A nice little Monday morning visit with our old friends at Monsanto. During our last visit we discovered that their Genetically Modified (GM) crops marketed as Roundup Ready® were suffering from newly-evolved “superweeds” that had acquired a resistance to the pesticide Roundup® and the whole scheme was becoming a nightmare for farmers locked into Monsanto’s ag system.
You’ll recall that Monsanto’s response to the problem was to formulate another pesticide (a cocktail containing Roundup® as before, but now fortified with 2,4-D, one of the main active ingredients in Agent Orange) along with newly engineered seedstock with a genetic resistance to the new cocktail.
Onward now to the ongoing (for many years) battle to mandate labeling on foodstuffs that are, or that contain, GM crops. Let’s first note that a majority of people in the US support mandatory labeling. Poll after poll (here’s just one, there are scores of them) show the level of support to be upward of 90%. What’s amazing is that this is even under debate at all — hardly anyone would say that a producer should have the right not to disclose what is in the products they are spending millions of dollars marketing as food. But that is exactly the position taken by the big ag companies, most notably our old buddy Monsanto.
We all know why. Many people are suspicious of GM foods, and feel that the safety testing has been inadequate or otherwise suspect. A fair few just don’t like the idea as a matter of personal philosophy, and would never knowingly ingest them. Many others feel that the products are probably safe enough, but even in that group the majority say that the producers have an obligation to inform the consumer.
Monsanto fears that if there was a legal requirement to label all foods that contained their products then sales would crater. It really is that simple. We know this because they have said so many years ago;
“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
That would be the same FDA whose funding the GOP would gut if they could manage to do so, by the way.
It’s about money. That’s it. The perfectly normal and sensible desires of more than 90% of consumers to be reliably informed of what they are eating are subordinated to the financial aspirations of a small group of very large and politically powerful agricultural corporations.
This fight has been going on now for more than 20 years. How is it, we might reasonably ask, that with that kind of popular support this whole issue was not a slam-dunk?
The way it’s supposed to work with those kinds of numbers is that the elected representatives take the desires of the people into the legislative process and just make it happen. It’s not as if such legislation would be restricting anyone’s free choices for crissakes, in fact the reverse is quite obviously true. In the present situation the free choice as to whether to consume GM foods or not is impossible. It can be labeled any way the producers want, even as “Natural”, which is common practice and which is a carefully focus-grouped and emotive word that means nothing at all.
How did this happen? Here’s a casebook study of how, using a current case in Vermont as an example of a strategy that Monsanto et al has pursued resolutely since day one….
….First, you send “experts” to lie through their teeth at the hearings;
During the hearings the Vermont legislature was deluged with calls, letters, and e-mails urging passage of a GMO labeling bill – more than on any other bill since the fight over Civil Unions in 1999-2000. The legislature heard from pro-labeling witnesses such as Dr. Michael Hansen, an expert on genetic engineering from the Consumers Union, who shredded industry claims that GMO’s are safe and that consumers don’t need to know if their food is contaminated with them.
On the other side of the fence, Monsanto’s lobbyist and Vermont mouthpiece, Margaret Laggis employed inaccurate, unsubstantiated, fear-mongering claims to make Monsanto’s case. She warned during the hearings that if this law were passed, there would not be enough corn, canola, and soybean seed for Vermont farmers to plant.
Laggis lied when she said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had done exhaustive feeding tests on genetically modified foods. Hansen corrected her, testifying that all of the GMO feeding tests submitted to the FDA were conducted by Monsanto and other GMO corporations and that the FDA had not done any GMO testing of its own.
Laggis lied again when she claimed that a recent Canadian study showing that more than 90% pregnant women had high levels of a genetically modified bacterial pesticide in their blood resulted from them “eating too much organic food” during pregnancy. Again, Hansen refuted this nonsense by pointing out that the Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) bacterium spray used by organic growers is chemically and materially different from the GMO Bt bacterium which showed up in the pregnant women’s blood and the umbilical cords of their fetuses. Hanson pointed that the high levels of Monsanto’s mutant Bt in the women’s blood was due to the widespread cultivation of GMO corn, cotton, soy, and canola.
