By Ronnie Cummins, AlterNet
“The harder they come the harder they fall, one and all.” — Jimmy Cliff, reggae classic
After enjoying a year of maximum profits, record stock prices, the defeat of a major GMO labeling campaign in California, pro-industry court decisions, and a formidable display of political power in Washington, D.C. – including slipping the controversial Monsanto Protection Act into the Federal Appropriations bill in March — the Biotech Bully from St. Louis now finds itself on the defensive.
It is no exaggeration to say that Monsanto has now become the most hated corporation in the world.
Plagued by a growing army of Roundup-resistant superweeds and Bt-resistant superpests spreading across the country, a full 49 percent of American farmers are now frantically trying to kill these superweeds and pests with ever-larger quantities of toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides including glyphosate (Roundup), glufosinate, 2,4D (“Agent Orange’), dicamba, and neonicotinoids (insecticides linked to massive deaths of honey bees).
Reacting to this dangerous escalation of chemical farming, toxic residues on foods and environmental pollution, over a million consumers and organic farmers have pressed the Obama administration to reject a new generation of GE “Agent Orange” and dicamba-resistant crops, forcing the USDA to postpone commercialization of these crops, at least temporarily.
According to the trade press thousands of U.S. farmers, as well as farmers worldwide, are moving away from biotech crops and searching for non-GMO (genetically modified organism) alternatives. At the same time U.S. and global market demand for non-GMO organic foods and crops is steadily increasing.
Compounding Monsanto’s superweed and superpest problems, scientific evidence earthopensource.org continues to mount that GMO feed and foods, laced with Bt toxins and contaminated with ever-increasing residues of Monsanto’s deadly weedkiller, Roundup, are severely damaging animal and human health.
As the June 24, 2013 issue of Green Medical News puts it:
“. . . within the scientific community and educated public alike, there is a growing awareness that Roundup herbicide and its primary ingredient glyphosate, is actually a broad spectrum biocide, in the etymological sense of the word: “bio” (life) and “cide” (kill) – that is, it broadly, without discrimination kills living things, not just plants. Moreover, it does not rapidly biodegrade as widely claimed, and exceedingly small amounts of this chemical – in concentration ranges found in recently sampled rain, air, groundwater, and human urine samples – have DNA-damaging and cancer cell proliferation stimulating effects.”
On May 25, two million people from 436 cities, in 52 countries, on six continents took to the streets in a global “March Against Monsanto.” From New York to New Delhi, protestors reaffirmed their determination not only to force the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, as has already been accomplished in the European Union, India and at least 36 other nations, but also to drive all GMOs off the market. That includes GMOs in human food, animal feed, cotton, nutritional supplements, body care products, and GMO cotton and biofuels.
The same week as the global March Against Monsanto, the New York Times reported that U.S. food companies, “large and small” are starting to make arrangements to reformulate the ingredients in their processed foods and reorganize their supply lines so to avoid having to admit that their brand name products contain GMOs. Monsanto and its Junk Food allies recognize that if the Washington State ballot initiative on mandatory GMO labeling passes on November 5, which now appears likely, their ability to keep food consumers in the dark will be over.
Large processed food and beverage companies, such as Kellogg’s, General Mills, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Unilever, Dean Foods, Wal-Mart and others understand that once labeling is required in one strategic state, such as Washington, they will be forced to label in all 50 states.
The anti-GMO movement in the U.S. has identified Monsanto’s Achilles heel—GMO food labeling at the state level—and has begun to achieve some preliminary victories, both in the marketplace and in the legislative arena. For example, Whole Foods Market and dozens of natural food stores and co-ops, along with restaurants like Chipotle, are, or are planning to, voluntarily label GMOs. And Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling laws.
Our common task now must be to win the all-important Washington State ballot initiative. This will require a tremendous fundraising effort and netroots-grassroots get-out-the-vote effort
Monsanto’s Minions React
The food industry knows it will be difficult to stop voters in Washington State from bypassing the politicians and the federal government and directly voting into law a mandatory GMO food labeling initiative on November 5. So the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is circling the wagons. Claiming that pro-labeling consumers have created “an unprecedented period of turmoil” for the food industry, the GMA convened a meeting, on July 10, in Washington D.C., of large food manufactures and supermarkets. Their agenda? Figure out how to co-opt and neutralize the growing anti-GMO movement.
One of the strategies apparently being put forth by members of the GMA is to ask the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to step in and formulate watered-down federal rules on GMO food labeling. The GMA would like weak labeling laws, similar to those in Japan and other nations, that would contain loopholes, high tolerances and weak enforcement, coupled with a lengthy implementation period, so as to preempt strict state labeling requirements and deflate the growing GMO-Right to Know movement.
