Monsanto and Big Food losing the GMO and ‘natural’ food fight

Photo: Kevin Van den Panhuyzen
Photo: Kevin Van den Panhuyzen


By Ronnie Cummins, April 24, 2014. Source: Huffington Post

After 20 years of battling Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, food and farm activists in Vermont, backed by a growing movement across the country, are on the verge of a monumental victory — mandatory labels on genetically engineered foods and a ban on the routine industry practice of labeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural.”

On April 16, 2014, the Vermont Senate passed H.112 by a vote of 28-2, following up on the passage of a similar bill in the Vermont House last year. The legislation, which requires all GMO foods sold in Vermont to be labeled by July 1, 2016, will now pass through a House/Senate conference committee before landing on Governor Peter Shumlin’s desk, for final approval.

Strictly speaking, Vermont’s H.112 applies only to Vermont. But it will have the same impact on the marketplace as a federal law. Because national food and beverage companies and supermarkets will not likely risk the ire of their customers by admitting that many of the foods and brands they are selling in Vermont are genetically engineered, and deceptively labeled as “natural” or “all natural” while simultaneously trying to conceal this fact in the other 49 states and North American markets. As a seed executive for Monsanto admitted 20 years ago, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.”

Proof of this “skull and crossbones” effect is evident in the European Union, where mandatory labeling, in effect since 1997, has all but driven genetically engineered foods and crops off the market. The only significant remaining GMOs in Europe today are imported grains (corn, soy, canola, cotton seed) primarily from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. These grains are used for animal feed, hidden from public view by the fact that meat, dairy and eggs derived from animals fed GMOs do not yet have to be labeled in the EU.

Given the imminent passage of the Vermont legislation and the growing strength of America’s anti-GMO and pro-organic movement, the Gene Giants — Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta — and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), representing Big Food, find themselves in a difficult position. Early polls indicate that Oregon voters will likely pass a ballot initiative on Nov. 4, 2014, to require mandatory labeling of GMOs in Oregon. Meanwhile, momentum for labeling continues to gather speed in other states as well.

Connecticut and Maine have already passed GMO labeling laws, but these laws contain “trigger” clauses, which prevent them from going into effect until other states mandate labeling as well. Vermont’s law does not contain a “trigger” clause. As soon as the governor signs it, it will have the force of law.

Divisions Between Big Food and the Gene Giants

Given what appears to be the inevitable victory of the consumer right-to-know movement, some of the U.S.’s largest food companies have quietly begun distancing themselves from Monsanto and the genetic engineering lobby. General Mills, Post Foods, Chipotle, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and others have begun to make changes in their supply chains in order to eliminate GMOs in some or all of their products. Several hundred companies have enrolled in the Non-GMO Project so they can credibly market their products as GMO-free.

At least 30 members (10 percent of the total membership) of the GMA who contributed money to defeat Proposition 37 in California in November 2012, have held back on making further contributions to stop labeling initiatives in other states. Among the apparent defectors in the GMA ranks are: Mars, Unilever, Smithfield, Heinz, Sara Lee, Dole, Wrigley, and Mead Johnson. Under pressure from the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Anthony Weil’s natural health and supplements company, Weil Lifestyle, pulled out of the GMA.

Meanwhile a number of the Gene Giants themselves, including Monsanto, appear to be slowly decreasing their investments in gene-spliced GMOs, while increasing their investments in more traditional, and less controversial, cross-breeding and hybrid seed sales. Still, don’t expect the Gene Giants to give up on the GMO seeds and crops already in production, especially Roundup Ready and Bt-spliced crops, nor those in the pipeline such as 2,4-D “Agent Orange” and Dicamba-resistant corn and soybeans, GE rice, and “RNA interference” crops such as non-browning apples, and fast-growing genetically engineered trees.

America’s giant food companies and their chemical industry allies understand the threat posed by truthful labeling of GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth promoters and toxic chemicals. They understand full well that the GMO monocrops and factory farms that dominate U.S. agriculture not only pose serious health and environmental hazards, but represent a significant public relations liability as well.

This is why the food and GE giants are threatening to sue Vermont and any other state that dares to pass a GMO labeling bill, even though industry lawyers have no doubt informed them that they are unlikely to win in federal court.

This is also why corporate agribusiness is supporting “Ag Gag” state laws making it a crime to photograph or film on factory farms. Why they’re lobbying for state laws that take away the rights of counties and local communities to regulate agricultural practices. And why they’re supporting secret international trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will, among other provisions, enable multinational corporations to sue and eliminate state and local laws on matters such as GMOs, food safety, and country of origin labeling.

