By Dr. Mercola
Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), is a long-time leader in promoting labeling for genetically engineered (GE) foods. About four years ago, we joined forces to develop the Health Liberty alliance, with the aim to push this agenda forward.
Many may know of my involvement with GMO labelling but not realize that it was Ronnie who suggested we make use of state ballot initiatives—an option that was not widely known or utilized—to get genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeled in the US.
I donated a significant sum to the first ballot initiative in California in 2012, which inspired others to donate to the campaign as well. We technically "lost" the vote, not only in California, but also in subsequent ballot initiatives in Washington (2013) and Oregon (2014).
But we are winning the war, as these labeling initiatives have raised a considerable amount of public awareness among people who didn't even realize there were genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food.
With each ballot initiative we also got closer and closer to winning. We lost by a mere 800 votes or so in Oregon last year. In the final analysis, the only reason we lost was because industry spent well over 100 million dollars against those initiatives, and succeeded in confusing enough voters to where they narrowly won.
90 Percent of Americans Now Want GMO Labeling
Through the publicity generated from those ballot initiatives, millions of Americans were alerted to the fact that there's something in their food they don't know anything about, and according to the latest poll, over 90 percent of the public definitely do want to know what's in their food.
"The problem is that the federal government, and certainly corporate agribusiness and Big Food companies, still don't want us to know, because they know that once we are informed about what's in our food, they're going to have to change," Ronnie says.
"Lately, big food companies like McDonalds have backed down saying, 'I guess we won't use genetically engineered potatoes after all for our French fries.' We've seen Tyson say, 'Well, I guess we will get these antibiotics out.'
I think we're right on the cusp of a new era where consumers are starting to understand that we have a right to know what's in our food. We better know what's in our food! We better pay attention to that because it's impacting our health in a very serious way.
Right now we have an epidemic of chronic disease across the country. It's getting worse and worse and it's directly related to toxins in the environment, our food, and our water."
We May Be Losing Battles, But We're Winning the War
Ever since GE foods and crops came on the market a little over two decades ago, GE crops have spread all over the country, and GE soybeans, corn, cottonseed oil, canola, and sugar beets are now in most of the non-organic processed foods you find in supermarkets or grocery stores.
This despite the fact that, from the very beginning, there were suspicions they might not be safe. Today, such misgivings have grown even stronger, as the pesticides used on them have been found to be far more hazardous than previously thought.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently reclassified glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup—as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).
Recent research1 has also found that Roundup (the actual formulation of Roundup, not just glyphosate in isolation) alters disease-causing bacteria's response to commonly used antibiotics, including tetracycline and ciprofloxacin, thereby raising resistance to drugs used in medicine.
"But we could never get the government to pay attention, because the government is obviously more interested in what the chemical industry and the big agricultural companies have to say than what their constituents have to say," Ronnie notes.
"Four years ago, we decided to utilize this hundred-year-old tactic, the state ballot initiative process, to go around the federal government. Basically, put it to a vote of the citizens...
Because we knew... that once these genetically engineered foods and food ingredients are labeled, consumers don't want to buy them, grocery stores won't sell them, restaurants won't serve them, and farmers won't grow them. If we can't get the government to act, we'll have to act as our own government.
This battle for the right to know and the right to choose is not just about genetic engineering; it's about our entire food supply and really our entire environment.
Things like bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic bottles and flame retardants in furniture, these are all part of the same sad situation, which is that corporations with the connivance of federal regulators and politicians have cut corners with safety and with environmental sustainability in order to make more money.
It's our job as consumers to stand up for our rights. If the federal government has become completely beholden to the special interest, we're going to have to use whatever tool we can.
Whether it's a local county ban on a practice like a factory farm or growing genetically engineered crops, or whether it's a state law as Vermont passed last May 2014 to require labeling of genetically engineered foods."
To help you avoid GE foods and the pesticides their sprayed with, I've partnered with Naturally Savvy to create a fantastic Non-GMO Challenge that can help you identify GMOs on a product label and remove them from your diet.
GMO Labeling Up for Vote in Over a Dozen States This Year
Ronnie believes the next big battle will be over our meat and animal products. Do they come from these bucolic settings that you see on the milk cartons or in the ads on TV? Or do they come from hellacious factory farms where the animals are cramped together, drugged up, and fed GE grain?
But before then, we are looking at over a dozen states with GMO labeling initiatives on their agenda this year. Right now, Ronnie is primarily focused on Maine, where a GMO labeling bill was recently introduced. The bill has "tremendous support," Ronnie says, from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as independents.
"We just did a poll: over 90 percent of Mainers support our mandatory GMO labeling bill," he says.
