to approve rBGH against their better scientific judgment. But in 1999, after eight years of study, Canadian health authorities rejected Monsanto’s application for approval of rBGH.
In the U.S. today, Monsanto continues to wield massive influence over U.S. food policies. In spite of, or perhaps in response to, Monsanto’s toxic and tenacious grip on our nation’s food policy, a food movement is growing more potent with each passing day. Every day more and more people are refusing to buy ice cream and other dairy products made with rBGH. And every day another organization adds its name to the growing list of groups campaigning against Monsanto’s influence, and calling for the FDA decision allowing the use of rBGH to be revoked.
Late last year, the prestigious American Public Health Association officially called for a ban on rBGH. The Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports has likewise taken an official position opposing rBGH. So has the American Nurses Association, Health Care Without Harm, Food and Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders and many other groups.
In August 2010, the plucky Oregon chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) led a nationwide effort to persuade Breyers (whose brands include Good Humor, Klondike Bars and Popsicle), and Dreyer’s (whose brands include Haagen Dazs, Nestle and Edy’s) to go rBGH-free. The campaign focused on Breyers and Dreyer’s because they are the two largest ice cream producers in the country today.
Monsanto and its allies have a grand vision. They are intent on controlling the world’s food supply. Don’t let them. And don’t let them cram their genetically engineered products down your throat. Even in a product as tempting and sweet as ice cream, that’s no treat.