The bottom line is this: Corporate America’s current “business-as-usual” strategies are incompatible with consumers’ right to know, and communities’ and states’ rights to legislate.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, Safeway, Del Monte, Nestlé, Unilever, ConAgra, Wal-Mart, and every food manufacturer with GMO-tainted brands, understand they’re not going to be able to label their products as “produced with genetic engineering,” or drop the use of the term “natural” on GMO-tainted products, only in Vermont, while refusing to do so in other states and international markets. This is why their powerful front group, the GMA, is frantically working in Washington, D.C., to lobby the FDA and the Congress to take away the right of states to require genetically engineered foods and food ingredients to be labeled, and to allow them to continue to label and advertise genetically engineered and chemically-laced foods as “natural” or “all natural.”

Industry’s Last Chance: Indentured Politicians

Conspiring with the GMA, Monsanto’s minions from both the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress, led by the notorious Koch brothers mouthpiece, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), introduced in early April in the House a GMA-scripted bill to outlaw mandatory state GMO labels and allow the continued use of “natural” or “all natural” product labels on a wide range of Frankenfoods and beverages.

The GMA’s federal offensive to prop up the dangerous and evermore unpopular technology of transgenic foods comes on the heels of two high-profile ballot initiative battles in California (2012), and Washington State (2013), where GMA members were forced to spend almost $70 million to narrowly defeat GMO labeling forces. The 15 largest contributors to stop GMO labeling in California and Washington include the following GMA members:

(1) Monsanto: $13,487,350
(2) Dupont: $9,280,159
(3) Pepsico: $4,837,966
(4) Coca-Cola: $3,210,851
(5) Nestlé: $2,989,806
(6) Bayer CropScience: $2,591,654
(7) Dow Agrosciences: $2,591,654
(8) BASF Plant Science: $2,500,000
(9) Kraft Foods (Mondolez International) $2,391,835
(10) General Mills: $2,099,570
(11) ConAgra Foods: $2,004,951
(12) Syngenta: $2,000,000
(13) Kellogg’s: $1,112,749
(14) Campbell Soup: $982,888
(15) Smucker Company: $904,977

The Fire Next Time

These “dirty tricks,” “dirty money” ballot initiative victories in California and Washington now ring hollow. If Congress or the FDA, prompted by these same companies, dare to stomp on states’ rights to require GMO labels on GMO food, if they dare to repress the rights of millions of consumers to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered, they run the very real risk of detonating an even larger and more vociferous grassroots rebellion, including massive boycotts and a concerted effort to throw “Monsanto’s Minions” out of Congress. The widespread furor last year over the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act,” surreptitiously appended to the Appropriations Bill, and then, after massive uproar, subsequently removed, is but a partial foreshadowing of the turmoil yet to come.

Likewise Congress or the FDA should think twice before legally sanctioning the patently outrageous practice of allowing companies to continue to label or advertise GMO or chemically tainted food as “natural” or “all natural.”

Given the fact that 80-90 percent of American consumers want genetically engineered foods to be labeled, as indicated by numerous polls over the last 10 years, and given the fact that it is obviously unethical and fraudulent to label or advertise GMO or heavily chemically processed foods as “natural,” even the FDA has so far declined to come to the rescue of Monsanto and Big Food. In the face of 65 so far largely successful national class-action lawsuits against food companies accused of fraudulently labeling their GMO or chemically-laced brands as “natural, “Big Food’s lawyers have asked the FDA to come to their aid. But so far, the FDA has declined to throw gasoline on the fire.

It’s clear why “profit at any cost” big business wants to keep consumers in the dark. They want to maximize their profits. The consumer, the environment, the climate be damned. But let’s review, for the record, why truthful food labeling is so important to us, the overwhelming majority of the people, and to future generations.

Here are three major, indeed life-or-death, issues that drive America’s new anti-GMO and pro-organic food movement:

(1) There is mounting, and indeed alarming, evidence that genetically engineered foods and crops, and the toxic pesticides, chemicals, and genetic constructs that accompany them, are hazardous. GMOs pose a mortal threat, not only to human and animal health, but also to the environment, biodiversity, the survival of small-scale family farms, and climate stability.

(2) Genetically engineered crops are the technological cornerstone and ideological rationale for our dominant, out-of-control system of industrial agriculture, factory farms, and highly processed junk food.America’s industrial food and farming system is literally destroying public health, the environment, soil fertility and climate stability. As we educate, boycott and mobilize, as we label and drive GMOs off the market, we simultaneously rip the mask off Big Food and chemical corporations, which will ultimately undermine industrial agriculture and speed up the “Great Transition” to a food and farming system that is organic, sustainable and climate stabilizing.

