Full list: GMO News

New York Times Op-Ed: Are You Eating Frankenfish?

THIS month, Congress may decide whether consumers are smart enough to be trusted with their own food choices. Some lawmakers are trying to insert language into must-pass spending legislation that would block states from giving consumers the right to know whether their food contains genetically modified ingredients.

They must be stopped.

Nine out of 10 Americans want G.M.O. disclosure on food packages, according to a 2013 New York Times poll, just like consumers in 64 other nations. But powerful members of the agriculture and appropriations committees, along with their allies in agribusiness corporations like Monsanto, want to keep consumers in the dark. That’s why opponents of this effort have called it the DARK Act — or the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.

As a chef, I’m proud of the food I serve. The idea that I would try to hide what’s in my food from my customers offends everything I believe in. It’s also really bad for business.

Why, then, have companies like Kellogg and groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association spent millions in recent years to lobby against transparency? They say, in effect: “Trust us, folks. We looked into it. G.M.O. ingredients are safe.” But what they’re missing is that consumers want to make their own judgments. Consumers are saying: “Trust me. Let me do my own homework and make my own choices.”

In fact, some of us have done our homework, and here’s what we found: The use of G.M.O.s has led to unintended consequences. For instance, most G.M.O. crops are engineered to withstand blasts of a powerful weed killer that the World Health Organization has decided probably causes cancer. New “superweeds” are appearing that require even more lethal formulations. Since the introduction of G.M.O. crops, use of these chemicals has increased 16-fold.

G.M.O. advocates like to label anyone who objects “anti-science.” It’s true that genetic technology has had an amazing impact on the development of medicine and the eradication of infectious diseases. If G.M.O. foods were actually providing a clear benefit to the public, like improved nutrition, lower costs or better taste, without creating a spiral of ever-increasing toxicity in our environment, I’d be all for them. And if G.M.O.s ever deliver on their promise to improve food security, which they have yet to do in the more than 20 years since they were introduced, I’d be over the moon.

Vermont recently passed a law requiring the labeling of these foods. Other states are considering doing the same. That’s the impetus behind this backdoor effort: Opponents want Congress to pre-empt Vermont and other like-minded states from implementing these rules.

Last month the Food and Drug Administration approved for sale to the public the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption — a fish they are calling the AquAdvantage salmon.

This “super” salmon was conceived by combining genes from Chinook salmon that produce extra growth hormone with an “antifreeze” gene from a bottom-feeder, the non-Kosher ocean pout. The result is a fish that grows far faster and larger than non-engineered salmon.

The F.D.A. insists the transgenic fish is safe for humans, but many experts believe they have yet to prove AquAdvantage will be safe for the environment or other fish. Factory fish farms depend on the use of antibiotics and pesticides to control disease and parasites that flourish in high-density environments. The waste they release can decimate other marine life and contaminate the water supply. Farmed fish often escape into larger waters, endangering native species. While these new salmon will be sterile, mistakes can happen.

Fine, you say. Enough already. If you don’t like the Frankenfish, don’t buy it.

But there’s the rub. This new engineered fish could be marketed as … Atlantic salmon. There might be no way for consumers to identify it as genetically engineered.

Consumers have a right to seek out food produced in accordance with their values, and not be misled by an industry’s strenuous efforts to keep them in the dark. When G.M.O. ingredients are clearly labeled, consumers can exercise those rights.

Blocking the labeling of G.M.O. foods would be a step in the wrong direction, away from greater accountability and responsibility. Congress should reject these efforts to block our right to know.


NPR: Follow The Money: Congress Uses Budget Bill To Rewrite Food Policies

By Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles
December 16, 2015
Full Article

When lawmakers — and lobbyists — use the budget bill as a vehicle to slip in new policies or upend regulations, it reminds me of my kids at the grocery store.

They ask for Nutella. I say “No.” But when I’m not looking, they slip it into the cart. And it’s only the next day I see it slathered on toast.

So, here are some examples of food and agriculture provisions that have been slipped into the omnibus budget bill just unveiled by congressional leaders. So far, this is just a draft. But the bill appears likely to pass in both chambers of Congress, and President Obama has indicated he’s inclined to sign it into law.

One provision would give grocery stores and other food retailers more time to comply with regulations that will require them to post calorie information on menus. This provision could benefit pizza chains that have joined together to lobby for flexibility. The industry has argued that it would be too tough to comply, because a pizza has millions of possible topping — and calorie — combinations, and few customers actually order in-store anywhere. (The industry spells out its case in this video.)

Another example: a provision to change FDA policy on “partially hydrogenated oils so that the baking industries and small businesses are not subject to frivolous lawsuits.” As we reported in June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has said it would ask the FDA to allow some low-level uses of trans fats in certain products.

Another issue: school lunch regulations. One provision gives schools flexibility in how they implement nutrition standards aimed at putting more whole grains on kids’ plates, as spelled out in the Healthy, Hungry-Free, Kids Act. Another provision could halt further reductions in the sodium content of school lunches.

It’s not uncommon for the spending bill to include a grab bag of nonbudgetary items thrown in at the last minute. And depending on what side of an issue you’re on, it’s either a highly effective process or an unfair way to assert influence and undermine laws.

Take the whole grain issue. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food administrators and has been lobbying for these changes, views this as a win. In its view, the changes provide schools with the flexibility needed to keep their cafeterias operating in the black.

“By maintaining menu planning flexibility in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Congress is helping schools manage some of the challenges they have encountered under updated regulations,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the SNA, told us by email.

The bill also will abolish the requirement that meat labels disclose where an animal was raised and slaughtered. Big meat packers have been pushing for this change, as have foreign countries. The World Trade Organization has ruled that these labels hurt farmers in Canada and Mexico, and those countries were set to impose up to $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods. Repealing the law should end this trade dispute.

