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My exposé last week, “The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?” has ignited a long-overdue debate on how to stop Monsanto’s earth killing, market-monopolizing, climate-destabilizing rampage. Should we basically resign ourselves to the fact that the Biotech Bully of St. Louis controls the dynamics of the marketplace and public policy? Should we seek some kind of practical compromise or “coexistence” between organics and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)? Should we focus our efforts on crop pollution compensation and “controlled deregulation” of genetically engineered (GE) crops, rather than campaign for an outright ban, or mandatory labeling and safety-testing? Should we prepare ourselves for a future farm landscape where the U.S.’s 23 million acres of alfalfa, the nation’s fourth largest crop, (93% of which are currently not sprayed with toxic herbicides), including organic alfalfa, are sprayed with Roundup and/or genetically polluted with Monsanto’s mutant genes?
Or should we stand up and say Hell No to Monsanto and the Obama Administration? Should we stop all the talk about coexistence between organics and GMOs; unite Millions Against Monsanto <http://www.millionsagainstmonsanto.org> , mobilize like never before at the grassroots; put enormous pressure on the nation’s grocers to truthfully label the thousands of so-called conventional or “natural” foods containing or produced with GMOs; and then slowly but surely drive GMOs from the market?
Of course “coexistence” and “controlled deregulation” are now irrelevant in regard to Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Just after my essay was posted last week, the White House gave marching orders to the USDA to allow Monsanto and its Minions to plant GE Roundup-resistance alfalfa on millions of acres, from sea to shining sea, with no restrictions whatsoever.
Bill Tomson and Scott Kilman of the Wall Street Journal reported that Vilsack’s rejection of a compromise proposal – partial deregulation, which was vehemently opposed by biotech companies and only tepidly accepted by non-GE interests – was the result of an Obama administration review of “burdensome” regulations.”
“Sources familiar with the negotiations at USDA, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Food Safety News they believe the White House asked Vilsack to drop proposed regulations so the administration would appear more friendly to big business.” – Helena Bottemiller, Food Safety News.
This post-holiday gift to Monsanto from the White House is ominous. After the deliberate contamination of 20 million acres of U.S. alfalfa, we can then expect Monsanto and corporate agribusiness (hopefully not joined by “pragmatists” in the organic industry) to call for allowing GMOs to be allowed under the National Organic Standards. But of course let us hope we get another temporary reprieve from the same federal judge in California who halted the planting of GE alfalfa previously, since the USDA has still failed to demonstrate in their current Environmental Impact Statement that Monsanto’s alfalfa is safe for the environment.
Whole Foods and others spent a lot of time this week on their blogs and on the Internet attacking me and the Organic Consumers Association for supposedly mischaracterizing their position on “coexistence” with Monsanto. In an internal company memorandum, marked “For Internal Use Only – Do Not Distribute” January 30, 2011, Whole Foods execs basically told their employees that the OCA is spreading lies to “uniformed consumers” in exchange for money and publicity. Quoting directly from the WFM company memo:
“Why is the OCA spreading misinformation? That’s a hard question for us to answer. Perhaps because we don’t share their narrow view of what it means to support organics, or perhaps because we do not support them with donations. Either way, it’s a shame that an organization that claims to “campaign for health, justice and sustainability” can’t simply tell the truth. This just confuses consumers. Despite all their noise, no industry leaders listen to the OCA – but uninformed consumers might. Their fear-mongering tactics, combined with the OCA’s lack of transparency about its funding sources, underscore the fact that it is neither credible nor trustworthy. We can only assume their activities are intended for further fund-raising. “
After bashing the OCA, Whole Foods then goes on to admit that WFM stores are filled with conventional and “natural” products that are contaminated with GMOs (they neglect to mention to their staff that these conventional and “natural” products make up approximately 2/3 of WFM’s total sales). Again quoting directly:
“The reality is that no grocery store in the United States, no matter what size or type of business, can claim they are GE-free. While we have been and will continue to be staunch supporters of non-GE foods, we are not going to mislead our customers with an inaccurate claim (and you should question anyone who does). Here’s why: the pervasive planting of GE crops in the U.S. and their subsequent use in our national food supply. 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton, and 93% of canola seed planted in the U.S. in 2010 were genetically engineered. Since these crops are commonly present in a wide variety of foods, a GE-free store is currently not possible in the U.S. (unless the store sells only organic foods.)”