(3) Fraudulent “natural” labels confuse consumers and hold back the growth of true organic alternatives. Consumers are confused about the difference between conventional products marketed as “natural,” or “all natural”and those nutritionally and environmentally superior products that are “certified organic.” Recent polls indicate that many health- and green-minded consumers remain confused about the qualitative difference between products labeled or advertised as “natural,” versus those labeled as organic. Many believe that “natural” means “almost organic,” or that a natural product is even better than organic. Thanks to growing consumer awareness, and four decades of hard work, the organic community has built up a $35-billion “certified organic” food and products sector that prohibits the use of genetic engineering, irradiation, toxic pesticides, sewage sludge and chemical fertilizers. As impressive as this $35 billion Organic Alternative is, it remains overshadowed by the $80 billion in annual spending by consumers on products marketed as “natural.” Get rid of fraudulent “natural” labels on GMO and chemically tainted products, and organic sales will skyrocket.

With the passage of the Vermont GMO labeling law, after 20 years of struggle, it’s time to celebrate our common victory. But as we all know, the battle for a new food and farming system, and a sustainable future has just begun

Standing Against GMOs Is Standing for Sovereignty




There are plenty of reasons to join the cause to label or eliminate foods that contain genetically modified ingredients: first of all, just because something is deemed legal by the government does not make it safe for humans. Ask any indigenous person in any country: how many things deemed “legal” have done harm to their cultures and communities? GMOs are no different.

Take Hawaii, for example. Last year the chain of islands organized several large demonstrations to speak out against the biotech companies trying to make the island state their home. Because Hawaii is geographically isolated and has an ideal growing climate, plus abundant natural resources, five of the world’s biggest biotech companies have targeted the islands as their testing field for chemical and food engineering. What does this mean? Well, to Hawaiians it means that over 70 different chemicals have been sprayed onto genetically engineered crops during field tests that went undisclosed to the public—meaning the surrounding communities were given no warning nor a chance to protect themselves from exposure through wind, water or contaminated soil. Some of these field tests took place near homes and schools. All of this in a state where adult on-set diabetes and cancer rates have increased over the last 10 years.

Many native Hawaiians are actively speaking out against the genetic modification of their food supply, stating that GMOs are sacrilegious to their indigenous culture. Miliani B. Strask, a native Hawaiian attorney wrote, “For Hawaii’s indigenous peoples, the concepts underlying genetic manipulation of life forms are offensive and contrary to the cultural values of aloha ‘ʻāina [love for the land].”

Across the ocean in a vastly different climate, the Diné are in accord. In 2013 The Navajo Nation declared themselves to be a GMO and pesticide-free nation. This encompasses 10 million acres of land and more than 250,000 people. Their reasoning? In part: Corn is sacred.

In the year 2000, only 25 percent of the corn growing in the United States was genetically modified. In 2013 that number was up to 90 percent. Along with more GMO corn comes more super-weeds and super-pests adapting to live alongside the corn, which then needs even more intense super-chemicals to kill them off. Biotech companies like Monsanto have even been allowed to patent their seeds. If their seeds blow into your field and begin to grow? You owe them money. This has led to thousands of farmers in India to take their own life as they spiral into a debt they cannot pay off.

In their resolution against GMOs and pesticides, the Dine cited the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, specifically Article 31, which states:

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies, and cultures, including . . . seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora  . . .”

GMOs may cause yet-unknown health consequences, but as indigenous people they may also threaten cultural heritage, tradition and even sovereignty. Corn IS sacred. It is our mother and our nurturer. We cannot stand idly by as she is mutated and commoditized into something that poisons the land, the water and the people.

Over 61 countries, covering 40 percent of the world’s population and all of the European Union already label genetically modified foods. And in 50 countries there are severe restrictions or outright bans of GMOs—Canada and the United States are not among any of these countries. Whether you believe genetically modified food can cause cancer or not, this is one cause worth standing up for: plant heirloom seeds in your garden, don’t use pesticides and herbicides, and vote to label GMO foods. If labeling GMO foods isn’t on your local ballot, fight to get it on there.

Darla Antoine is an enrolled member of the Okanagan Indian Band in British Columbia and grew up in Eastern Washington State. For three years, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the Midwest, reporting on issues relevant to the Native and Hispanic communities, and most recently served as a producer for Native America Calling. In 2011, she moved to Costa Rica, where she currently lives with her husband and their infant son. She lives on an organic and sustainable farm in the “cloud forest”—the highlands of Costa Rica, 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to the high elevation, the conditions for farming and gardening are similar to that of the Pacific Northwest—cold and rainy for most of the year with a short growing season. Antoine has an herb garden, green house, a bee hive, cows, a goat, and two trout ponds stocked with hundreds of rainbow trout.



GMO labeling debate shifts to Olympia


Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

by Associated Press

January 17, 2014

SEATTLE — Months after Washington voters narrowly rejected an initiative requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, lawmakers are reviving the GMO debate in Olympia.

One bill would require labeling genetically engineered salmon for sale, even though federal regulators have not yet approved any genetically modified animals for food. Another bill requires many foods containing GMOs to carry a label.