The Food and Drug Administration is also happy. It just finished drawing up new rules for farms and food processors, but it needs money to enforce those rules. This bill would give the agency close to what it requested — an increase of $104.5 million — to beef up its food-safety operations.

Supporters of Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which is set to go into effect next year, breathed a sigh of relief. Some big food companies have been pushing Congress to pass a law that would block state attempts, like Vermont’s, to require labeling of food made from genetically modified crops. There were rumors that the spending package would contain such language, but it does not.

The spending bill may also delay the arrival of genetically engineered salmon, which just got a green light from the Food and Drug Administration. There’s a provision in the bill that blocks any commercial sale of those salmon until the FDA finalizes its guidelines for labeling GMOs. Finalizing those guidelines could take months — or even years.


EcoWatch: Congress Keeps Anti-GMO Labeling Rider Out of Spending Bill

12/16/15
By the Center for Food Safety
Full Article

Center for Food Safety today praised Congress for not including a policy rider in the must-pass federal omnibus spending bill that would have blocked states from implementing mandatory genetically engineered (GE) food labeling laws. Three states—Connecticut, Maine and Vermont—have passed such laws, with Vermont’s slated be to be the first to go into effect in July 2016. All three democratically passed laws would have been nullified, while any future state GE labeling legislation would have been preempted. More than 30 states have introduced bills to labeling GE foods in just the past few years.

“We are very pleased that Congress has apparently decided not to undermine Americans’ right to know about the food they purchase and feed their families,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “Adding a rider to the budget bill that would nullify state laws requiring labeling and even forbidden federal agencies from mandating labeling would have been profoundly undemocratic and nothing short of legislative malfeasance. We will remain vigilant over the coming days and into the next legislative session to ensure our right to know is protected.”

The omnibus spending bill does include language previously agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee requiring that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) develop guidelines for mandatory labeling of GE salmon and prevent its sale until such labeling is in effect.

In July, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1599, dubbed by opponents the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,” which preempts state and local authority to label and regulate GE foods. Instead, the bill sought to codify a voluntary labeling system approach, block FDA from ever implementing mandatory GE food labeling and allow food companies to continue to make misleading “natural” claims for foods that contain GE ingredients. The Senate chose not to take up that bill, despite heavy pressure from the food and biotechnology industries.

Anti-labeling interests then began pushing for the inclusion of the preemption rider in the must pass spending bill. Numerous Senators vocally opposed the inclusion of the preemption rider, successfully keeping it out of the bill.

“In the absence of federal leadership, states have led the way by passing legislation intended to prevent consumer deception and give consumers the right to know,” said Kimbrell. “We thank those Members of Congress, as well as the thousands of Americans who contacted their Senators recently, for preventing this grossly unethical rider from seeing daylight.”

By an overwhelming margin, American voters say consumers should have the right to know if their food is genetically modified, with 89 percent in support of mandatory GE labeling, according to a new national poll. Nearly the same number of consumers would like to see the labels in an easy to read format.

Center for Food Safety supports bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Boxer and Rep. DeFazio called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require that food manufacturers label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This common sense bill would guarantee all Americans the right to know what is in their foods while respecting the need by companies for a uniform, federal standard.


Forbes: Ben & Jerry’s Commits To Building Non-GMO Supply Chains From Scratch

12/3/15
By Steve Banker
Full Article

Last year, Ben & Jerry’s celebrated a milestone: all the plant-based ingredients in their ice cream, yogurt, and sorbet products transitioned to non-genetically modified (non-GMO) sources. Now, they’re working with dozens of other food companies to build up non-GMO commodity supply chains across the country to support this growing sector of the food industry. According to Andy Barker, the social mission strategy and policy manager for Ben & Jerry’s, getting to a non-GMO supply chain is difficult because the existing logistics infrastructure for major commodity crops like corn and soy “is built for undifferentiated crops.”

Non-GMO supply chains need infrastructure that can segregate non-GMO products. Storage bins will need to be the right size, in the right locations to support their family farmers, and close to the right transportation infrastructure. If non-GMO crops are put in rail cars, those cars will need to be thoroughly cleaned before accepting the non-GMO crops. When the commodities are processed, those plants will also need to thoroughly wash down their lines before processing the non-GMO crops.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have had their genetic makeup altered through genetic engineering in a way that does not occur through traditional cross-breeding. Increasing numbers of consumers are worried that food that has been genetically modified poses health risks.

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever – a global, public, multinational food and consumer goods company. But Ben & Jerry’s still retains its funky roots. Ben & Jerry’s is still headquartered in Vermont where they were founded. Despite being owned by Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s is a certified B Corp, a type of for-profit corporate entity whose goals include, in addition to profits, positive impacts on society and the environment.

Ben & Jerry’s non-GMO goals include:

    1. Committing to sourcing non-GMO ingredients and being transparent with consumers about their products.

The first goal includes insuring the ingredients – the sugar, the chocolate bits, marshmallow, caramel, etc. – they add into the ice cream are made from non-GMO crops. Marshmallow, for example, might use corn syrup as a sweetener. Ben & Jerry’s needs to insure the corn that goes into that corn syrup, comes from non-GMO seeds. The sugar Ben & Jerry’s uses must come from sugar cane, avoiding GMO sugar beets in the supply chain. And so on.

According to Ben & Jerry’s 2014 sustainability report, the company began the process of sourcing all of the ingredients they put in ice cream and related products from non-GMO sources in 2012. Over the course of 2014, “94.96% of our ingredients, by volume, were non-GMO by the original seed source for that ingredient.” By the end of 2014, Ben & Jerry’s had transitioned all its plant-based ingredients to non-GMO sources. This took a year longer than they expected, but it is good progress when you consider that GMOs are very widely found in key commodity crops grown in the U.S. In the U.S., according to USDA, between 88%-95% of all corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet are genetically modified.

