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The Traitor Brands

by RONNIE CUMMINS

Will the supposed champions of consumers’ right to know, the Organic and “Natural” Elite, please stand up and be counted?

Will the wealthy corporate giants of the organic food, “natural” products and vitamin supplements industries – Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, UNFI (United Natural Foods), Stonyfield Farm, Hain Celestial, White Wave, Horizon Organic, Ben and Jerry’s, and their trade associations, the Organic Trade Association and the Natural Products Association – put their money where their mouths are?

Two and a half years after coming under fire  for trying to arrange a back-door deal with Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow for the “peaceful coexistence” of genetically engineered (GE) and organic food and crops, and one year after sitting on their hands while Big Food and Big Biotech dumped $46 million into defeating a popular California Ballot Initiative that would have required mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and outlawed the routine industry practice of fraudulently labeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural,” the majority of the Organic and Natural Elite are “missing in action” once again. Even as the decisive Nov. 5 Washington State ballot initiative (I-522) to label GMO-containing foods draws near.

A dozen or so organic companies, retail stores, consumer organizations, and supplements manufacturers,including Dr. Bronner’s, Organic Consumers Association/Fund, Mercola.com, Nature’s Path, Presence Marketing, PCC Markets, Center for Food Safety, and Food Democracy Now, have made significant financial contributions  to the Yes on I-522 campaign. Yet the bulk of the industry, as well as major labor, environmental and “progressive” groups, are still throwing in what amounts to pocket change, or nothing at all.

As the evermore frantic apologists for genetic engineering and junk food have recently pointed out in closed-door meetings arranged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a state GE labeling law passing in Washington Nov. 5, on top of the laws already passed in Connecticut and Maine, will likely mark the beginning of the end of genetically engineered foods and beverages in North America.

Just as in Europe, where GE foods must be labeled, once labels for “Frankenfoods” are in place, consumers will not buy them and grocery stores and product manufacturers will not sell them. So farmers will gradually stop growing them.

Perhaps even more threatening for the biotech bullies and corporate titans of Food Inc., is the realization that if they give in to grassroots activists and divulge whether or not their brand name food and beverages contain genetically engineered ingredients, emboldened consumers will likely up the ante, demanding their rights to know even more about their food, clothing, body-care products and supplements. Is this food or product really “natural”? Did it come from a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) or factory farm? Does this meat or animal product derive from a hapless creature reared on GMO feed, drugged with antibiotics and synthetic hormones, and “nourished” by blood, manure and slaughterhouse waste? Was this food sprayed with toxic pesticides, or fertilized with sewage sludge and climate-disrupting chemicals? Were the animals and the workers in this product’s supply chain abused and exploited? Was this clothing made with Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton? What would our “hip” and socially responsible clothing manufacturers like Levi’s, Nike, Gap, American Apparel, and Banana Republic do if consumers started asking questions?

From the standpoint of Fortune 500 corporations like Monsanto, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Nestlé, informed consumers and well-organized consumer organizations are a threat to the bottom line. We get that.

But what about the corporate brands that like to paint themselves as “green,” or “responsible”?  What about Safeway’s O Organics brand, Ben and Jerry’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Horizon, Silk, Hain and the rest of the so-called “natural” brands?

What about the entire “natural” products industry, with yearly revenues of about $70 billion, twice the sales of the entire organics and fair trade industry? Or the nutritional supplements industry, with yearly sales of $35 billion?

The bottom line apparently for most these “green” or “natural” brands is that you can make more money by selling chemically-tainted, GE foods, supplements and clothing, than you can by paying a premium price to organic, non-GMO and fair trade farmers and producers.

Excuses. Excuses.

But back to the point of supporting the I-522 Washington ballot initiative to label GMOs, perhaps the most crucial consumer right-to-know battle in 20 years. Washington is just 10 weeks away from mailing ballots to voters. And yet, no sign of major donations from leading organic or “natural” companies, despite their claims that they support consumers’ right to know.

What are their excuses?

Excuse #1: “We need a federal GMO food labeling law, not a patchwork of state laws.”

No one in their right mind actually believes that a Monsanto-indentured Congress or the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) will put regulations in place requiring GMO food labels—unless they are literally forced to by prior state legislation, state ballot initiatives and public pressure. “We need a federal law not states’ laws,” was Whole Foods’ original excuse in 2012 for not putting money into supporting California’s Prop 37, although massive consumer pressure forced them to finally endorse (though not fund) Prop 37 and I-522 and to announce that they would label all their store products as GMO or not by 2018.

“Federal not state” is the mantra of the organic and natural “Traitor Brands.” The Organic Consumers Association has mobilized a boycott  of these “Traitor Brands” – natural or organic food or beverage brands whose parent companies have put major bucks into defeating Prop 37 in California and now, via their membership in the GMA, Washington’s I-522.

“Federal not state labeling” is the argument used by most of the large nutritional supplement companies, whose so-called “natural” products are routinely GMO-tainted, as well as their bottom-line trade association, the Natural Products Association.

Excuse #2 “We don’t give money to political campaigns.”

This has been one of the excuses offered up by Whole Foods and Ben and Jerry’s, despite the fact that Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, and Ben and Jerry’s parent corporation, Unilever have spent large amounts lobbying against the rights of workers to organize unions (Mackey), and against the rights of consumers to know whether or not their food has been genetically engineered (Unilever).

Excuse #3. Our company donates to many worthy causes, so we can’t afford a major donation to I-522.

The Organic Trade Association, representing industry giants with combined annual sales of $35 billion, and Stonyfield Farm, a subsidiary of the multibillion-dollar Danone corporation, along with many others, have offered up this excuse.

Excuse #4: Silence.

Silence is the most common response we hear when we ask corporations to make a financial contribution to I-522, whether we’re talking about Trader Joe’s, UNFI or hundreds of other highly profitable organic and “natural” brands and companies.

Millions of organic and natural health consumers are prepared to reward the brands and companies who “do the right thing” by making a major financial contribution to the Washington Ballot Initiative to label GMO foods. They’re also just as prepared to punish the “Traitor Brands” and fence-sitters who by their failure to contribute to I-522 are aiding and abetting Monsanto and the junk food industry.

Voting on the most strategic food fight of the decade begins in 10 weeks in Washington State.

It’s time to stand up and be counted.

So, c’mon. Whole Foods? Trader Joe’s? Ben & Jerry’s? Safeway? Horizon, Silk, Hain? Make your donation today.

Ronnie Cummins is national director of the Organic Consumers Association

 

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico-based affiliate, Via Organica.

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