The Politics of Food
Original post made by Pa Resident, Charleston Meadows, on Aug 22, 2012
Just how much is it worth to GMO giant Monsanto to make California's Proposition 37―a bill that would require labeling of genetically engineered food―go away?
Enough to contribute $4.2 million so far to a campaign to defeat it, that's how much.
Monsanto's not alone in the race to buy their way into this bill. Other companies that are contributing millions to the fight to deny consumers the right to know what's in their foods include Dupont ($1.27 million), Dow Agro ($1.18 million) and PepsiCo ($1.12 million), and many others.
Why are You Being Kept in the Dark About What's in Your Food?
Monsanto is the acknowledged leader when it comes to the genetic changes in our food system – the mother of agriculture biotechnology and creator of other products that have included Agent Orange1, PCBs2, DDT3, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) and aspartame4.
How Monsanto became such a ringmaster is crucial to understanding why Americans are not allowed to know if their food has been genetically engineered by simple labeling as around 50 countries around the world do, including Russia, China and the entire EU.
So why are Americans kept in the dark?
Monsanto first persuaded President Ronald Reagan's administration back in 1986 to assure genetic engineering would be kept away from the public forum. Monsanto's power has been further enhanced through each administration, adding more influence with each federal appointment. Even in the past year, Monsanto has directly supported at least 65 candidates for federal office in the 2012 elections, with significant dollars "donated" to the chairs and leadership of the House and Senate Ag Committee.
Who's Really in Charge of GE Food Safety?
Who is ensuring the safety of Monsanto's products? Not Monsanto.
"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 F.D.A.'s job" –Philip Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Playing God in the Garden" New York Times Magazine, October 25, 1998.
And neither is the US FDA...
The FDA has not conducted a single independent test of any genetically engineered product. The agency simply accepts the testing completed and provided by the biotechnology corporations like Monsanto. The FDA makes this clear stating,
"Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety" — FDA, "Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties" (GMO Policy), Federal Register, Vol. 57, No. 104 (1992), p. 229
Doesn't that make you a bit concerned about our food safety system? The USDA has implemented a new fast-track process that is a part of efforts by the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack5, to "transform USDA into a high-performing organization that focuses on its customers" – namely big biotech bullies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, BASF, and Syngenta.
The USDA recently posted 12 new genetically engineered (GE) crop submissions for public comment, and nine are under the new fast-tracked process. It's no coincidence that Vilsack was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Association in 2001...
Former United States Secretary of Agriculture (served from 1995 until 2001), Dan Glickman, was a big promoter for biotechnology and worked hard to bring those products into Europe to secure profitable exports. He concluded after his USDA departure,
"What I saw generically on the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn't good because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked. And there was a lot of money that had been invested in this, and if you're against it, you're Luddites, you're stupid. There was rhetoric like that even here in this department. You felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open-minded view on some of the issues being raised. So I pretty much spouted the rhetoric that everybody else around here spouted; it was written into my speeches".
"FDA Shouldn't Order Costly GMO Labels Just to Satisfy Scientific Illiterates"
A recent article by Susan Finston confirms this approach. Finston is a biotechnology company consultant and the founder and principal of Finston Consulting who recently wrote an article entitled, "The FDA shouldn't order costly GMO labels just to satisfy scientific illiterates."6
In Europe, Monsanto supports labeling genetically engineered foods because the people demand it. In fact, after realizing how much it had upset the European public by attempting to force these products upon consumers, Monsanto ran ad compaigns in support of labeling to save face.
In the United States, the company says it doesn't support labeling. That's because the current policy is one where the U.S. Department of Agriculture operates as both regulator and promoter of biotechnology. Monsanto touts its potential to protect the environment and feed the hungry. "Doing well by doing good," is a company catch phrase. "Doing well by monopolizing our food supply with transgenic foods without heeding the public's concern" would be more appropriate.
"People will have Roundup Ready soya whether they like it or not" –Ann Foster, spokesperson for Monsanto in Britian, as quoted in The Nationmagazine from article "The Politics of Food" by Maria Margaronis December 27, 1999 issue.
India Bans Genetically Engineered Bt Cotton Seeds
The Indian state Maharashtra has now banned the sale and distribution of Monsanto's genetically modified Bt cotton seeds7 for obvious reasons.
"The government has banned the Mahycocompany with immediate effect," agriculture commissioner Umakant Dangat told IANS when asked about the cancelling of the company's licence.