But of course we are not asking WFM to lie to or “mislead” their customers, to claim that all their products are GMO-free, or to sell only organically certified foods. On the contrary, we are simply asking them to abandon the “business as usual” industry practice of remaining silent on the scope and degree of contamination in the billions of dollars of non-organic food they are selling to unwitting consumers every year. What we are asking is that WFM ethically lead the way – in what is now a very unethical marketplace – by admitting publicly (not just in an internal memo) that a major portion of the non-organic foods they are selling (especially processed foods and animal products) are contaminated with GMOs. Then we want them to take the next step and announce that they will start labeling these GMO and/or CAFO foods truthfully, meanwhile pressuring their non-organic food suppliers to either reformulate products with non-GMO ingredients or start making the transition to organic.
Let us hope that WFM eventually does the right thing. It’s unlikely WFM will adopt Truth-in-Labeling unless they get a massive amount of pressure from their customers, workers, and natural food competitors. But if we can build a grassroots Movement strong enough to convince WFM and other natural food stores to adopt Truth-in-Labeling practices, there will be enormous pressure in the marketplace for other larger supermarket chains to follow suit. However, if WFM and other grocery stores refuse to voluntarily label GMO and CAFO products, OCA is prepared to mobilize nationwide to press for mandatory labeling ordinances at the city, county, and state level.
To sign up as a grassroots coordinator for OCA’s Millions Against Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling Campaign go to: http://organicconsumers.org/oca-volunteer/
Beyond Organic Infighting
The good news this week is that WFM, Organic Valley, Stonyfield, the National Coop Grocers Association and the Organic Trade Association have been making strong statements about fighting against GMOs . In a lengthy telephone conversation two days ago with Organic Valley CEO George Sieman, George told me how angry he was at me and the OCA, but he also said that Organic Valley was going to step up the fight against Monsanto. I said I was glad to hear this. I told him that OCA was going to do the same. I told him that our Millions Against Monsanto Truth-in-Labeling campaign is already attracting thousands of volunteers all across the USA and that we weren’t going to give up until grocery stores, natural food stores, and coops start labeling conventional and “natural” products containing GMOs or coming from CAFOs.
We’ll certainly see Organic Valley and the rest of the organic industry’s pledge to fight GMOs put to the test in the near future, when the USDA unleashes genetically engineered sugar beets for nationwide planting. But given the need for a United Front, OCA would like to stress that Whole Foods Market is not the enemy. Wal-Mart and Monsanto are the enemy. Stonyfield Farm is not the enemy. The Biotechnology Industry Association, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill are the enemy. Organic Valley is not the enemy. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Kraft and Dean Foods are the enemy. OCA wants the organic community to unite our forces, cut the bullshit about “coexistence,” and move forward with an aggressive campaign to drive GMOs and CAFOs off the market.
Monsanto’s Minions: The White House, Congress, and the Mass Media
The United States is rapidly devolving into what can only be described as a Monsanto Nation. Despite Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton’s) campaign operatives in 2008 publicly stating that Obama supported mandatory labels for GMOs, we haven’t heard a word from the White House on this topic since Inauguration Day. Michele Obama broke ground for an organic garden at the White House in early 2009, but after protests from the pesticide and biotech industry, the forbidden “O” (Organic) word was dropped from White House PR. Since day one, the Obama Administration has mouthed biotech propaganda, claiming, with no scientific justification whatsoever, that biotech crops can feed the world and enable farmers to increase production in the new era of climate change and extreme weather.
Like Obama’s campaign promises to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; like his promises to bring out-of-control banksters and oil companies under control; like his promises to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution and create millions of green jobs; Obama has not come though on his 2008 campaign promise to label GMOs. His unilateral approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa, overruling the federal courts, scientists, and the organic community, offers the final proof: don’t hold your breath for this man to do anything that might offend Monsanto or Corporate America.
Obama’s Administration, like the Bush and Clinton Administrations before him, has become a literal “revolving door” for Monsanto operatives. President Obama stated on the campaign trail in 2007-2008 that agribusiness cannot be trusted with the regulatory powers of government.
But, starting with his choice for USDA Secretary, the pro-biotech former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, President Obama has let Monsanto and the biotech industry know they’ll have plenty of friends and supporters within his administration. President Obama has taken his team of food and farming leaders directly from the biotech companies and their lobbying, research, and philanthropic arms:
Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President, is now the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods. Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center, is now the director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Islam Siddiqui, Vice President of the Monsanto and Dupont-funded pesticide-promoting lobbying group, CropLife, is now the Agriculture Negotiator for the US Trade Representative. Rajiv Shah former agricultural-development director for the pro-biotech Gates Foundation (a frequent Monsanto partner), served as Obama’s USDA Under-Secretary for Research Education and Economics and Chief Scientist and is now head of USAID. Elena Kagan, who, as President Obama’s Solicitor General, took Monsanto’s side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready alfalfa case, is now on the Supreme Court. Ramona Romero, corporate counsel to DuPont, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the USDA.