But producing food that avoids GMOs entirely in the extended supply chain also involves making sure the dairy cows eat non-GMO feed. This is proving to be a tougher goal for Ben & Jerry’s. Their sustainability report admits that the “Vermont milk and cream that our family farmers supply to us is not organic. This means that it is almost certain that some portion of the cows’ feed contains GMO ingredients, such as corn and soy.”

To build a non-GMO dairy supply chain you need collaboration among farmers, handlers, processors, and distributors. Building this non-GMO supply chain will give consumers choice, but it will only become possible when the family dairy farmers in this supply chain can find competitively priced non-GMO feed for their cows and have access to high performing non-GMO seeds to plant in their fields.

This is where Green America has a key role to play. Green America builds “Innovation Networks.” In other words, they bring together diverse groups of stakeholders to solve complex sustainability problems that no individual business, organization, or leader could solve by themselves. Green America, Ben & Jerry’s, and other value chain players, have been at this since 2013. Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator at Whole Foods, said: “What they’re doing here is the first effort I’ve seen to really deal with the whole system. Everyone is so focused on their part of the supply chain, so no one can see the big systemic problems. The process … is exactly what we need to create real change.”

Mr. Barker does not believe that verification – the testing that will need to go on at multiple stages in the non-GMO supply chain – will be a major cost. “The major cost will be segregating non-GMO product at the multiple stages of the supply chain.” In many cases, non-GMO grain farmers will need to invest in on-farm storage, rather than continuing to send their crop to local elevators. The farmer will then need to find buyers specializing in non-GMO crops and figure out how to work with carriers that can transport these commodities without “contaminating” them. “Contamination” in this context refers to some very small percentage of the commodity that is being stored and shipped that is allowed to be intermixed with GMO crops.

Clearly, growing non-GMO supply will involve investments across the value chain. Part of the work includes convincing the various actors in this chain that non-GMO is not a “passing fad” so that they will invest. Mr. Barker believes the consumer data is compelling: according to a report issued by the Hartman Group, 40% of consumers are avoiding or reducing GMOs in their diet.

An important part of the conversation that has taken place among the diverse group of stakeholders convened by Green America has centered on standards that support non-GMO supply at scale. Without definitions and standards, it is hard for actors in this emerging supply chain to know what to target in terms of purity. “Defining at a high level what a non-GMO (consists of) is easy. But when you get to the level of how much contamination is allowed, it gets harder.”

“It is much easier to innovate within the boundaries of your own company,” according to Mr. Barker, “than across an extended supply chain.” But in this case what is being attempted is even bigger. Green America participants seek to build a new non-GMO supply chain from the ground up. This may seem like an almost Herculean task, but Mr. Barker pointed out that Green America has had success in doing just this in the paper recycling and solar industries.

I expect this new value chain will come into being within a few years. When big players, like Ben & Jerry’s, make new sustainability commitments, their buying power usually means that over time, these goals can be achieved.


Burlington Free Press: Food industry pushing to thwart GMO labeling by end of year

MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
December 8, 2015
Full Article

WASHINGTON  — Food companies are mounting an aggressive year-end push to head off mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.

The food industry wants the labeling to be voluntary, and it hopes to get a provision in a massive spending bill that Republicans and Democrats want to wrap up this week. If that becomes law, states could not require companies to disclose whether their products contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The House passed similar legislation earlier this year, but the Senate has not yet acted. Even so, food companies and farm groups say Congress must step in before Vermont becomes the first state to require GMO labels next summer.

The country’s largest food companies say genetically modified foods are safe and that labels would be misleading. They argue that its costs would be passed on to consumers.

Supporters of labeling counter that consumers have a right to know what’s in their foods, and Congress shouldn’t be trying to pre-empt states. They have pushed state legislatures to pass labeling laws, with the eventual goal of having a federal mandatory label set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil. The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients.

The FDA has said GMOs on the market now are safe, and the federal government does not support mandatory labels.

Supporters of labeling are trying to fight the industry effort with television ads in the Washington area and in Vermont that reminds consumers about the FDA’s recent approval of genetically modified salmon, which would not be labeled.

“If your state wants to label GMOs, Congress is trying a year-end sneak attack to block your right to label,” the ad says.

If passed, the industry-backed legislation would pre-empt any state labeling requirements. So far, Vermont is the only state set to require labeling and its law would take effect in July 2016 if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring labeling, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit.

“It’s about states having the right to do this,” said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, the group behind the ad.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she thinks the issue is too controversial for the year-end spending bill, which lawmakers must pass before leaving for the holidays. She and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., have been working to find a compromise.

Hoeven said he has been heavily lobbied on the issue by food companies.

“I am still trying to come up with a compromise that brings both sides together, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll have that by year-end,” he said.

The legislation that passed the House was sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas. In addition to blocking states from requiring the labels, it would step up FDA oversight by requiring that any new genetically engineered products be reviewed by the agency before they can be sold. That process is now voluntary for most modified foods.


Alternet: The Global Food War Is Escalating — Whose Side Are You On?

Degenerate (verb) — To decline from a noble to a lower state of development; to become worse physically and morally; (noun) a person of low moral standards; having become less than one’s kind…”  — New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997 Edition

Welcome to Degeneration Nation.

After decades of self-destructive business-as-usual — empire-building, waging wars for fossil fuels, selling out government to the highest bidder, lacing the environment and the global food supply with GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic sweeteners, artery-clogging fats, and synthetic chemicals,  attacking the organic and natural health movement, brainwashing the body politic, destroying soils, forests, wetlands, and biodiversity, and discharging greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere and the oceans like there’s no tomorrow — we’ve reached a new low, physically and morally.