The debate comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval of an apple engineered not to brown. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also weighing an application for a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal.

In Olympia, a public hearing is scheduled Friday in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on the bill. That measure also would prohibit genetically engineered finfish from being produced in state waters

More money pours into Wash. food labeling fight

October 29, 2013 

By PHUONG LE — Associated Press

SEATTLE — A group fighting food labeling in Washington state has busted the record for the most money raised by an initiative campaign in state history.

Largely financed by five biotechnology giants and a food industry group, the No on 522 committee has raised nearly $22 million to defeat Initiative 522, which would require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to carry a label, the latest campaign finance records show.

Initiative supporters have raised about $6.8 million, mostly from natural food companies and others.

Opponents of food-labeling have received an infusion of last-minute contributions with just days to go until the November election. Monsanto Co. gave $540,000 on Monday to No on 522, bringing the company’s total contributions to nearly $5.4 million. Monsanto is the second highest contributor fighting the measure.

A political committee formed by the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association is the top contributor to No on 522, giving $11 million total. About a third of that amount has come in the last several days.

The food group has collected money from the nation’s top food and beverage companies such as PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Nestle SA, General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., The Hershey Co. and ConAgra Foods Inc.

On Nov. 5, Washington voters will decide whether to approve I-522, which requires genetically engineered foods offered for retail sale to be labeled. Products would have to carry a label on the front of the package disclosing that they contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether foods they buy contain such ingredients and a GMO label is no different from nutrition and other labels. Opponents say it would cost farmers and food processors and such a label implies the food is somehow less safe.

Moriah Armstrong, 67, who lives on Orcas Island, has already cast her mail-in ballot in support of the initiative. She said she has been alarmed by the amount of money that initiative opponents appear to have spent on numerous television ads, campaign fliers and phone calls.

“Time and time again corporations are using their money to influence the voters. I’d like to see the little man beat out the corporations’ big spending,” said Armstrong, a retiree who gave $50 to labeling supporters.

Armstrong said she voted for the measure because she believes in transparency and that the public has the right to know what’s in their food.

Doreen Wardenaar, whose family runs a farm in the eastern Washington town of Othello, opposes the measure.

“We feel strongly that it will add another layer to our bureaucracy that isn’t needed and Washington should fall in line with federal standards,” said Wardenaar, whose family grows potatoes, onions and fresh packaged sweet corn. “That would be an unfair playing field for Washington farmers.”

Wardenaar, whose husband gave $50 to No on 522, said the influx of money from the big corporations doesn’t help the cause. Still, she said: “I’m no attorney, but it just sounds like a mess to me.”

She said she looked at the initiative and decided it would be expensive and would put Washington farmers at a disadvantage. The farm grows crops that aren’t genetically modified, but they’re concerned it would cost them money to prove that, she said.

No scientific consensus on GMO safety – scientists release statement saying public is being misled

Earth Open Source, Monday 21 October 2013

There is no scientific consensus that genetically modified foods and crops are safe, according to a statement released today by an international group of over 85 scientists, academics and physicians.[1]

The statement comes in response to recent claims from the GM industry and some scientists and commentators that there is a “scientific consensus” that GM foods and crops are safe for human and animal health and the environment. The statement calls such claims “misleading” and states, “The claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist.”

Commenting on the statement, one of the signatories, Professor Brian Wynne, associate director and co-principal investigator from 2002-2012 of the UK ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, Cesagen, Lancaster University, said: “There is no consensus amongst scientific researchers over the health or environmental safety of GM crops and foods, and it is misleading and irresponsible for anyone to claim that there is. Many salient questions remain open, while more are being discovered and reported by independent scientists in the international scientific literature. Indeed some key public interest questions revealed by such research have been left neglected for years by the huge imbalance in research funding, against thorough biosafety research and in favour of the commercial-scientific promotion of this technology.”


Another signatory, Professor C. Vyvyan Howard, a medically qualified toxicopathologist based at the University of Ulster, said: “A substantial number of studies suggest that GM crops and foods can be toxic or allergenic, and that they can have adverse impacts on beneficial and non-target organisms. It is often claimed that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects. But as the US has no GMO labelling and no epidemiological studies have been carried out, there is no way of knowing whether the rising rates of chronic diseases seen in that country have anything to do with GM food consumption or not. Therefore this claim has no scientific basis.”

A third signatory to the statement, Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex University and member of the UK government’s GM Science Review Panel, said: “The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.”

The scientists’ statement was released by the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility in the week after the World Food Prize was awarded to employees of the GM seed giants Monsanto and Syngenta and UK environment secretary Owen Paterson branded opponents of GM foods as “wicked”.