India recently released an analysis from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture regarding Monsanto's Bt cotton performance in the country. According to the report:
"The Bt cotton has aggravated agrarian distress rather than helped farmers. The irresponsible hype and promotion of this technology has cost many farmers their lives and cannot continue."
Indicative of collusion of a worst kind, they have recommended a thorough probe into the Bt cotton from the beginning, including a review of studies showing inexplicable changes in the organs and tissues of Bt cotton seed-fed lambs.
Monsanto's Utopian Future = Environmental Disaster
Monsanto was previously nailed on corruption charges in Indonesia. The biotechnology giant said it would pay $1.5 million to settle charges of bribing Indonesian officials. The company made payoffs to officials over six years, according to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, including a $50,000 cash payoff to Indonesia's environment minister.
You see, Monsanto will do whatever it takes to accomplish their ultimate goal.
In January, 1999, a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP explained how they had helped Monsanto design their strategic plan. Monsanto executives told the consulting firm what their ideal future would look like in 15 to 20 years. The executives described a world in which 100 percent of all commercial seeds would be genetically modified and patented; a world in which natural seeds were be virtually extinct.
Even massive chemical producer DuPontseems envious of Monsanto's dominance, admitting in a 2009 lawsuit statinghow unfairly Monsanto uses its monopoly powers.
"What you are seeing is not just a consolidation of seed companies, it's really a consolidation of the entire food chain" –Robert Fraley, co-president of Monsanto's agricultural sector 1996, in the Farm Journal. Quoted in: Flint J. (1998) Agricultural industry giants moving towards genetic monopolism.Telepolis, Heise.
Why No One Should Overlook Monsanto's Sordid Past
Monsanto has had many obstacles, and needed to distance themselves from a controversial past that had polluted the land and contaminated virtually every human and animal on earth. According to a former Monsanto vice president, "We were despised by our customers." Monsanto's chief European spokesman admitted in 1999, "Everybody over here (Europe) hates us."
It appears that the rest of the world is catching on. Monsanto has gone so far as to even begin brainwashing our children, creating a Biotechnology Basics Activity Book8. The book states:
"This is an activity book for young people like you about biotechnology —a really neat topic. Why is it such a neat topic? Because biotechnologyis helping to improve the health of the Earth and the people who call it home."
The book goes on misleading kids with statements like: "Reduces Blindness", and "creates products with reduced fat." Not covered in the book however, is any explanation of how for nearly 40 years, while producing PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a Anniston, Alabama creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. Thousands of Monsanto documents marked "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" show the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew for decades. One internal memo concluded:
"We can't afford to lose one dollar of business."
Opal Scruggs spent her entire life in Anniston, Alabama.
"Monsanto did a job on this city," she said. "They thought we were stupid and illiterate people, so nobody would notice what happens to us."
Monsanto created virtually all of the PCBs in the U.S. and is a "potentially responsible party" at 93 Superfund sites identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A former Anniston plant manager for Monsanto, William Papageorge, was asked in a deposition whether Monsanto officials ever shared their knowledge about PCB hazards with the community9. "Why would they?" he replied.
Monsanto "Learned its Lesson" from Successful EU Refusal of GE Products
In a 2010 article in the International Journal of Communication, titled "Monsanto Discovers New Social Media," Wilhelm Peekhaus writes10:
"In addition to unyielding aspirations to commodify cyberspace, the corporate world has begun to learn from its opponents about the potentially subversive applications of computer-mediated communications... Corporations are beginning to awaken to the perceived need to fill the "cracks that appear in the mediascape" that social movements have been exploiting to their advantage.
For example, Monsanto learned some time ago about the value of the
Internet in influencing the message being disseminated publicly about genetically engineered crops. The company's director of communications, Philip Angell, admitted to The Wall Street Journal that "maybe we weren't aggressive enough. … When you fight a forest fire, sometimes you have to light another fire."
That is, Monsanto drew on its lessons from the widespread refusal of
genetically engineered food in Europe in the late 1990s, a refusal that was nearly the undoing of the company – Monsanto executives identified the Internet as the medium that had facilitated the rapid and expansive uptake of European protest against its products.
Jay Byrne, former Monsanto director of Internet outreach, counseled colleagues beyond the company to "think of the Internet as a weapon on the table. Either you pick it up or your competitor does, but somebody is going to get killed."