Distracted by know-nothing media conglomerates and betrayed by cowardly politicians and avaricious corporations, homo sapiens are facing, and unfortunately in many cases still denying, the most serious existential threat in our 200,000-year evolution — catastrophic climate change, compounded by deteriorating public health and the dictatorial rise of political elites and multinational corporations such as Monsanto.

Unless we move decisively as a global community to transform our degenerative food, farming and energy systems, we are doomed.

To reverse global warming and restabilize the climate, we will need not only to slash CO2 emissions by 90 percent or more, taking down King Coal and Big Oil and converting to renewable sources of energy, but we must also simultaneously remove or draw down 100-150 ppm of the excess (400 ppm) CO2 and greenhouse gases that are already overheating our supersaturated atmosphere. How do we accomplish the latter? Through regenerative agriculture and land use.

Fortunately, this is possible because more and more consumers are connecting the dots between what’s on their dinner plates and what’s happening to Planet Earth. They, along with environmentalists, animal rights, food justice, climate and health activists, have created a global grassroots movement aimed at dismantling our destructive, degenerative industrial food and farming system. And despite Big Food’s desperate attempts to maintain the status quo, this powerful movement is escalating the war on degeneration.

Under siege, Big Food fights back

On the food, natural health and anti-GMO fronts, our battles for a new regenerative (non-GMO, non-chemical, non-factory farm, non-fossil fuel) food, farming and land use system are educating and energizing millions of people. The profits of the big junk food, chemical, and GMO corporations are falling, while demand for organic and climate-friendly grass fed foods continues to skyrocket.

In the last quarter Monsanto’s profits fell by 34 percent, while the company’s highly publicized attempt to buy out agri-toxics giant Syngenta fell flat, in no small part due to the “worst corporation in the world” reputation that the global Millions Against Monsanto Movement has managed to hang around Monsanto’s neck.

In the U.S., the growing power of the anti-GMO movement has forced the passage of a game-changing mandatory GMO labeling law in Vermont. The Vermont law will go into effect July 1, 2016, forcing national brands to either remove GMOs from their products or label them. The Vermont law will also make it illegal to label GMO-tainted foods as “natural.” Many national brands have already begun removing bogus “natural” or “all natural” claims from their packaging.

Consumer pressure on Whole Foods Market (WFM) has likewise forced the organic and natural products giant to declare that all 40,000 foods, including meat and take-out, in WFM stores will have to be labeled as GMO or GMO-free by 2018.  Other chains, such as the rapidly growing Natural Grocer, have already gone GMO-free.

While a number of major food brands and chains, such as Hershey’s and Chipotle’s, have already begun removing GMOs from their products, the impending Vermont law has created panic among the Biotech Bullies, with Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association attempting to ram through the passage of the draconian, highly unpopular DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act (H.R. 1599) in Congress, even though 90 percent of Americans want GMO foods labeled.

The DARK Act will nullify the Vermont GMO labeling law and take away the long-established constitutional right of states to label foods and regulate food safety. But such a blatant attack on states’ and consumer rights will also likely create a major backlash. Even the mass media has warned that the forced passage of the DARK Act, either through Congressional vote, or more likely, a backroom-deal rider inserted into a Federal Appropriations bill, will likely enrage health- and environmentally-conscious consumers. As Fortune magazine reports, Big Food may indeed be able to ram through the unpopular DARK Act, but this outrageous maneuver will likely lead to “a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war.”

The global grassroots swarm: next steps

Now that we’ve stung Monsanto and Food Inc. (corporate agribusiness) with thousands of campaigns, boycotts, protests, litigation and legislative efforts, what are our next steps in the great 2015 Food Fight?

1. Defeat the DARK Act

Every major anti-GMO and alternative food and farming network in the U.S. is now mobilizing against the DARK Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 275-150. We must mobilize, as never before, to stop this outrageous bill in the Senate. But we must also be prepared for dirty tricks, a secret rider inserted into one or more Congressional Appropriations Bills that will not require an open debate or vote in the Senate. And if, despite all our efforts, the DARK Act becomes law, we must be prepared to carry out our own skull-and-crossbones labeling by aggressively testing all of the major (non-organic) U.S. food brands, including meat and animal products, and by exposing the GMOs, pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters that make these degenerate foods unfit for human consumption.

2. Expand and deepen the message

We need to change our campaign message from “Boycott and Ban GMOs” to “Boycott and Ban GMOs, as well as the toxic chemicals, animal drugs and factory farms that are an integral part of the industrial/GMO food and farming system.” GMOs in processed foods are a major threat to our health and the environment, but they are only part of the problem of our degenerate food system. Polls consistently show that U.S. consumers are equally alarmed by the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones in non-organic foods. We need to emphasize that GMOs are pesticide delivery systems, and that GMOs are not only found in most processed foods and beverages, but they are also found in nearly all non-organic, non-grass fed meat and animal products. Every bite of factory-farmed meat, dairy or eggs, every sip of factory-farmed milk, not only contains GMOs, but also the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and animal drugs that are slowly but surely destroying public health. We also need to point out that every time you pull up to the gas pump, you are filling up your tank with not only greenhouse gas-emitting gasoline, but Monsanto’s chemical-intensive, soil destroying GMO corn ethanol as well.

3. Frame the fight

The battle must be framed asdegenerative versus regenerative agriculture and land use. Even before GMOs hit the market in 1994, in the form of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone, America’s industrial food and farming system was terrible for human health, the for the environment, farm animals and rural communities. If we somehow managed to get rid of all GMOs tomorrow, our (non-organic) food system would still be degenerating our health, biodiversity, water quality, and most importantly, our climate. The industrial food and farming system, with its destructive deforestation and land use, is the number one cause of global warming and climate disruption. But at the same time as we expose the hazards of industrial food and farming we must spread the good news that regenerative agriculture is not only better for our health, but that it can fix the climate crisis as well, by sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric carbon over the next two decades. We need to Cook Organic, not the Planet. This requires a new message, and a broader coalition beyond simply “GMO-free.”

