The Great GMO Food Fight: What’s Next?
February 23, 2016
By Ronnie Cummins
Twenty-two years after the controversial introduction of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) into the U.S. food supply, with no independent safety testing nor labeling required, a critical mass of Americans1 have made it clear that they want to know whether the food they are eating contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.
"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
"Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." — Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications, quoted in the New York Times, October 25, 1998
Another significant segment, organic and natural health consumers, have made it clear that, given a choice, they will refuse to buy GMO-tainted foods, spending approximately $55 billion a year on foods labeled as "organic," "non-GMO," or "100 percent grass-fed."
After several hard-fought, heavily publicized ballot initiatives in California (2012), Washington (2013), and Oregon (2014), and attempts to pass mandatory GMO labeling in 30 states, Vermont passed a labeling law in May 2014 that is due to go into effect on July 1,2016.
Maine and Connecticut have also passed mandatory labeling laws, but these will not go into effect until additional New England states pass similar legislation.
The pending implementation of the Vermont labeling law has provoked panic among Monsanto and major food corporations, and their trade association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
This is understandable, given that 75 percent of processed foods in grocery stores contain unlabeled GMOs and the toxic pesticide residues that always accompany GMOs.
The GMO industry and Big Food understand that they cannot just label their processed foods and beverages as containing GMOs (or else reformulate them to remove GMOs) only in Vermont, while failing to do so in other states and markets in North America.
This would be a public relations disaster. They also understand that once their GMO-tainted foods are labeled, they will lose billions of dollars in sales to organic, non-GMO, and grass-fed brands.
In desperation, Monsanto, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Pepsi, Kellogg's and the GMA turned to Congress to preempt or nullify the Vermont law.
In July 2015, they convinced 275 of their faithful servants in the House of Representatives to pass the highly unpopular H.R. 1599,2 a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan). This bill is colloquially known as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know).
In the wake of a nationwide consumer backlash, led by networks including the Organic Consumers Association, Mercola.com, Dr. Bronner's, Food Democracy Now, Center for Food Safety and others, the Pompeo bill stalled out before reaching the Senate.
However, pro-GMO politicians from both parties are still desperately trying to come up with deceptive Senate legislation that will placate industry, by keeping consumers in the dark about whether or not the food they are eating is contaminated with GMOs, while pretending to respect consumers' right to know and state's rights to regulate GMOs.
In December, Monsanto and the GMA threatened to attach a back-door rider to a federal appropriations bill.
The rider, which would have voided Vermont's law and outlawed mandatory labeling, failed, mainly due to consumer pressure, including literally hundreds of thousands of emails, phone calls and in-person meetings with Congress members.
QR Codes Are NOT an Adequate Substitute for Package Labels
Food companies are running out of time before they have to label or reformulate their products to comply with the Vermont law.
So, the Food Giants and the USDA are now floating a new, highly controversial scheme3 to substitute voluntary QR bar codes for mandatory on-package labels — in a federal bill that would preempt Vermont's law.
Unfortunately for industry and Monsanto, 90 percent of consumers4 have made it clear that smart phones and QR bar codes are no substitute for the on-package labels that are now required in nearly every industrialized country in the world, except the U.S. and Canada.
High Profile Food Companies on Board With Labeling
Health-conscious consumers in North America are especially angry about the fact that the same large food corporations in the U.S. that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to stop GMO labeling laws have removed all GMOs from the foods they sell in Europe, where mandatory labeling is required.
Meanwhile a number of high-profile food companies and brands have broken ranks with Monsanto and the GMA, either saying they are removing GMOs from their products (Hershey's, Hellmann's Mayonnaise, Cheerios, Chipotle's, Panera, Ben and Jerry's); or else pledging they will voluntarily label all of their products (Campbell's) as the Vermont law requires.
Campbell's further undermined the industry's major argument against labeling (i.e. that it will raise food prices) by saying that all of their hundreds of products containing GMOs will be labeled, with no increase in cost.5
Concerns Over Glyphosate Have Turned Out to Be Valid
Fueling consumer demands for GMO labeling or bans, the well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report6 in March 2015, declaring Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (active agent glyphosate), sprayed heavily on 85 percent of all GMO crops, including soy, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets, a "probable carcinogen."
In addition, many independent studies7 have shown that GMOs and the toxic chemicals that always accompany them are hazardous to humans, animals, bees, soil, biodiversity, soil health, and climate stability.