Of course, America’s indentured Congress is no better than the White House when it comes to promoting sane and sustainable public policy. According to Food and Water Watch, Monsanto and the biotech industry have spent more than half a billion dollars ($547 million) lobbying Congress since 1999. Big Biotech’s lobby expenditures have accelerated since Obama’s election in 2008. In 2009 alone Monsanto and the biotech lobby spent $71 million. Last year Monsanto’s Minions included over a dozen lobbying firms, as well as their own in-house lobbyists.
America’s bought-and-sold mass media have likewise joined the ranks of Monsanto’s Minions. Do a Google search on a topic like citizens’ rights to know whether our food has been genetically engineered or not, or on the hazards of GMOs and their companion pesticide Roundup, and you’ll find very little in the mass media. However, do a Google search on the supposed benefits of Monsanto’s GMOs, and you’ll find more articles in the daily press than you would ever want to read.
Although Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Ohio) recently introduced a bill in Congress calling for mandatory labeling and safety testing for GMOs, don’t hold your breath for Congress to take a stand for truth-in-labeling and consumers’ right to know what’s in their food. In a decade of Congressional lobbying, the OCA has never seen more than 24 out of 435 Congressional Representatives co-sponsor one of Kucinich’s GMO labeling bills. Especially since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the outrageous “Citizens United” case gave big corporations like Monsanto the right to spend unlimited amounts of money (and remain anonymous, as they do so) to buy elections, our chances of passing federal GMO labeling laws against the wishes of Monsanto and Food Inc. are all but non-existent. Keep in mind that one of the decisive Supreme Court swing votes in the “Citizen’s United’ case was cast by the infamous Justice Clarence Thomas, former General Counsel for Monsanto.
To maneuver around Monsanto’s Minions in Washington we need to shift our focus and go local. We’ve got to concentrate our forces where our leverage and power lie, in the marketplace, at the retail level; pressuring retail food stores to voluntarily label their products; while on the legislative front we must organize a broad coalition to pass mandatory GMO (and CAFO) labeling laws, at the city, county, and state levels. And while we’re doing this we need to join forces with the growing national movement to get corporate money out of politics and the media and to take away the fictitious “corporate personhood” (i.e. the legal right of corporations to have all the rights of human citizens, without the responsibility, obligations, and liability of real persons) of Monsanto and the corporate elite.
Monsanto’s Minions: Frankenfarmers in the Fields
The unfortunate bottom line is that most of the North American farmers who have planted Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant or Bt-spliced crops (soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, or alfalfa) are either brain-washed, intimidated (Monsanto has often contaminated non-GMO farmers crops and then threatened to sue them for “intellectual property violations” if they didn’t sign a contract to buy GMO seeds and sign a confidentiality contract to never talk to the media), or ethically challenged. These “commodity farmers,” who receive billions of dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies to plant their Frankencrops and spray their toxic chemicals and fertilizers, don’t seem to give a damn about the human health hazards of chemical, energy, and GMO-intensive agriculture; the cruelty, disease and filth of Factory Farms or CAFOs; or the damage they are causing to the soil, water, and climate. Likewise they have expressed little or no concern over the fact that they are polluting the land and the crops of organic and non-GMO farmers.
Unfortunately, these Frankenfarmers, Monsanto’s Minions, have now been allowed to plant GMO crops on 150 million acres, approximately one-third of all USA cropland. With GE alfalfa they’ll be planting millions of acres more.
The time has come to move beyond polite debate with America’s Frankenfarmers, and their powerful front groups such as the American Farm Bureau, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Coexistence” is a joke when you are dealing with indentured Minions whose only ethical guideline is making money. When I asked a French organic farmer a few years ago what he thought about the idea of coexistence with GE crops and farmers, he laughed. “If my neighbor dared to plant Monsanto’s GM crops, I’d hop on my tractor and plow them up.” Thousands of European farmers and organic activists have indeed uprooted test plots of GMOs over the past decade. Unfortunately if you get caught destroying Frankencrops in the USA, you’ll likely be branded a terrorist and sent to prison.