There's also a lot of activity to the south of Maine, in Massachusetts, where 150 of the state legislators have come out as co-sponsors of the bill. That's three quarters of the entire legislator. Granted, the industry is hardly going to sit back and do nothing. They're pushing the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," colloquially known as the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" (DARK) Act, which is nothing if not tyrannical in its deference to industry preferences. Ronnie says:
"The Pompeo DARK bill, which at first people didn't take too seriously last year because it's so outrageous, says states will no longer have the right to pass laws about food labels or food safety. Even though states have enjoyed this right under our constitutional system of balance of powers for 150 years, they're going to take away the right of states to legislate around genetically engineered food labels.
They're saying, 'Well, it would harm sales of the big food companies if they can't call foods that have genetically engineered ingredients 'natural...' So let's let them call genetically engineered foods and ingredients 'natural' on the labels even though we know they're not.'"
International Trade Agreements Threaten Your Right to Know
On the international level, the industry is also trying to seal the deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These international trade agreements, which have been negotiated in secret by corporate lawyers and trade officials, give companies the right to sue a state or county in the United States if these labeling laws or food safety laws impact their bottom line, which, of course, they would.
As discussed in a recent interview with Ben Lilliston, vice president of Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, it's really important to stop the President from getting what's called the Fast Track authority, which allows him to negotiate and finalize a trade agreement without any input from Congress or the American people. So please, if you live in the US, contact your member of Congress and tell them to oppose Fast Track. Europeans also have many of the same concerns.
"The Europeans are up in arms about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership pact because it would weaken the mandatory labeling laws that they have on the books, and it would possibly take the recently granted right for European countries to ban genetically engineered foods and regulate toxic chemicals and pesticides if these agreements are signed," Ronnie says.
It's not going to be easy but... people are starting to realize that what we eat impacts our health... I think we're right on the edge of a new awakening, and it's not a minute too late. Because the impacts of our unhealthy food and farming system are more than just public health; they're impacting everything, from the climate to the shortages of water we're seeing in places like California. And we're literally not going to be able to feed ourselves if we don't change our system of food, farming, and how we consume food, and think about our natural health."
Update on Vermont's GMO Labeling Law
On April 16, 2014, the Vermont Senate passed the first no-strings-attached GMO labeling bill (H.112) by an overwhelming margin—28-2. The bill sailed through a House/Senate conference committee and was approved by the House of Representatives on April 23.
This was a very important victory, as you really only need one state to require GMO labeling in order to create a ripple effect across the entire country. A company simply isn't going to create a special label for one state, while keeping another for goods to be sold in other states. The negative PR alone, should they try such a stunt, would be enormous.
This is precisely why the industry is fighting tooth and nail to prevent state ballot initiatives from passing labeling bills. Their desperation was also evident in the Vermont case:
"Coca Cola and some of the other big companies rhetorically threatened Vermont at first saying, 'If you pass this law, we're not going to sell our products in your state,'" Ronnie says. I can't think of a better way to aid public health in a state, but clearly, it's not an implementable threat.
"This balance of power between the federal government and the states was embedded in our constitution for a reason: to have some checks and balances on the potential tyranny of the federal government were it to fall into the hands of special interest [groups]... And now corporate America has started to understand that consumer activists and natural health activists are learning how to use our system of democracy to obtain the beneficial hands we're working for.
They're going to panic. Of course, what do they do? They threatened Vermont also by saying, 'We're going to take you to federal court if you pass this law. We're going to tie you up in an expensive federal lawsuit. If we win, you're going to have to pay millions of dollars in damages.'
That's why, over the years, many of us in this right to know, right to choose campaign worked with some very skillful constitutional lawyers to make sure that we drafted these right to know labeling bills in such a way that they did not violate the constitution—clauses like interfering with state commerce or unfairly treating one business over another."
Vermont is now fighting for the right to keep its GMO labeling law after being sued by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), and the Snack Food Association (SFA). Ronnie is confident Vermont will win in federal court. The industry might suspect it too, and this is likely why they so desperately need their last trump cards—the DARK bill, and the international trade agreements, to take away our right to know more permanently.
Editors with Biotech Bias Removed from Journal that Retracted GMO Hazard Study
In September 2012, the first-ever lifetime feeding study assessing the health risks of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready corn (NK603) was published in Reed Elsevier’s peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology. The two-year long study2 led by Gilles-Eric Séralini revealed shocking health effects, including massive tumors and early death. Then, in November 2013, the publisher retracted the study saying it “did not meet scientific standards.” While no errors or misrepresentation of data were found, Elsevier claimed the study had to be retracted because the strain and number of animals used rendered the findings inconclusive.3,4,5,6
However, inconclusiveness of findings is not a valid ground for retraction according to the guidelines for scientific retractions set out by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).7 The retraction of Séralini’s research came on the heels of the installation of a Monsanto employee, Richard Goodman, on the publisher’s editorial staff. They’d created a brand new editorial position, Associate Editor for Biotechnology, which they gave to Goodman,8 a former Monsanto scientist for seven years.