On the international level, Monsanto and Big Food, joined by other large corporations concerned about the growing grassroots power of consumer, environmental, and Fair Trade networks, are lobbying for fast track passage of new secretly negotiated Free Trade Agreements, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), popularly known as “TAFTA,” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Both TAFTA and TPP are basically supercharged versions of the highly unpopular NAFTA and WTO trade agreements.
These “forced trade” agreements would, among other things, lower standards on food safety and environmental protection, including taking away the rights of nations and states to require strict GMO food labeling and safety-testing. Provisions in these trade agreements would allow corporations to sue a nation if pro-consumer or environmental laws interfered with their trade and “expected profits.” Judgments and penalties would be determined by secret trade tribunals, with corporate lawyers serving as judges. Under the TAFTA/TPP regime, the U.S. and other countries would be required to hand over national sovereignty to foreign investors and multinational corporations.
So even as we mobilize for strategic GMO right-to-know victories in Washington, Vermont and other states, we must simultaneously mobilize the public to fight against federal preemption on GMO labeling, and stop the next generation of these secret Forced Trade agreements.
GMO Food Labeling: Just the First Step
Passing I-522, Washington State’s GMO labeling initiative, is a necessary first step toward honest labeling of GMO ingredients in the U.S. But Monsanto has survived mandatory food labeling in the EU and scores of other nations. The biotech giant will likely survive strict labeling requirements by U.S. states, too. What Monsanto can’t survive is mass awareness and rejection of all GMOs, especially GMO cotton and GMO animal feed on factory farms. A successful global boycott of factory-farmed meat and animal products and GMO-tainted cotton, combined with GMO food labeling, will literally drive genetic engineering out of the marketplace.
Eighty percent of all processed foods in the U.S. contain GMOs. Yet if we examine the entire global production and consumption cycle of GMOs, we learn that only 20 percent of GMOs grown worldwide go into human food. The other 80 percent end up in animal feed, cotton production, biofuels, body care products, and nutritional supplements.
Even in Europe, where GE foods are rarely sold in grocery stores or restaurants, several billion dollars worth of GE animal feed from North America, Brazil and Argentina are imported every year. Although EU consumers have forced voluntary labeling of GMO-fed non-organic meat and animal products in Germany, France and Austria, and in large chains throughout Europe, there is no mandatory GMO animal feed labeling law in the EU. India is the only major country up until now that requires labels on GMO animal feed. No country yet requires labels on GMO cotton clothing, nutritional supplements, body care products or biofuels.
Almost half of Monsanto’s profits now derive from its sales outside the U.S., especially GMO crops for animal feed. So if we’re serious about turning back the biotech threat, and building up an alternative food and farming system that is organic, local, climate-friendly and humane, we need to strengthen our international solidarity and cooperation as well as our domestic efforts. Once we take into account the full scope of agricultural biotechnology and its myriad products, we can position ourselves for the next stage of the battle: a comprehensive and global anti-GMO offensive, strategically targeting the entire GMO food, fiber, fuel, supplements and body care industry where they are most vulnerable. This Great GMO Boycott and GMO Right to Know mobilization will require a broader coalition, both domestically and internationally, and an unprecedented mass education effort around the role of GMOs and factory farms in exacerbating our health, environmental, animal welfare and climate crisis.
All Out for Washington State Nov. 5
But first things first. The consumer, farmer and fishing community insurgency that frightens Monsanto and its allies the most is the upcoming ballot initiative (I-522) in Washington State on Nov. 5. As Monsanto and its allies, such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) understand, this is the most crucial battle against GMOs today. If voters pass mandatory labeling in Washington, reinforced by contingent state labeling laws already passed or in progress in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont, it could mean the end of the road for genetically engineered food in U.S. grocery stores.
As the biotech lobby has readily admitted, GMO food labeling is a “skull and crossbones” that will drive genetically engineered foods off the market in the U.S. and North America. As evidenced by marketplace trends in Europe, the largest agricultural market in the world, once GMOs are labeled, consumers will not buy them, food companies and grocery stores will not sell them, and farmers will not grow them. This is why Monsanto and Big Food corporations—hiding behind the façade of their trade association, the GMA—will likely pour up to $20 million into defeating I-522. Pro-labeling forces currently have a commanding lead in the polls in Washington. But we need to raise at least $4 million more (to augment the four million dollars we’ve raised already) to buy enough TV and radio time to counter the forthcoming flood of lies that Monsanto and its minions will launch in Washington State. We already know what those lies will look like: Labeling will raise food prices, hurt family farmers and confuse consumers.
The Road to Victory means building up our war chest in Washington State for the Nov. 5 ballot initiative. Please spread the word. This is the most important food and farming battle in the world today. If you haven’t already made a donation to the Yes on I-522 campaign please do so now.