Monsanto has been doing this for 20 years and more, all over the country, whenever a legislature is considering a bill to mandate labeling. It’s standard procedure. Sometimes it works, but sometimes the proponents of the labeling laws are prepared to trade punches, as in this Vermont case;
The committee heard testimony that European Union studies have been conducted which showed that even short-term feeding studies of GMO crops caused 43.5% of male test animals to suffer kidney abnormalities, and 30.8% of female test animals to suffer liver abnormalities. Studies also have shown that the intestinal lining of animals fed GMO food was thickened compared to the control animals. All of these short-term results could become chronic, and thus precursors to cancer.
Studies like these have prompted 50 nations around the world to pass laws requiring mandatory labels on GMO foods.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Monsanto is tough. When fabrications and misrepresentations don’t work, it’s time to deploy the backup plan that has yet to fail. Sue their asses off. Vermont, one of the most progressive States in the country in many ways, has very good reason to know how this game is played;
When Vermont became the first state in the nation in 1994 to require mandatory labels on milk and dairy products derived from cows injected with the controversial genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone, Monsanto’s minions sued in Federal Court and won on a judge’s decision that dairy corporations have the first amendment “right” to remain silent on whether or not they are injecting their cows with rBGH – even though rBGH has been linked to severe health damage in cows and increased cancer risk for humans, and is banned in much of the industrialized world, including Europe and Canada.
Let’s pause to savor the salient feature of that paragraph just once more — a corporation has the “right to remain silent” about what they are shooting their cows up with, then sell you the milk, even though there is plenty of non-trivial evidence that harm may occur, and other technologically advanced nations have banned the practice as a result of that evidence of harm!
So that’s what Monsanto has done again in Vermont — brought in the legal heavies;
Despite overwhelming public support and support from a clear majority of Vermont’s Agriculture Committee, Vermont legislators are dragging their feet on a proposed GMO labeling bill. Why? Because Monsanto has threatened to sue the state if the bill passes.
The popular legislative bill requiring mandatory labels on genetically engineered food (H-722) is languishing in the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, with only four weeks left until the legislature adjourns for the year. Despite thousands of emails and calls from constituents who overwhelmingly support mandatory labeling, despite the fact that a majority (6 to 5) of Agriculture Committee members support passage of the measure, Vermont legislators are holding up the labeling bill and refusing to take a vote.
This whole issue is unlikely to be even peripheral in the upcoming election campaigns. But then again maybe not. Monsanto isn’t giving up the fight, but then neither is anyone else. Activists have taken a leaf out of the “life begins at conception” crowd’s playbook, and are now pushing for a ballot initiative in California.
A broad and growing coalition of health, environment and consumer advocacy groups are now coming together to fight back, including the Organic Consumers Association, Organic Consumers Fund, Food Democracy Now!, Mercola.com, Nature’s Path, Lundberg Family Farms, LabelGMOs.org, Eden Foods, Alliance for Natural Health, Dr. Bronner’s, United Farm Workers Union, American Public Health Association, Cornucopia Institute, Institute for Responsible Technology, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, California Certified Organic Farmers, and scores of others.
Naturally enough the industry is manning the ramparts too, and Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association – under the wing of its front group with the Rovianesque title of the Coalition Against the Costly Food Law – are amassing financial resources to defeat the initiative.
No way to know how this will all play out. But it should never have come to this. The idea that consumers should not have the right to know what is in their food, and how it is produced, is too preposterous to discuss. That the consumers’ rights should be eclipsed by an entirely spurious “right” of the producers to “remain silent” is not only preposterous, but frankly obscene.
Meanwhile, shop carefully, and support your local farmer if you can. Check around for a Community Supported Agriculture operation in you neighborhood. And don’t just shut up and eat it.