GE Crops—the Largest Experiment on Earth
Monsanto's business practices are certainly one concern we need to take into account when it comes to our food supply. But what about the science—will Monsanto's monoculture prevail and thrive or cause massive problems for our future agriculture system? The National Academy of Science concluded after a fungus spread through America's corn crop:
"The key lesson is that genetic uniformity is the basis of vulnerability to epidemics."
The risks are not limited to the plants. The Bt gene that is introduced into every cell in a majority of the American corn and cotton amplifies its presence enormously to upset the natural balance. At least eight species of insects have already developed Bt resistance.
"We're not going to make this go away," said University of Minnesota professor Bruce Potter, a pest management specialist. "We're stuck with managing this problem."11
We are performing an experiment on a world scale whose consequences are unknown and can only be imagined. Dr. Charles Benbrook was a former agricultural staff expert on the Council for Environmental Quality at The White House, Executive Director of the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Executive Director of theBoard on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences.
He has stated12,
"The scope of the fraud, if you will--I know that's a harsh word--the scope of the fraud that's being sold to the American public about this technology is almost unprecedented.
They have no control over where in that cell or where in that plant's genome the new genetic material gets lodged and expressed. Because they don't have control over that, they have absolutely no basis to predict how that trans-gene, the new genetic material, is going to behave in the future as that plant deals with stresses in its environment—whether it's drought, too much water, pest pressures,imbalances in the soil, or any other source of stress.
They just don't know how it's going to behave. They don't know how stable that expression is going to be, or whether the third generation of the plant is going to behave just like other generations. They don't know whether the promoter gene, which has been moved into the plant to turn on the new piece of genetic material, will influence some other biosynthetic pathway that's in the plant, turning on some natural process of the plant when it shouldn't be turned on, or turning it off too soon.
There are all sorts of things that they don't know.
The biotechnology industry says, "Well, if one of these genetically engineered plants kind of goes crazy, it's probably not going to be fit and it won't survive. It won't last in the environment. Nature will select out against it."
For somebody that works for a public institution to make that point, it really borders on libelous. It's such a violation of the public trust for scientists who understand this stuff to be so divorced from fairness in talking about the technical issues to an audience of non-scientists. It's really scandalous, in my opinion."
Without Choice, How Can There Be Trust?
Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman was one of biotechnology's leading boosters. Even he eventually concluded: "We can't force-feed . . . reluctant consumers," and said biotechnology, "shouldn't be a steamroller". Former Monsanto lawyer and current FDA Food Czar Michael Taylor wrote the policy of substantial equivalence, ensuring biotech companies would not need to label their products as genetically engineered.
This would appear to contradict Taylor's opinion in a 2003 Nature Biotechnology article13 where he states:
"The United States and the major US agbiotech companies have positioned themselves in the eyes of many as opposing choice by virtue of their aggressive promotion of the technology, their opposition to labeling worldwide, and most recently by resorting to trade remedies to force Europe's hand. Nothing could be more destructive of trust in the technology and its promoters than for them to be on the wrong side of the choice issue. They should change their position and put themselves on the side of empowering choice in whatever way works in any given country."
Even Presidential candidate Obama promised to label genetically engineered foods—a promise we're still waiting for him to fulfill even after a full term in the Oval Office.
After moves by France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety, the US ambassador, Craig Stapleton, a friend and business partner of George W. Bush, asked Washington to penalize the EU and particularly countries which did not support the use of GM crops14,15.
"Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits.
The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory. Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices," said Stapleton, who with Bush co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team in the 1990s.
In one document, the embassy wrote: "If Spain falls, the rest of Europe will follow." It was also leaked that the US knew in advance how Spain would vote, before the Spanish biotech commission had even reported their findings16,17.
So Why Can't We Label Genetically Engineered Foods?
Monsanto spokeswoman Karen Marshall said that what the company seeks "around the world is that there's harmonization of regulatory standards and processes." It would appear with the labeling requirements around the world, the U.S. should join in this strategy.
Yet, Monsanto makes so many statements that deceive the general public.
Jay Byrne, a Monsanto spokesman, observed that Monsanto has supported labeling of products where people demand it. Another Monsanto spokesman, Roger Angell, has stated the company wants "people to feel their views are heard and considered, too." He also described "recognition that we need some level of public acceptance to do our business."
Every major poll in the U.S. has indicated that over 90 percent of Americans feel genetically engineered foods should be labeled. Unfortunately, according to biotech scientists, that doesn't matter. Common sense labeling is considered to be nothing more than caving to the 'food Luddites', or 'scientifically illiterate.'