Consumer concern in the U.S. has forced the nation's largest organic and natural food chain, Whole Foods Market (WFM), to pledge that all foods in their stores will have to be labeled by 2018 if they contain GMOs. This labeling policy includes meat, eggs, dairy, nutritional supplements, and take-out items.
Although this policy will affect only the 40,000 or so food products sold in WFM stores, brands selling to Whole Foods will suffer a public relations disaster if they are forced to label their items in WFM as GMO-tainted, but then refuse to do so in other stores.
Other natural food retailers, such as the Natural Grocer, have also announced8 that they are removing GMO and GMO-derived foods from their stores. These developments leave industry and their indentured politicians in Washington facing a major dilemma.
How can they continue to serve their major paymasters, corporate agribusiness, genetic engineering companies, Big Food/Junk Food brands, and Big Pharma (who supply the drugs for GMO-dependent factory farms), without antagonizing millions of consumers/voters in an election year?
Demand Mandatory Labeling —TAKE ACTION NOW
So what happens next?
Over the next few weeks or months, the Senate and the White House will either respect consumer choice and state's rights to legislate on food safety and food labels, and allow the Vermont law go into effect, or they can slap millions of health- and environmental-minded consumers in the face by passing a law or a rider that preempts Vermont's law and keeps consumers in the dark.
Please sign the petition to Congress, asking them to respect your right to know whether your food has been laced with GMOs and the toxic chemicals that go along with them.
6 Useful Tips to Help You in the Fight Against GMOs
No matter what Congress does, organic and natural health consumers need to get prepared, if we are to protect our health, the health of our families, and the health of the environment, soil, and climate. Here are six things you can do to take back control over your health, your food, and our currently out-of-control political system.
- Don't just get mad. Get even. Boycott GMO and factory-farmed food, clothing, and body care products. Hit the GMO and Junk Food giants where it hurts: their bottom line. If Monsanto and the 300 large food and agribusiness corporations in the GMA and their minions in Congress continue to deny our right to know what's in our food, we must boycott all of their thousands of brands and products, today and every day.OCA is currently modifying our smart phone application, Buycott, which has already been downloaded by almost half a million people, to get ready to step up the boycott against the thousands of proprietary brands of GMA members, as well as to let you know the names of ethical brands that deserve your patronage.
With the free Buycott app downloaded on your phone, you scan the barcode of grocery store items and immediately know whether the brand is from a company member of the GMA, so you can boycott the product, or if it's from a company you might wish to support.
If you don't have a smartphone, or if you don't want to use your smart phone in the grocery store, it's even simpler. Don't buy any processed food or beverage, or any food whatsoever unless it's labeled "organic," "100 percent grassfed," or "non-GMO."
- Stop supporting politicians who are in bed with Monsanto and the Big Food/Junk Food pushers. Don't support any of the 275 members of the House of Representatives who voted for H.R. 1599, a bill to keep consumers in the dark about GMOs.Don't vote for any Senator who votes to preempt the Vermont law in favor of a bogus scheme such as voluntary labeling or QR codes. Don't vote for a Presidential candidate who doesn't support your right to know. Currently, only one major candidate for President, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has come out publicly in support of mandatory labeling of GMO foods.
- Stop eating in restaurants or fast food outlets that serve GMO-tainted foods. Choose fast food outlets like Chipotle's or Panera, which have transitioned into organic, and/or non-GMO fare, local foods-based "farm to table" restaurants, or organic and grass-fed establishments instead. Americans spend about half of our food dollars eating out in restaurants.We need to pressure restaurants to get GMO, factory-farmed, and pesticide tainted foods off their menus. Better yet, buy organic, local, and grass-fed ingredients and cook at home.
- Keep in mind that most GMOs go into factory farmed meat, dairy and poultry products, in the form of corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed-based animal feed. These GMO-derived meat, dairy and poultry products are unhealthy, inhumane, and bad for the environment.They are laced with GMOs, pesticide residues, bad fats (i.e. fats low in omega-3) and drug residues that can make you fat; give you diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Boycott factory farmed meat, dairy, and poultry products, today and every day.
- Get active, get organized, and share information about healthy food and natural health with everyone who will listen. Walk your talk. Take back control and regenerate your health and your community. We live in a society that has degenerated public health and the environment, undermined ethical business and political behavior, and severely disrupted our climate. Let's make 2016 a year of regeneration.
- Make a tax-deductible contribution to the Organic Consumers Association so that we can continue to fight for your rights as consumers, and educate the public on the life-and-death issues of organic food and natural health.