Signatories of the statement include prominent and respected scientists, including Dr Hans Herren, a former winner of the World Food Prize and an Alternative Nobel Prize laureate, and Dr Pushpa Bhargava, known as the father of modern biotechnology in India.

Claire Robinson, research director at Earth Open Source commented, “The joint statement and comments of the senior scientists and academics make clear those who claim there is a scientific consensus over GMO safety are really engaged in a partisan bid to shut down debate.

“We have to ask why these people are so desperate to prevent further exploration of an issue that is of immense significance for the future of our food and agriculture. We actually need not less but more public debate on the impacts of this technology, particularly given the proven effective alternatives that are being sidelined in the rush to promote GM.”


Summary of the statement, “No scientific consensus on GMO safety”:

1. There is no scientific consensus that GM crops and foods are safe for human and animal health.

2. A peer-reviewed review of safety studies on GM crops and foods found about an equal number of research groups raising concerns about GMO safety as groups concluding safety. However, most researchers concluding safety were affiliated with biotechnology companies that stood to profit from commercializing the GM crop concerned.

3. A review that is often cited to show GM crops and foods are safe in fact includes studies that raised concerns. Scientists disagree about the interpretation of these findings.

4. No epidemiological studies have been carried out to find out if GM crops are affecting human health, so claims that millions of Americans eat GM foods with no ill effects have no scientific basis.

5. There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GM crops for the environment. Studies have associated GM herbicide-tolerant crops with increased herbicide use and GM insecticidal crops with unexpected toxic impacts on non-target organisms.

6. A survey among scientists showed that those who received funding from biotech companies were more likely to believe GM crops were safe for the environment, whereas independent scientists were more likely to emphasize uncertainties.

7. Although some scientific bodies have made broadly supportive statements about GM over the years, these often contain significant caveats, call for better regulation, and draw attention to the risks as well as the potential benefits of GMOs. A statement by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) claiming GMO safety was challenged by 21 scientists, including long-standing members of the AAAS.

8. International agreements such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety exist because experts worldwide believe that a strongly precautionary attitude is justified in the case of GMOs. Concerns about risks are well-founded, as can be seen by the often complex, contradictory, and inconclusive findings of safety studies on GMOs.

Will GMO Labels Alter Consumers’ Perception Of Specialty Foods?

Northwest News Network, source: OPB

In the food business, everything comes down to that moment when a shopper studies a label and decides whether to buy or move on. That’s why food producers have a big interest in Washington’s Initiative 522 on the ballot next month.

It would require foods with genetically engineered ingredients to have a label on the front of the package. Supporters say consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. But some companies worry the law could dramatically change how their products are seen.

Updating labels

Tubs of veggie dip go three-by-three through a labeling machine on the production floor at Litehouse Foods in Sandpoint, Idaho. They pop out the other side with “Country Ranch” stickers stamped on the lid.

None of the elements on that label are there by accident says Kathy Weisz, the head of graphic design for Litehouse.

“We’re trying to convey to the consumer what it might taste like,” she says. “Kind of the feel of that product.”

Litehouse markets to “foodie” shoppers. The side of the label says “made fresh.” The company uses raw ingredients, without preservatives — which is why the dressings are refrigerated.

Weisz says the label involves a constant dance between pictures of sliced tomatoes and sunflowers and the stuff on the label that has to be there legally — like nutrition content, and ingredients.

So, Weisz says it’s not that big of a deal to add one more thing to the label. “Label updates happen all the time.”

When was the last one?

“Today, yesterday … it’s always something,” says Weisz.

But the initiative before Washington voters would create a labeling rule that’s a little bit different from others. The label saying “genetically engineered” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” would have to go on the front of the package and it would be specific to one state.

“I mean we already do sell to Canada and Mexico and that’s difficult enough,” says Weisz. “But starting to treat a state like a country – I would think that most manufacturers are just going to do it across the board, rather than making certain labels going to certain states or whatever.”

Meaning that people in Idaho and Oregon would be seeing the same thing as consumers in Washington.

That worries Paul Kusche, the senior vice president of Litehouse. He says the supply of non-genetically engineered canola and soybean oil just isn’t large enough to overhaul the company’s entire product line. If Initiative 522 passes, consumers will see labels on most of Litehouse’s products.

“I don’t know what the reaction is,” Kusche says. “I really don’t.”

“Our right to know”

Research shows price, not labeling, is the most important factor for many shoppers. But companies like Litehouse cater to a particular crowd: the label readers — people who are willing to pay more for a product they perceive as healthier.

Andie Forstad, who lives outside of Spokane, helped gather signatures to put the labeling initiative on the ballot. To her, it’s about having information about her food – just like the calorie count on a box of cookies or whether her juice comes from concentrate.

“For transparency, for our right to know. So that we can make an informed decision,” says Forstad . “I know people still buy genetically engineered products, but for those who wish not to, we can make that choice.”