4. Get ready to go to war

Given how desperate Monsanto and Big Ag have become, we must prepare for any eventuality. The reason Big Food and Big Biotech are escalating the war against consumer choice and food safety is because a critical mass of the public no longer believes the lies. Monsanto and Big Food understand full well that they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds and consumer dollars of the majority, not only in the U.S. but globally. That’s why they are pushing the DARK Act and negotiating secret international trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, deals that would take away consumer rights to label and ban GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics and other dangerous animal drugs. This is no longer simply a food fight, but a war. We need to step up our public education, grassroots mobilization and most importantly, our marketplace pressure and boycotts.

5. Join forces

We must link together the food, farm, forest, climate and economic justice movements. The climate crisis, even though many people don’t understand this yet, is the most important issue that humans have ever faced. The food and farm movement needs to move beyond single-issue campaigning to challenge the entire system of industrial agriculture, junk food, ethanol production and factory farming. We need to educate people to understand that industrial food and farming, GMOs, destructive deforestation and land use, and mindless consumerism are the major causes of global warming and climate destabilization. There will be no GMO-free, or organic food on a burnt planet. At the same time the climate movement must move beyond its 50-percent solution (reducing and eliminating fossil fuel emissions), to the 100-percent solution of zero emissions plus maximum carbon sequestration in the soils and forests through regenerative organic agriculture, planned rotational grazing reforestation, and land use.

The hour is late, but we, the global grassroots, still have time to mobilize and act, to regenerate the system before it further degenerates us.


Reuters: Monsanto backlash? Sugar beet farmers face tough competition from non-GMO products

30 Oct, 2015
By Lucy Nicholson
Farmers of sugar beets, often using seeds from Monsanto and others, are seeing their products lose market share due to consumer demand for non-GMO foods. As a result, beet growers will engage in social media campaigning and amplify their lobbying efforts.
Full Article

This year, 60 percent of the 8.8 million tons of sugar produced in the US will have originated in sugar beets. But in the last fiscal year, the actual share of deliveries to major users and customers dipped under 41 percent, the lowest rate recorded since the US government began keeping track in 1992. Industry heads say the public’s negative response to genetically modified organisms is at least partially to blame.

In 2008, beet farmers began switching to a Monsanto seed which brought beet production to an all-time high and greatly downsized herbicide expenses.

“If we had to go back to conventional seeds, our cooperative couldn’t survive,” Western Sugar Cooperative research agronomist Rebecca Larson told Reuters.

Survival in the sugar market is all the more difficult because big food companies are turning away from GMO foods, and sugar cane has no GMO version. Even though sugar beet producers – mostly located in Michigan, Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, and California – are able to help produce sugar that tastes and looks exactly the same, the consumer often isn’t buying.

Hershey Company, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Ben & Jerry’s, and General Mills are just a few of the brands abandoning GMOs. Those companies also have a younger audience to cater to.

“Millennials care about the ingredients that are in our products,” Hershey’s director of responsible sourcing, Eric Boyle, told Reuters. “Simple ingredients are a long-term trend. This is where things are going.”

Consumers aren’t the only ones driving change. Legislators in Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont have passed laws requiring food to be labeled when its ingredients include GMOs. Vermont is the only state with such a law that doesn’t come with pre-conditions, and begins enforcing its mandatory labeling law in 2016. The laws in Maine and Connecticut won’t be implemented until more surrounding states take up similar labeling laws.

Breaking from their typical unity, sugar cane farmers and sugar beet farmers find themselves with clashing interests when it comes to the turn away from GMOs. Sugar cane growers in Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas are welcoming their new customers.

Sugar beet suppliers will have to fight their battle alone, and that means getting innovative with social media as well as how they lobby to gain back what they’ve lost in the market.

The core group behind the social media push will be 18 women recruited by Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. They are mainly farmers or wives of farmers who will engage on Facebook and Twitter in an effort to turn public opinion on GMOs, and sugar beets specifically.

One of the women, Laura Rutherford, who farms beets in North Dakota, said the anti-GMO crowd is “trying to drive a wedge between the farmers and the consumers,” in a Reuters interview. She joined the group in a trip to Monsanto headquarters in September to hone their social media skills and study GMO technology, Markwart told Reuters.

A related organization, US Beet Sugar Association, is lobbying on Capitol Hill for the biotechnology, spending nearly a million dollars in the first six months of 2015 on issues like labeling, according to Reuters reviews of US Senate records.


Eco Watch: Food Fight Continues Over GMO Labeling

Lorraine Chow
October 25, 2015
Full Article

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the world’s largest trade association for food, beverages and consumer products—has issued a road map to its member companies on how to comply with Vermont’s precedent-setting law that requires the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), even though the powerful organization has heavily lobbied and spent eye-popping sums to fight state-by-state labeling mandates.

gmo
Americans can hardly agree on anything, but polls show that 93 percent of us want the federal government to require labels on genetically engineered food. How is Big Food responding to near consensus? Photo credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

Is Big Food Throwing in the Towel on GMO Labeling?

The GMA, which represents more than 300 food and beverage titans such as ConAgra, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Hershey, has posted on its website a six page, 29-point FAQ [Frequently Asked Questions] document in order “to respond to questions that companies have about compliance with the Vermont law,” Roger Lowe, the executive vice president of GMA’s Strategic Communications, told EcoWatch in an email.

EcoWatch was made aware of this FAQ after a tipster sent us a copy of an earlier version of the document that was last updated on Aug. 3, 2015.

