By: Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association
"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 and Food Inc.'s stranglehold over the nation's food and farming system is about to be challenged in a food fight that will largely determine the future of American agriculture.
A growing corps of organic food and health activists in California—supported by consumers and farmers across the nation—are boldly standing up to Monsanto and its minions, taking the first steps to expose the widespread contamination of non-organic grocery store foods with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and moving to implement mandatory GMO labeling through a grassroots-powered Citizens Ballot Initiative process.
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This week, lawyers representing a broad and unprecedented health, environmental, and consumer coalition, including the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, Center for Food Safety, Mercola.com, Nature's Path, Natural News.com, LabelGMOs.org, Food Democracy Now, and the Institute for Responsible Technology, filed papers with the California Attorney General's office to place a Citizens Initiative on the Ballot in November, 2012 that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients.
If California voters pass this ballot initiative in 2012, it will likely be the beginning of the end for Monsanto and genetically engineered food in the U.S. According to Zuri Starr, a Southern California field organizer for the Organic Consumers Association:
"The California Ballot Initiative is perhaps our last chance to stop the Biotech Express, to overthrow Biotechnology's dictatorial regime and build a safe and sustainable food and farming system based upon the ethical principles of consumer choice and BioDemocracy."
Moving the Battleground
After 20 years of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically modified (GM) foods to animals and humans—aided and abetted by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations— a critical mass of food and health activists have decided it's time to move beyond small skirmishes and losing battles and go on the offensive.
It's time to move the food fight over labeling GM food from the unfavorable terrain of Washington D.C. and Capitol Hill, where Monsanto and Food Inc. exercise control, to California, the heartland of organic food and farming and anti-GMO sentiment, where 80-85 percent of the body politic, according to recent polls, support mandatory labeling.
The trillion-dollar biotech, supermarket, and food industry are acutely conscious of the fact that North American consumers, like their European counterparts, are wary and suspicious of genetically engineered food.
Consumers understand you don't want your food safety or environmental sustainability decisions to be made by out-of-control chemical and biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, or DuPont--the same people who brought us toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals, Agent Orange, carcinogenic food additives, and PCBs. Biotech, food, and grocery corporations are alarmed by the fact that every poll over the last 20 years has shown that 85-95 percent of American consumers want mandatory labels on genetically modified foods.
Europe Shows Labels Drive GMOs off the Market
Why are there basically no genetically engineered foods or crops anywhere in Europe, while 75 percent of U.S. supermarket foods—including many so-called "natural" foods—are GE tainted?
The answer is simple. In Europe genetically modified foods and ingredients have to be labeled. In the U.S. they do not. Up until now, in North America, Monsanto and the Biotechnocrats have enjoyed free reign to secretly lace non-organic foods with gene-spliced viruses, bacteria, antibiotic-resistant marker genes, and foreign DNA—mutant "Frankenfoods" shown to severely damage the health of animals, plants, and other living organisms in numerous scientific studies.
Monsanto and their allies understand the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs.
As soon as genetically modified foods start to be labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will start to read these labels and react. They'll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they'll talk to their family and friends. They'll start switching to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers start complaining about GM foods and food ingredients; stores will eventually stop selling them; and farmers will stop planting them.
Genetically engineered foods have absolutely no benefit for consumers or the environment, only hazards.
This is why Monsanto and their friends in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have prevented consumer GMO truth-in-labeling laws from ever getting a public discussion, much less coming to a vote in Congress. And this is why activists are launching the California Ballot Initiative. By moving the battle from the federal level to the state level, by employing one of the last remaining tools of direct grassroots democracy in the USA, the ballot initiative, concerned consumers can bypass Washington and regain their fundamental right to know what they are eating.
Passing mandatory GMO labeling in just one large state, California, where there is tremendous opposition to GM foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.