Forstad cut genetically engineered foods out of her diet eight years ago. But she says it’s hard. In fact, as we’re looking through her refrigerator, Forstad spies a bottle of raspberry syrup.

“Okay, so this one, most likely is genetically engineered,” she says. “And I just noticed it in our fridge, but it hasn’t been used! [I know] because it says sugar. Most sugars are sugar beet and sugar beet is genetically engineered. That shouldn’t be in our fridge.”

An unnecessary warning?

The problem, says Jim Cook, is that raspberry syrup may actually be identical to raspberry syrup considered GMO-free.

Cook is a retired plant pathologist from Washington State University. He’s thrown his support behind the effort to defeat the measure.

“Sugar. You take a bag of sugar, you look on the label, and it says zero protein. And of course it’s zero protein because it’s pure sugar.”

Cook says the original sugar beet plant was genetically engineered to produce a certain protein.

“But that’s the green plant,” he explains. “And that protein’s not in that sugar. Why would you put a label on sugar that says it’s genetically engineered? Because it’s not.”

Even if the initiative were written differently, Cook would still be concerned about what he considers a warning for food he says doesn’t need one.

“How do you process that information?” he says. “What do you think when you see ‘genetically engineered’ on the label? Are you going to buy it anyway?”

Supply and demand

Back at Litehouse Foods, Paul Kusche is already looking beyond the November election. Litehouse has started sourcing non-genetically engineered ingredients and has submitted 21 products for non-GMO certification.

Kusche says, the demand for foods that don’t come from genetically engineered sources is undeniable.

“Whether it happens tomorrow or whether it happens 10 years from now, we know it’s coming.”

And for now, at least he knows that if Washington does require Litehouse to label its products, they’ll have lots and lots of company on grocery store shelves.



Global ‘March Against Monsanto’ rallies activists

People hold signs during one of many worldwide “March Against Monsanto” protests against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and agro-chemicals, in Los Angeles, California Saturday. Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
People hold signs during one of many worldwide “March Against Monsanto” protests against Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and agro-chemicals, in Los Angeles, California Saturday. Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

By Renee Lewis, 12 October, 2013. Source: Al Jazeera

Activists from around the globe participated in a global ‘March Against Monsanto’ Saturday, calling for the permanent boycott of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This was the second global, anti-Monsanto protest — the first took place on May 25 with over 2 million participants, organizers said.

Photos appear to show hundreds of marchers taking to the streets in cities around the world including Vienna, London, Chennai and Sydney. Rallies have kicked off in U.S. cities as well including Los Angeles and Denver.

Critics of Monsanto, a multi-national biotech corporation, say its seeds destroy the soil and are designed to make constant repurchase necessary because the seeds last only one generation. The seeds must also be used with a variety of the company’s other products like fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides, which have been linked to mass bee deaths.

Monsanto, which touts itself as a “sustainable agriculture company” and is worth over $55 billion, says it produces high-yield conventional and biotech seeds that enable more nutritious and durable crops and “safe and effective crop protection solutions.” The U.S. government also says Monsanto’s products are safe.

March Against Monsanto (MAM), however, says GMOs are not properly monitored to ensure public safety and that no long-term, independent studies were carried out on GMOs before they were introduced for human consumption.

“In the U.S., the revolving door between Monsanto employees, government positions and regulatory authorities has led to key Monsanto figures occupying positions of power at the FDA and EPA. Monsanto has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to obstruct all labeling attempts; they also suppress any research containing results not in their favor,” MAM said in a press release.

GMOs have been banned to varying degrees in Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, France, Switzerland and Costa Rica.

GMOs are labeled in 62 countries, but not the U.S. despite several attempts. Last fall, Californian voters narrowly rejected an initiative to label GMOs, and a similar initiative is on the Nov. 5 Washington state ballot.

Prominent environmentalist Vandana Shiva has been outspoken against Monsanto, particularly in light of the corporation’s link to hundreds of thousands of Indian farmer suicides.

More than 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India after Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds largely failed. Many farmers left in desperate poverty decided to drink Monsanto pesticide, ending their lives.

“The creation of seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress,” Shiva wrote.

Josh Castro, organizer for the Quito, Ecuador march said in a press release that he hopes to stop the “destructive practices of multinational corporations like Monsanto.”

“Biotechnology is not the solution to world hunger … Monsanto’s harmful practices are causing soil infertility, mono-cropping, loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction and contributing to beehive collapse.

Golden apple or forbidden fruit? Following the money on GMOs

By Nathanael Johnson, Grist

Much of the battle over transgenic crops has occurred in the realm of science fiction. There, entirely hypothetical health risks square off against visions of wondrous but imaginary benefits. This isn’t nearly as ridiculous as it sounds: To decide which technologies to pursue and which to avoid, modern Jules Vernes need to dream up best and worst-case scenarios.