In the document, the GMA offers a bevy of guidelines for its companies on how to comply with Vermont’s label law set to take effect July 1, 2016, even though the GMA has slapped lawsuits on the state to block the labeling law, and has spent millions in lobbying against mandatory labels at the state and federal level.

Their FAQ brings up points such as the specific language that can be used on a label, what the label should look like, where it should be placed, financial penalties for noncompliance, whether or not the word “natural” can be used for GMO-foods (prohibited by Vermont), and even whether or not GMO-food sold from restaurants or vending machines would require labeling (they don’t).

Although the GMA expresses outright that this document is “NOT legal advice” and “it is up to each company to unilaterally decide its own course of action,” just the existence of this FAQ suggests that Big Food companies are preparing a transition to labeling their GMO products, or at least in Vermont.

But there’s a larger picture: If (or when) Vermont’s mandate kicks in next year, it could have far-reaching implications for the labeling of GMO food products in the U.S.

Vermont Wins the Right to Know

The case for labeling GMO food has been boiling over in recent years, and in May 2014, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to do just that. Unsurprisingly, the law was immediately shunned by the GMA and the organization sued the state, claiming GMOs are “safe and have important benefits for people and our planet.” It would be too burdensome and costly for national food and beverage manufacturers to make a special GMO label for Vermont but not for the other 49 states, is how the argument against labels basically goes.

In June 2014, the GMA, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, asked for a preliminary injunction against implementation of the Vermont labeling law at the state’s District Court. District Judge Christina Reiss denied the request, so the groups promptly filed a joint appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City. Opening arguments for Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. Sorrell, Case No. 15-1504, were heard earlier this month.

Unless the Second Circuit panel rules in favor with the food groups, or a federal law supersedes Vermont (more on that later), Vermont’s labeling law could open the door for at least 30 other states considering GMO label laws, such as Connecticut and Maine that are waiting on neighboring states to pass similar legislation before triggering their own GMO labeling laws.

Public Opinion on GMOs

So why did the GMA bother to float around a FAQ document guiding its members on how to accommodate Vermont’s new GMO labeling mandate—something they’ve been fighting tooth and nail?

The document suggests that the food industry is responding to U.S. consumer wariness over GMOs, according to Scott Faber, the vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, who has seen a copy of the document.

An oft-cited statistic is that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMOs, and that at least 64 countries have either banned GMOs or require labels. The sentiment is compounded with the World Health Organization’s infamous classification of glyphosate—the main ingredient in biotech giant Monsanto’s popular weedkiller Roundup—as a possible carcinogen.

“It’s evidence that the industry is recognizing that they face a steep climb, and the time has come to prepare for labeling,” said Faber, who is also the executive director of the Just Label It campaign that advocates for mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

The Elephant in the Room

Now, the federal bill. Vermont’s labeling law could be completely undermined with the passage of a national standard for labeling GMO food and beverages. And that might actually happen.

This past July, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599. The bill bans states from requiring GMO labels on food, blocks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labeling and allows food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods containing GMO ingredients. The bill has been dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act or DARK Act by opponents.

Lowe told EcoWatch that the GMA “supports a uniform national standard for GMO labeling so that consumers have the same labeling rules and regulations regardless of where they live or shop, not a patchwork of different state labeling mandates that are confusing and costly to consumers.”

However, as POLITCO said in a report, the GMA is “advocating for an industry-friendly law with a voluntary federal standard—a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.”

The fate of GMO labeling is now in the hands of the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held its fourth hearing on the topic of GMO food.

During the hearing, the consensus from nearly all of the Senate Agriculture committee and the panel members providing testimony was that GMOs are safe and that mandatory labeling for foods that contain GMOs would be too burdensome for food companies and manufacturers.

“While we continue our efforts in federal court to challenge Vermont’s state labeling law, the court process could take years until full resolution, and will certainly not be concluded prior to the implementation of the Vermont law in just over eight months. That leaves only Congress with the authority to prevent this law and others like it from enactment,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in a statement after the hearing.

Time will tell if the mostly Republican-backed bill will reach the Senate floor, but currently no Democrat Senator has agreed step up to bat for it.

“The truth of the matter is that Congress is unlikely to come to the industry’s rescue,” EWG’s Faber explained to EcoWatch about the likelihood of a Senate-backed bill. “Nothing changes the fact that passing legislation to deny the right of Americans to know what is in their food is an uphill climb.”

The Organic Food Movement  

The debate over the human safety and environmental impacts of GMOs is, in a word, polarizing. While many consumers, scientific minds and agricultural industries deem these products safe and aid global food insecurity, there are just as many individuals in these same camps who think the exact opposite.

Amid the controversy of labeling GMOs, more and more U.S. consumers are buying organic food and products. According to the latest Organic Survey from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, sales from organic farms across the country boomed last year, with consumer spending up 72 percent since 2008.

Many major restaurants and food brands have also transitioned away from GMOs on their own. In April, Chipotle removed genetically modified ingredients from its menu, making it the first major restaurant chain to take this step. Vermont’s own Ben & Jerry’s has been GMO-free since 2013.

In recent news, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Gerber have decided to not sell or use the Arctic apple, the first genetically engineered apple approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The “Natural” Label Fight

Another interesting question raised by the GMA in their FAQ addresses use of the word “natural” for food products containing GMOs, a designation that the GMA has been actively seeking from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since Dec. 2013.

“Natural” or “all natural” is a famously dubious food description that the FDA has not defined. As such, labeling GMO products as “natural” was made illegal by Vermont’s GMO labeling law. However, as the GMA notes in its document, this specific condition could change after the Second Circuit case or if the topic enters into higher courts.

How should companies address “natural” claims on labels given the Vermont trial court’s favorable response on this issue?