In June 2014, the Séralini paper was re-published with open access in the Springer Group journal Environmental Sciences Europe,9 and in March of this year, Goodman was removed from the editorial board of Food and Chemical Toxicology journal.10 The pro-biotech Editor-in-Chief, A. Wallace Hayes, who retracted the study, is also being replaced. His successor is José L. Domingo, who himself has published papers showing that GE crops have questionable safety.
Monsanto is now trying to bury other damning science that will undoubtedly but a dent in their profit margin. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently classified glyphosate as a class 2 A probable carcinogen, and Monsanto is now demanding a retraction.11 Everywhere Monsanto goes, it has to use strongarm tactics to sell its wares, which alone should tell you something. In 2012, Monsanto promised the EU would feel pain lest it get more lenient on GMOs, and the infrastructure12 they’ve built up to infiltrate and manipulate the US government is impressive.
Their ability to manipulate public and scientific opinion is also robust, and industry front organizations like the Science Media Center play a critical role13 in misleading people—including reporters who don’t take the time to dig deeper—about GMO issues. Another new front group for the GMO industry is the Genetic Expert News Service (GENeS),14 set up to regurgitate industry propaganda. The website GMO Answers15 is another, and, according to Nation of Change,16 a Monsanto employee recently admitted the company indeed has “an entire department dedicated to ‘debunking’ science which disagreed with theirs”.
On Teaching Traditional Farming Methods in Mexico
Aside from being a front-running consumer's advocate, Ronnie is also a farmer, and runs a large teaching farm in Mexico. Most people don't realize that there are still three billion small farmers and rural villagers left in the world today. That's about half the world's population, and these small farmers, on one quarter of the world's cultivated land, grow 75 percent of the world's food. These small farmers have done this for thousands of years without genetically engineered seeds or toxic pesticides.
"What we decided to do in Mexico was to demonstrate that these traditional ways of farming and raising animals, which are actually organic, are still viable today, and that we could put these traditional methods together with some of the fantastic techniques that organic farmers have pioneered over the last 60 or 70 years in places like the US, India, or Great Britain.
Put these two together into a combination and show people that you can grow the healthiest food there is with very little water in a tough changing climate, and that you can serve up delicious food at a reasonable price.
What we have at the Via Organica – we call it the organic way – is a teaching and research school and a conference center, where we're bringing small farmers, agronomy students, and educators from all over the country together for conferences and workshops.
We show them that the traditional ways, in combination with modern organic bio-dynamic farming, are the way of the future: that we must learn how to grow healthy food without using inordinate amounts of water, that we can't be using fossil fuel-based pesticides and fertilizers, that we can't just grow one thing over and over again; that we've got to mimic the way that animals used to graze on vast communal pasture lands, and so on...
I think this regenerative organic revolution, as we like to put it, is part of this process. We're going to roll over the GMOs. We're going to roll over the factory farms. People are going to do like my grandparents did... cook from scratch. You want to cook with love. You want to cook with natural organic ingredients. Organic is not some modern invention.
Farmers, for 8,000 years, basically farmed organically until the World War II when chemical companies had the bright idea of, 'Hey, these chemicals we developed to make bombs and nerve gas, let's use some of them to kill bugs and to artificially force plants to grow faster. Let's put thousands of animals in a pen instead of them being outside. Let's drug them up with antibiotics and growth hormones. Let's produce the world's cheapest food even if it makes you sick because our buddies in the industrial medical complex can then make even more trillions of dollars off how sick people are.'"
Let's put an end to this. GMOs are important because they are the cornerstone of this broken, unsustainable industrial food system. It's important to realize that you're not only getting GMO's via processed, non-organic food products. You're also getting them from your meat and animal food products like eggs and milk.
This is because a majority of the GE corn and soy go into feed for animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—factory farm settings where animals are kept in the most horrid of conditions and fed this completely unnatural diet (cows, for example, typically only eat grass). They're also routinely fed various drugs and hormones to make them grow bigger, faster, and survive the whole ordeal. And, as Ronnie says, "you cannot eat drugged up animals and think it's not going to have an impact on your health."
To all of you who have participated in previous ballot initiatives to label GMOs, I want to extend a great big Thank You. You are making a difference, and I urge you to not lose hope, and to continue participating more vigorously than ever. Even though we lost the races in 2012-2014, we're winning the war because we're increasing the awareness of these issues around the country. At present, 90 percent of people want their food labeled and that, eventually, cannot be overlooked or overwritten.