The problem is, the debate tends to get stuck in the future. We’ve had transgenic plants for nearly two decades, which is enough time to fairly ask, who has actually benefited from genetically modified crops? We’ve had these plants long enough now that we don’t have to look to fantastic visions of the future; we can simply look at the reality.

In search of reality, I began emailing economists, lawyers, and advocates to ask them this question. The first to answer was Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety. Kimbrell said the companies that bet on GM technology have been its greatest beneficiaries. “The chemical companies, right? The big five: Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and Syngenta … No. 2 would be farmers, specifically big farmers, because it makes their herbicide application a lot easier.”

Farmers pay more to buy the GM seed, and more for the herbicides to treat herbicide-resistant crops, but they save on labor costs. Rather than meticulously spritzing individual weeds by hand to avoid killing the crop, farmers can quickly spray an entire field when using herbicide-resistant plants, Kimbrell said.

Beneficiary No. 3? There is none, according to Kimbrell. “These companies have completely failed, in over 30 years, to come up with a trait that benefits a consumer. Nobody gets up in the morning wanting to buy a genetically engineered food.”

I could think of exceptions: Papaya genetically engineered to resist ringspot virus is more appealing to many consumers than diseased fruit. But these are exceptions that prove the rule; the vast majority of transgenic plants are designed to make farmers, rather than eaters, happy.

What about price? I asked Kimbrell. Do we eaters see lower prices because of genetic modification?

“No. There are no lower prices. GMOs have not lowered prices at all. They have massively increased prices for seed.”

Indeed, seed prices bumped up with the introduction of genetically modified varieties.

Seed Prices
Center for Food Safety
Data from USDA Economic Research Service.


What about GM crops lifting small farmers out of poverty? Kimbrell scoffed at that. “Smallholders can’t afford to buy [the herbicides] RoundUp and 2,4-D,” he said.

Ask people on opposite sides of this issue if genetic modification benefits the poor and you’ll hear wildly different claims. Kimbrell’s point is that GM crops are designed to save farmers time and money if they are involved in high-tech agriculture. Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and longtime critic of industrial agriculture, has pointed to cases in which small farmers in India have killed themselves when the debt they’ve taken on to buy seed, fertilizer, and pesticides grows too crushing.

On the other hand, biotech industry consultant Clive James maintains that GM crops are a ladder to prosperity. James has calculated that in 2012, for the first time, farmers in the developing world planted more GM seed than farmers in industrialized nations. These farmers must have a reason for seeking out transgenics.

Transgenics in developing countries
Clive James


As usual in this debate, I find myself stranded between irreconcilable claims. But fortunately, it turns out there’s a large body of economic analyses that have asked precisely the same question I have: Who has benefited?

One of the people I’d emailed, UC Berkeley agricultural economist David Zilberman, sent me a short note from the Ivory Coast suggesting that the benefits of GE food are widespread:

“The seed companies captured less than 50 percent of the economic gains in most studies (frequently less than 30 percent),” he wrote. “The rest [is] distributed between farmers and consumers.”

The studies Zilberman consulted on this question have found that the biotech industry captures between 10 and 70 percent of the money generated by their transgenic seeds. The rest of the benefit (30 to 90 percent) is shared by U.S. farmers, U.S. eaters, and the rest of the world. That’s a huge range, but it’s interesting that every study examining this issue has found that consumers do benefit from food prices. It may not be much — less than 2 percent is the estimate at the lower end — but the average Joe and Jane are probably getting some extra change thanks to GMOs.

OK. Now, what do the economists say about small farmers? Are GM crops lifting them out of poverty or driving them to suicide? A review of the economic publications on this question found that:

During the first decade of their use by smallholder farmers in developing economies, peer-reviewed research has indicated that, on average, transgenic crops do provide economic advantages for adopting farmers.

Makhathini Flats
Makhathini Flats.


But hold on: That average hides all sorts of highs and lows. I love this review, done by the International Food Policy Research Institute, because the authors carefully noted the problems with each analysis. For instance one study, following the introduction of GM cotton to the Makhathini Flats in South Africa, found that small farmers were major beneficiaries of the technology. But another, more thorough, analysis suggested something more complex: Small farmers had made a little more money with the transgenic cotton, but only because the Vunisa Cotton company had set them up for success.

Vunisa pitched the transgenic seed to farmers; supplied them with pesticides, fertilizer, loans, and advisors; and then bought up all their cotton. Farmers are vulnerable when they can only buy from, and sell to, one company. That company can ratchet up the cost of seed, while ratcheting down the amount it pays for cotton. So in the Makhathini Flats, farmers were making a little more money — at least for the first few years — but they were also in a much more precarious position.