The Vermont law bans the use of the specific terms “natural,” “naturally,” and “nature” on labels of food containing GE ingredients. The state has clarified in its Annotated Rule that this also includes any advertising at the physical retail premises and includes in-store advertisements. This is regardless of the type of media (printed circulars, window signs, billboards, television commercials, or other digital displays).

This suggests that the next big food labeling brouhaha could center on the definition of the word “natural,” so it looks like this GMO food fight is only heating up.


Buzzflash: Five Next Steps in the War Against Monsanto and Big Food

September 29, 2015
By RONNIE CUMMINS
Article originally published by EcoWatch
Full Article

If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health and democracy crisis, then the people will … Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva, speaking at the founding meeting of Regeneration International, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, June 8

Degenerate (verb): To decline from a noble to a lower state of development; to become worse physically and morally; (noun) a person of low moral standards; having become less than one’s kind …” — New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997 Edition

Welcome to Degeneration Nation.

After decades of self-destructive business-as-usual—empire-building, waging wars for fossil fuels, selling out government to the highest bidder, lacing the environment and the global food supply with GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic sweeteners, artery-clogging fats and synthetic chemicals, attacking the organic and natural health movement, brainwashing the body politic, destroying soils, forests, wetlands and biodiversity and discharging greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere and the oceans like there’s no tomorrow—we’ve reached a new low, physically and morally.

Distracted by know-nothing media conglomerates and betrayed by cowardly politicians and avaricious corporations, homo sapiens are facing and unfortunately in many cases still denying, the most serious existential threat in our 200,000-year evolution—catastrophic climate change, compounded by deteriorating public health and the dictatorial rise of political elites and multinational corporations such as Monsanto.

Unless we move decisively as a global community to transform our degenerative food, farming and energy systems, we are doomed.

To reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, we will need not only to slash CO2 emissions by 90 percent or more, taking down King Coal and Big Oil and converting to renewable sources of energy, but we must also simultaneously remove or draw down 100-150 ppm of the excess (400 ppm) CO2 and greenhouse gases that are already overheating our supersaturated atmosphere. How do we accomplish the latter? Through regenerative agriculture and land use.

Fortunately, this is possible because more and more consumers are connecting the dots between what’s on their dinner plates and what’s happening to Planet Earth. They, along with environmentalists, animal rights, food justice, climate and health activists, have created a global grassroots movement aimed at dismantling our destructive, degenerative industrial food and farming system. And despite Big Food’s desperate attempts to maintain the status quo, this powerful movement is escalating the war on degeneration.

Under Siege, Big Food Fights Back

On the food, natural health and anti-GMO fronts, our battles for a new regenerative (non-GMO, non-chemical, non-factory farm, non-fossil fuel) food, farming and land use system are educating and energizing millions of people. The profits of the big junk food, chemical and GMO corporations are falling, while demand for organic and climate-friendly grass fed foods continues to skyrocket.

In the last quarter Monsanto’s profits fell by 34 percent, while the company’s highly publicized attempt to buy out agri-toxics giant Syngenta fell flat, in no small part due to the “worst corporation in the world” reputation that the global Millions Against Monsanto Movement has managed to hang around Monsanto’s neck.

In the U.S., the growing power of the anti-GMO movement has forced the passage of a game-changing mandatory GMO labeling law in Vermont. The Vermont law will go into effect July 1, 2016, forcing national brands to either remove GMOs from their products or label them. The Vermont law will also make it illegal to label GMO-tainted foods as “natural.” Many national brands have already begun removing bogus “natural” or “all natural” claims from their packaging.

Consumer pressure on Whole Foods Market has likewise forced the organic and natural products giant to declare that all 40,000 foods, including meat and take-out, in Whole Foods Market stores will have to be labeled as GMO or GMO-free by 2018.

While a number of major food brands and chains, such as Hershey’s and Chipotle’s, have already begun removing GMOs from their products, the impending Vermont law has created panic among the Biotech Bullies, with Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association attempting to ram through the passage of the draconian, highly unpopular DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act (H.R. 1599) in Congress, even though 90 percent of Americans want GMO foods labeled.

The DARK Act will nullify the Vermont GMO labeling law and take away the long-established constitutional right of states to label foods and regulate food safety. But such a blatant attack on states’ and consumer rights will also likely create a major backlash. Even the mass media has warned that the forced passage of the DARK Act, either through Congressional vote or more likely, a backroom-deal rider inserted into a Federal Appropriations bill, will likely enrage health-and environmentally-conscious consumers. As Fortune magazine reports, Big Food may indeed be able to ram through the unpopular DARK Act, but this outrageous maneuver will likely lead to “a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war.”

The Global Grassroots Swarm: Next Steps

Now that we’ve stung Monsanto and Food Inc. (corporate agribusiness) with thousands of campaigns, boycotts, protests, litigation and legislative efforts, what are our next steps in the great 2015 Food Fight?

1. Defeat the DARK Act

Every major anti-GMO and alternative food and farming network in the U.S. is now mobilizing against the DARK Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 275-150. We must mobilize, as never before, to stop this outrageous bill in the Senate. But we must also be prepared for dirty tricks, a secret rider inserted into one or more Congressional Appropriations Bills that will not require an open debate or vote in the Senate. And if, despite all our efforts, the DARK Act becomes law, we must be prepared to carry out our own skull-and-crossbones labeling by aggressively testing all of the major (non-organic) U.S. food brands, including meat and animal products and by exposing the GMOs, pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters that make these degenerate foods unfit for human consumption. Following our exposure of Food Inc.’s dirty little secrets, we must then launch an ongoing boycott to drive these foods off the market.