Apart from direct action, it’s time to start suing, not just Monsanto and the other biotech bullies, but the Frankenfarmers themselves. Attorneys have pointed out to me that the legal precedent of “Toxic Trespass” is firmly established in American case law. If a farmer carelessly or deliberately sprays pesticides or herbicides on his or her property, and this toxic chemical strays or “trespasses” and causes damage to a neighbor’s property, the injured party can sue the “toxic trespasser” and collect significant damages. It’s time for America’s organic and non-GMO farmers to get off their knees and fight, both in the courts and in the court of public opinion. The Biotech Empire of Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta will collapse if its Frankenfarmers are threatened with billions of dollars in toxic trespass damages.
Monsanto’s Minions: Retail Grocery Stores, Factory Farms, Restaurants, and Garden Supply Stores
It’s important to understand where GMOs are sold or consumed, and who’s selling them. Twenty-five percent of GMOs end up in non-labeled, non-organic processed food, the so-called conventional or “natural” foods sold in grocery stores or restaurants; while the remaining 75% are forced-fed to animals on non-organic farms, feedlots, or CAFOs; or else sold internationally, often without the informed consent of overseas consumers. This means we need to identify and boycott, not only so-called conventional or “natural” foods containing soy, soy lecithin, corn, corn sweetener, canola, cottonseed oil, and sugar beet sweetener, but all non-organic meat, dairy, and eggs that come from factory farms or CAFOs. Once Truth-in-Labeling practices are implemented it will be relatively easy for consumers to identify and avoid products that are labeled “May Contain GMOs” or “CAFO.”
Although most of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide sales are directly to farmers, a considerable amount of Roundup is sold in garden supply stores, supplying backyard gardeners, landscapers, and golf courses. Municipal and state governments also spray Roundup in parks and along roadways, while the DEA sprays large amounts of Roundup in rural villages in Colombia and the Andes, part of the insane and murderous War on Drugs.
Monsanto’s Minions: Consumers
Millions of health, climate, and environmental-minded consumers are starting to realize that we must vote with our consumer food dollars if we want health, justice, and sustainability. Unfortunately, millions of others are still mindlessly consuming and over consuming processed foods, junk foods, and cheap, contaminated meat and animal products. The only guaranteed way to avoid GMOs completely is to buy organic foods or to grow your own, and stay away from restaurants (unless they are organic) and fast food outlets. Otherwise, if you are contemplating the purchase of a conventional or “natural” food check the ingredients panel carefully. Avoid all non-organic products that contain soy, soy lecithin, corn, corn sweetener, canola, cottonseed oil, and sugar beet sweetener.
Millions Against Monsanto
We must draw hope from the fact that Monsanto is not invincible. After 16 years of non-stop biotech bullying and force-feeding Genetically Engineered or Modified (GE or GM) crops to farm animals and “Frankenfoods” to unwitting consumers, Monsanto has a big problem, or rather several big problems. A growing number of published scientific studies indicate that GE foods pose serious human health threats. Federal judges are finally starting to acknowledge what organic farmers and consumers have said all along: uncontrollable and unpredictable GMO crops such as alfalfa and sugar beets spread their mutant genes onto organic farms and into non-GMO varieties and plant relatives, and should be halted.
Monsanto’s Roundup, the agro-toxic companion herbicide for millions of acres of GM soybeans, corn, cotton, alfalfa, canola, and sugar beets, is losing market share. Its overuse has spawned a new generation of superweeds that can only be killed with super-toxic herbicides such as 2,4, D and paraquat. Moreover, patented “Roundup Ready” crops require massive amounts of climate destabilizing nitrate fertilizer. Compounding Monsanto’s damage to the environment and climate, rampant Roundup use is literally killing the soil, destroying essential soil microorganisms, degrading the living soil’s ability to capture and sequester CO2, and spreading deadly plant diseases.
In just one year, Monsanto has moved from being Forbes’ “Company of the Year” to the Worst Stock of the Year. The Biotech Bully of St. Louis has become one of the most hated corporations on Earth .
The biotech bullies and the Farm Bureau have joined hands with the Obama Administration to force controversial Fankencrops like alfalfa onto the market. But as African-American revolutionary Huey Newton pointed out in the late 1960’s, “The Power of the People is greater than the Man’s technology.” Join us as we take on Monsanto and their Minions. Our life and our children’s “right to a future” depend upon the outcome of this monumental battle.
Please sign up now as a volunteer grassroots coordinator for OCA’s Millions Against Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling Campaign: http://organicconsumers.org/oca-volunteer/
RONNIE CUMMINS is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association.