And this example is part of a theme. In general, GM crops do seem to give small farmers an economic boost, but the studies rarely look at the bigger political and economic tradeoffs those farmers are making. Those tradeoffs do sometimes have dire consequences — like farmer suicide.

But it doesn’t look like the introduction of GM crops is responsible for a large percentage of those deaths. Check out this graph from Nature:

Farmer Suicides

The sad fact is that a lot of farmers kill themselves in India. The numbers didn’t budge significantly with the introduction of GM plants. There are, however, many well-documented cases in which debt — in part from the purchase of GM seeds — drove farmers to suicide. That’s absolutely true. It’s more accurate to say that suicides are caused by the bigger economic monster: The system that requires farmers to take on extravagant debt to compete.

A small farmer who owns his land and saves his seeds each year is relatively independent. A farmer who must take out loans to buy GM seeds, fertilizer, irrigation equipment, and pesticides is beholden and making a riskier (though also potentially more lucrative) bet. For each technological innovation, farmers trade some of their independence for a shot at greater profit. Perhaps it’s fair to say GM seeds are a synecdoche — a part that represents the whole — for the larger system that’s causing farmer suicide in India, especially in those areas where the only seed available to farmers is genetically modified.

So who has made money from GM technology? Seed and chemical companies, for sure. Big farmers, too. Little farmers have gained less, and have had to trade away more privileges. And the rest of us probably pay a little less for GMO food (industrial meat, for example). And all of this is a little fuzzy, because economics is an inexact science, and the studies are still coming in.

The question of who benefits goes beyond money, of course. We also need to look at the environment: Some see GM crops as an environmental savior, while other say they are a disaster. I’m going to make my usual kamikaze run into this minefield to see if there’s any way to reconcile the evidence each side presents.

Before I do that, though, I’m going to talk to some farmers and learn what the pluses and minuses look like from their perspective. Do farmers feel they are trading away intangibles for each new technological advancement?

More in this series:

Nathanael Johnson (@savortooth on Twitter) is Grist’s food writer and the author of All Natural: A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier.

What’s a GMO? And Should Washington Food Labels Warn Us About Them?


BY RACHEL BELLE  on July 31, 2013

Good day, class. Today we’re going to learn about GMOs. Those three little letters have been in the news a lot lately, and most people don’t really know what it means. For example, today in our show prep meeting, I told the guys I was doing a story on GMOs and Ron said:

“What’s the ‘O’ stand for? Genetically Modified…O?”

Organism. Genetically Modified Oganism. It’s also called GE, Genetically Engineered.

This November, Washingtonians will vote on I-522 to decide if foods and seeds containing GMOs should be labeled at grocery and home and garden stores.

Trudy Bialic is director of public affairs for PCC Natural Markets. She wants the labeling. “Essentially all GMOs are either tolerating a pesticide or producing their own pesticide and insecticide. It’s engineered with properties that make the produce its own insecticide. You are eating a registered pesticide.”

GMOs can currently be found in some zucchini and yellow squash and sweet corn, which means they often show up in processed foods that contain corn syrup. But Trudy isn’t taking a stand on whether GMOs are good or bad. She simply wants the products labeled.

“I-522 is really about labeling,” says Trudy. “It’s not about the science. Labeling gives us transparency and it gives us, as shoppers, the ability to decide for ourselves what’s appropriate and best for us to buy and feed our families.”

But not everyone wants the labels. Dana Beiber is the spokesperson for the No on 522 campaign.

“We already have a labeling system that works perfectly,” Dana says. “For folks who want to avoid foods with GE ingredients in them, they can do so by looking for the organic label. So it’s not necessary. The other reason it’s not necessary to put a warning label on these foods is because we’ve been eating them for decades and we have overwhelming scientific research that tells us that the foods are safe.

She says farmers will either have to spend money on a new label, that’s specific to Washington state, or change the ingredients in their product.

“I think it’s consumers who are really gonna end up paying the bill for us,” Dana says. “We can expect our grocery bills to go up by hundreds of dollars per year to pay for this unnecessary labeling system.”

Trudy says 64 countries and a few other states have already passed GMO labeling laws.

“Two-thirds of Washingtonians support labeling of genetically engineered foods. There are only five corporations that are funding the opposition. Five! They’re protecting their profits. Their concern is not the right to know for all Washingtonians. We all should know what’s in our food.”

We already label products with their fat and sodium content, we list all the ingredients, so what’s the harm in alerting consumers to GMOs?

“The fat or the sodium or whether it has eggs or peanuts in it, all that’s placed on every label throughout the country. It’s also on the back of the product. It’s not a warning label on the front of the product. Make no mistake, 522 is a warning label. In fact, the proponents have said they want it to be a skull and crossbones label on the front of a package.”

The spokesperson from Yes on I-522 says they have no intention of using a skull and crossbones, just a simple couple of words.

Class dismissed.