Are Genetically Engineered Crops Saving the World as Promised?
Not according to the Union of Concerned Scientists18, which recently created an ad campaign to awaken the public to Monsanto's failed agricultural model. One such ad reads:
More Herbicide + Fewer Butterflies = Better Seeds?
Monsanto Says: "In the hands of farmers, better seeds can help meet the needs of our rapidly growing population, while protecting the earth's natural resources."
In Fact: Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops, genetically engineered to tolerate the company's Roundup herbicide, increased herbicide use by an estimated 383 million pounds between 1996 and 2008. And Monarch butterflies have laid 81 percent fewer eggs thanks to habitat loss since Roundup Ready was introduced.
Even more damning may be the recently released report GMO Myths and Truths, produced by industry expert scientists19. The report presents evidence that genetically engineered crops:
Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
Do not increase yield potential
Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant "superweeds", compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
Have mixed economic effects
Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on
Beware of the Hired Front-Groups
In a recent Huffington Post article20, public health lawyer Michelle Simone warns that many former tobacco industry consultants are now hard at work devising battle plans for the food industry against California's Proposition 37. She writes:
"... Another tactic honed by Big Tobacco is to form a front group that appears to be made up of small businesses and others, in order to give the impression of a grassroots campaign, but which is really funded by large corporations. This tactic, known as Astroturfing, is alive and well with "No on 37," which describes itself as a "broad coalition of family farmers, scientists, doctors, taxpayers, small businesses, labor, food companies, biotechnology companies and grocers."
Small farmers and small businesses? I don't see any listed on the "Who We Are" page. I do see many not-so-small trade groups representing numerous not-so-small corporations, some of them from outside California, including CropLife America, which is a trade group for the biotech and pesticide industry.
... Another group with Big Tobacco origins now spreading lies about the GMO labeling initiative is the unsubtle front group California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, whose executive director recently warned us to "beware of trial lawyers lurking in your food." (It seems lawyers are scarier than altering the genetic code of the food supply.)... In sum the food industry, to oppose a simple labeling law, is hiring lawyers and consultants with ties to the tobacco industry, to deploy stealth tactics such as creating front groups, digging up dirt on opponents, and spreading outright lies.
For decades the tobacco industry and its shills hid the truth by deploying its most effective weapon: manufacturing doubt about the health hazards of smoking. How many millions of Americans died as a result of Big Tobacco's deceptive and cynical campaign? Why would we trust these same operators now?"
The Final Hope for Americans to Achieve Basic GMO Labeling
The California ballot initiative is an end run around Monsanto's government controls via the FDA and USDA. For the first time in the US, the decision to label genetically engineered foods will be put into the hands of voters. This coordinated effort has brought millions of consumers together from around the world, but some are wondering why some of the largest businesses that support labeling remain on the sideline.
With Monsanto leading the funding for opposition with $4.2M already contributed, funding for support of Prop 37 is provided by consumer associations and organic companies21.
Image Source: MapLight Voter's Edge California
As The Cornucopia Institute recently reported22, many of the companies that are contributing to defeat Proposition 37 are also some of the largest member-donors to the Organic Trade Association—the trade-lobby group for the organic industry. The OTA has long been criticized by public interest groups for its efforts to weaken the organic law and standards, and its current behavior speaks volumes, to say the least.
On the Board of Directors of the Organic Trade Association sit Julia Sabin (Smucker) and Kelly Shea (Dean Foods), both working for corporations that have contributed to the committee opposing Proposition 37.
"The Organic Trade Association lists brands as major donors, like Kashi, R.W. Knudsen, Cascadian Farm (General Mills) and others that are owned by corporations that financially contribute to defeating Proposition 37," says Cornucopia's Mark Kastel.
"The OTA is in large part run by and funded by some of the same companies that are in bed with the biotechnology industry and its destructive agricultural practices."
So the biotech industry is definitely running scared; Monsanto is leading the charge contributing $4.2 billion, and you can bet more is on the way in an attempt to buy votes with propaganda against the initiative.
We need your help!
Please contribute to the Organic Consumers Fund to ensure that Americans will finally have the basic right to know what's in their food.
I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!
Join the CA RightToKnow campaign, and tell everyone you know in California to vote YES on Proposition 37.
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 LabelGMOs.org's "Spread the Word!" page.
Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort, either through the Organic Consumers Fund.
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.
For timely updates, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.