Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Call to Action: GMOs and Democracy/ Power and Money versus the People's Will

by Bill Duesing

Unless we act quickly at the Federal level, we'll lose the possibility of labeling GMOs, perhaps forever. If we act quickly in Connecticut, we have a chance of removing the trigger clause which delays the effective date of Connecticut's GMO labeling act. Scroll down to Action Steps to learn what you can do this week, including attending the legislative hearing in Hartford on Thursday March 3, at 11:30 am.  Your voice is critical!

Although getting labels on food made with GMOs won't solve most of the really serious problems with our food and agricultural systems, this is an important opportunity for consumers and citizens to begin to regain the power and control they should have.

People in 64 other countries know if their food contains GMOs.  One recent poll showed that 93 percent of Americans favor labeling GMOs. Polls going back nearly two decades found more than 80 percent favor labeling.  Yet despite incredible efforts by citizens and legislators over many years to pass laws or referendums, the closest we have gotten to actual labeling is Vermont's GMO labeling law which is scheduled to go into effect in a matter of months on July 1, 2016. Laws in Connecticut (the nation's first) and in Maine require other states to pass similar laws (called a trigger clause) before they take effect.

Principles of democracy are at stake in this election year.  Who has power and the role of money in legislation are hot issues, thanks especially to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The continuing struggle to get clear and honest labels on foods that contain GMOs is a perfect example of the difficulty of democratic control in the face of enormous power and wealth. In this case, the wealthy power is the industrial food and agricultural system: Ag biotech giants, agricultural chemical makers (often one and the same), some farming, commodity and growers associations, industrial food producers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association and more. You get the idea.  All of these industries have become more concentrated, wealthy and powerful in the last few decades.  Find a list of those who don't want you to know what's in your food here.

The powers that be have two major arguments against labeling.  One is that it will cost consumers a lot.  This despite the fact that there are already extensive labeling requirements. Additionally, companies frequently print personalized labels with names, events or activities on them for marketing purposes. If most customers ask for it, companies should provide the requested information. Respectable studies say any cost for labeling would be minimal.

The other argument is against a "patchwork" of different state laws.  This is actually an argument for a strong Federal GMO Labeling Law, not for the voluntary program which is proposed currently in the Senate. The folks working on state labeling laws attempt to make them similar

Ag and Food Establishment in a Tizzy

The Vermont law is the first crack in the veil of secrecy these rascals have been able to maintain. The imminent effective date of the Vermont law has this food and ag establishment in a frenzy.  The Grocery Manufacturers and friends lost their lawsuit against Vermont's law.  Now this establishment is desperate to get Congress to overturn the will of the people through what is known as the DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know). This act would overturn current (and prohibit future) state or local labeling laws and establish a voluntary GMO labeling program at USDA. The DARK act was approved by the House last year and is now being pushed by the Ag establishment a second time in the Senate. Only the vigorous opposition of the labeling advocates stopped the DARK act in the Senate last fall. We can thank our Connecticut Senators for their strong support of labeling.

The industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence legislation through lobbying and political donations, to mislead voters leading up to referenda and in legal fees to overturn the will of the people.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Feed Industry Association, the National Potato Council and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) issued strong support for the DARK act, although they call it the Safe and Affordable Food Act. 

Corn is the most widely grown GMO in this country so it is fitting that NCGA President Chip Bowling repeated often told lies about this technology. “The introduction of Roberts’s proposal (the current Senate version of the DARK act) is an important first step to restoring sanity to America’s food labeling laws,” said Bowling, a farmer from Maryland. “GMOs are perfectly safe and America’s farmers rely on this proven technology to protect our crops from insects, weeds and drought."

If any of this were true, it might be an argument to keep using GMOs, but none of it is true! There is no way to know if or prove GMOs are safe, at least not without long-term feeding trials and labeling.  And far from being a proven technology, it is a failed one.  Insects are becoming resistant to the Bt pesticide that some GMO crops produce in every cell. The herbicide tolerant strategy for controlling weeds is failing so badly that superweeds are a widespread problem and now our food crops are being designed to be sprayed with a mix of two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-D. So far none of the genetic engineering in use is for drought resistance. 

The People's View

The seven state NOFA chapters and the NOFA Interstate Council have been concerned about GMOs since the mid 1990s when the first set of National Organic Standards allowed them.  NOFA and its allies produced about a quarter of a million comments protesting that allowance and GMOs were and still are prohibited in organic agriculture. All of the NOFA chapters are working for GMO Labeling at the state level. The Chapters and the Council just signed on to a letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee protesting the DARK Act.

The Environmental Working Group produced this fact sheet on GMO Labeling and the DARK  Act and these ten reasons to oppose the DARK Act.

A statement from Lisa Archer, food and technology program director for Friends of the Earth called the bill a “desperate attempt by the junk food and chemical industries to keep Americans in the dark." She added  "Any member of Congress that fails to see the writing on the wall and chooses to support this antiquated and undemocratic bill will find that they are on the wrong side of history.”

Chef, food advocate and Food Policy Action co-founder Tom Colicchio said “Consumers should be trusted to decide their own food choices, but Senator Roberts apparently thinks Washington knows best. This is exactly the sort of crony capitalism that voters across the country are rejecting.” A petition for chefs is available here.

Even the New York Times called on the Senate to reject the DARK act.

There is enough resistance, at least in the Agriculture Committee, that a hearing on the bill originally scheduled for February 25 was postponed in a partisan conflict between those who support the industry's position and the other side which is listening more to the people and is concerned about state's rights.

Action Steps

GMO labeling is right now a very hot button issue in the Senate, for Connecticut's Legislature and in neighboring states, especially Massachusetts and New York. If it isn't stalled, legislative movement will be swift, with high priced lobbyists in the background trying to pull the right strings to thwart the people's will.  You need to stay informed in order to know when and how to act.  If you want to be up to date, sign on to relevant mailing lists. However, you can let your elected representatives know any time how you feel, that you want to know what is in your food.

You can send a letter to your Senators from this site. Sign up for email alerts from Citizens for GMO Labeling here. (Scroll down for state contacts. For the Northeast, go here.)

In Connecticut, sign on to CT NOFA's alerts and Gleanings newsletter here.

To help get Connecticut's trigger clause removed, tell your state representative and senator that you want GMO labeling soon.  HB 5300 has been introduced in the Children's Committee to do just that.  If you can, attend the hearing on March 3 to show support.  Here is the schedule for events at the Legislative Office Building:
11:00 1B Press Conference
11:30 2B Hearing begins
11:30 Atrium Ice Cream etc.  (Ben & Jerry's is supplying the ice cream again and we're hoping Jerry will be able to come as well.

Whether you can attend or not, you can easily submit written testimony electronically by Thursday morning.  Find out more here. Many things relating to GMOs, herbicides and labeling have changed in the past three years.

Only with continued activism will we regain the control of our food system to help create a healthy future. Speak up today!

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