If California food and health activists succeed in putting a GMO labeling initiative on the ballot in 2012 and the voters pass it, the biotech and food industry will face an intractable dilemma. Will they dare put labels on their branded food products in just one state, California, admitting these products contain or may contain genetically engineered ingredients, while withholding this ingredient label information in the other states? Will they allow their organic and non-GMO competitors to drive down their GMO-tainted brand market share? The answer to both of these questions is likely no. What most of them will do is start to shift to organic and non-GMO ingredients, so as to avoid what the Monsanto executive 16 years ago aptly described as the "skull and crossbones" label.
California Label Laws Have National Impact: Proposition 65
A clear indication of the impact of warning labels on consumer products was established in California in 1986 when voters passed, over the strenuous opposition of industry, a ballot initiative called Proposition 65, which required consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels. Rather than label their products sold in California as likely carcinogenic, most companies reformulated their product ingredients so as to avoid warning labels altogether, and they did this on a national scale, not just in California.
This same scenario will likely unfold again in California in 2012. Can you imagine Kellogg's selling its Corn Flakes breakfast cereal in California with a label that admits it contains or may contain genetically engineered corn? How about Kraft Boca Burgers admitting that their soybean ingredients are genetically modified?
How about the entire non-organic food industry (including many so-called "natural" brands) admitting that 75 percent of their products are GE-tainted? Once food manufacturers and supermarkets are forced to come clean and label genetically engineered products, they will likely remove all GM ingredients, to avoid the "skull and crossbones" effect, just like the food industry in the EU has done. In the wake of this development American farmers will convert millions of acres of GM crops to non-GMO or organic varieties.
Finally consumers will be able to tell the difference between organic food (labeled as "organic" and thereby GMO-free); natural food (which will not have a GMO label), and bogus "natural" food (which will be required to display the label "contains or may contain GMOs").
What Now? OCA Needs Volunteers and Money
Since we don't have a couple of million dollars to spare like Monsanto does, we're going to have to rely on an army of volunteers to gather signatures. These volunteers can be trained and coordinated by our small but highly dedicated and experienced paid campaign staff and consultants, but for the most part we must drive this campaign forward with volunteer labor.
Keep Fighting for Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods
While California Prop. 37 failed to pass last November, by a very narrow margin, the fight for GMO labeling is far from over. The field-of-play has now moved to the state of Washington, where the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," will require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. As stated on LabelitWA.org:
"Calorie and nutritional information were not always required on food labels. But since 1990 it has been required and most consumers use this information every day. Country-of-origin labeling wasn't required until 2002. The trans fat content of foods didn't have to be labeled until 2006. Now, all of these labeling requirements are accepted as important for consumers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also says we must know with labeling if our orange juice is from fresh oranges or frozen concentrate.
Doesn't it make sense that genetically engineered foods containing experimental viral, bacterial, insect, plant or animal genes should be labeled, too? Genetically engineered foods do not have to be tested for safety before entering the market. No long-term human feeding studies have been done. The research we have is raising serious questions about the impact to human health and the environment.
I-522 provides the transparency people deserve. I-522 will not raise costs to consumers or food producers. It simply would add more information to food labels, which manufacturers change routinely anyway, all the time. I-522 does not impose any significant cost on our state. It does not require the state to conduct label surveillance, or to initiate or pursue enforcement. The state may choose to do so, as a policy choice, but I-522 was written to avoid raising costs to the state or consumers."
Remember, as with CA Prop. 37, they need support of people like YOU to succeed. Prop. 37 failed with a very narrow margin simply because we didn't have the funds to counter the massive ad campaigns created by the No on 37 camp, led by Monsanto and other major food companies. Let's not allow Monsanto and its allies to confuse and mislead the people of Washington and Vermont as they did in California. So please, I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can, regardless of what state you live in.
- No matter where you live in the United States, please donate money to these labeling efforts through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- If you live in Washington State, please sign the I-522 petition. You can also volunteer to help gather signatures across the state.
- For timely updates on issues relating to these and other labeling initiatives, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
- Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the Washington initiative.