2. Expand and Deepen the Message

We need to change our campaign message from “Boycott and Ban GMOs” to “Boycott and Ban GMOs, as well as the toxic chemicals, animal drugs and factory farms that are an integral part of the industrial/GMO food and farming system.” GMOs in processed foods are a major threat to our health and the environment, but they are only part of the problem of our degenerate food system. Polls consistently show that U.S. consumers are equally alarmed by the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones in non-organic foods. We need to emphasize that GMOs are pesticide delivery systems and that GMOs are not only found in most processed foods and beverages, but they are also found in nearly all non-organic, non-grass fed meat and animal products. Every bite of factory-farmed meat, dairy or eggs, every sip of factory-farmed milk, not only contains GMOs, but also the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and animal drugs that are slowly but surely destroying public health. We also need to point out that every time you pull up to the gas pump, you are filling up your tank with not only greenhouse gas-emitting gasoline, but Monsanto’s chemical-intensive, soil destroying GMO corn ethanol as well.

3. Frame the Fight

The battle must be framed as degenerative versus regenerative agriculture and land use. Even before GMOs hit the market in 1994, in the form of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone, America’s industrial food and farming system was terrible for human health, the for the environment, farm animals and rural communities. If we somehow managed to get rid of all GMOs tomorrow, our (non-organic) food system would still be degenerating our health, biodiversity, water quality and most importantly, our climate. The industrial food and farming system, with its destructive deforestation and land use, is the number one cause of global warming and climate disruption. But at the same time as we expose the hazards of industrial food and farming we must spread the good news that regenerative agriculture is not only better for our health, but that it can fix the climate crisis as well, by sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric carbon over the next two decades. We need to cook organic, not the planet. This requires a new message and a broader coalition beyond simply “GMO-free.”

4. Get Ready to Go to War

Given how desperate Monsanto and Big Ag have become, we must prepare for any eventuality. The reason Big Food and Big Biotech are escalating the war against consumer choice and food safety is because a critical mass of the public no longer believes the lies. Monsanto and Big Food understand full well that they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds and consumer dollars of the majority, not only in the U.S. but globally. That’s why they are pushing the DARK Act and negotiating secret international trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, deals that would take away consumer rights to label and ban GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics and other dangerous animal drugs. This is no longer simply a food fight, but a war. We need to step up our public education, grassroots mobilization and most importantly, our marketplace pressure and boycotts.

5. Join Forces

We must link together the food, farm, forest, climate and economic justice movements. The climate crisis, even though many people don’t understand this yet, is the most important issue that humans have ever faced. The food and farm movement needs to move beyond single-issue campaigning to challenge the entire system of industrial agriculture, junk food, ethanol production and factory farming. We need to educate people to understand that industrial food and farming, GMOs, destructive deforestation and land use and mindless consumerism are the major causes of global warming and climate destabilization. There will be no GMO-free or organic food on a burnt planet. At the same time the climate movement must move beyond its 50-percent solution (reducing and eliminating fossil fuel emissions), to the 100-percent solution of zero emissions plus maximum carbon sequestration in the soils and forests through regenerative organic agriculture, planned rotational grazing reforestation and land use.

The hour is late, but we, the global grassroots, still have time to mobilize and act, to regenerate the system before it further degenerates us.


National Law Review: Vermont GMO Battle Continues in Second Circuit

Friday, October 9, 2015
Full Article

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is currently in the midst of an interlocutory appeal by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (“GMA”) and others of the District Court of Vermont’s denial of a request for a preliminary injunction against Vermont’s “Right to Know” Act.

The Act, passed by the Vermont legislature on May 8, 2014, and effective July 1, 2016, has the stated goal of establishing a system to allow for informed decisions by consumers with respect to the potential health effects of “genetically engineered foods,” commonly referred to as “GMOs.”  The Act applies to products entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering, with a focus on raw agricultural commodities and covered processed foods.  Labels on covered food products must either state that they are “produced with genetic engineering” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.”  Limited exceptions are made for foods derived entirely from animals, restaurant foods, alcoholic beverages and foods that have been independently verified to have “minimal” GMO content.  Penalties under the Act include $1,000.00 per day, per product, fines for food manufacturers.

The GMA filed its initial Complaint with the District Court in June 2014, and sought a preliminary injunction in September 2014.  U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss refused to enjoin the law in a ruling issued on April 27, 2015, which was promptly appealed to the Second Circuit.  Oral argument in the appeal took place on October 8, 2015.

The crux of the issue before the Second Circuit is the proper standard for evaluating GMA’s position that the Act violates the First Amendment by imposing a burden on speech by, inter alia, food manufacturers, based upon the content of that speech.  In reaching her decision to deny the preliminary injunction, Judge Reiss applied the less-stringent First Amendment analysis set forth in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel,  471 U.S. 626 (1985).  Given what the appellants term the “controversial” information/disclosures mandated by the Act, they argue the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980) and its stricter level of scrutiny applies.  Appellants further rely on Second Circuit precedent, arguing that the case of Int’l Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, 92 F.3d 67 (2d Cir. 1996), bars the state legislature from enacting a law that “trammel[s] manufacturer’s free speech rights to appease “consumer curiosity” and was ignored by the District Court.  The State of Vermont continues to argue that the District Court’s reliance on Zauderer and its less-stringent “rational basis” test was proper, in that the Act merely serves to provide consumers with “factual information.”

The Second Circuit panel reviewing the case addressed the issue of ripeness during oral argument, and remains, given the impact of the Act as the first of its kind to have a set effective date, at the forefront of debate over the regulation of GMO food and food products.  The Second Circuit’s decision bears watching, as the costs to industry resulting from enactment of the Act and the potential domino effect of similar acts being passed by other state legislatures could be significant and will require extensive advanced planning to ensure compliance.

The Second Circuit case is Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. Sorrell, Case No. 15-1504.   A link to a .pdf copy of the Order is provided immediately here.