Environment

Is a GMO Labeling Victory within Our Grasp?

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-04-27 22:04
April 27, 2016Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine Paul and Ronnie CumminsGenetic Engineering, Politics & Globalization hand holding on 420x280

Oh, to be a fly on the wall inside the offices of the top lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

So close to the July 1 deadline for complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and still no court ruling to overturn Vermont’s law. Still no federal legislation to preempt Vermont’s law.

Hundreds of millions of dollars spent to keep labels off GMO ingredients. Lawsuits, dirty tricks, shady schemes—all, so far, for naught. Meanwhile, food corporations are labeling, or announcing plans to label, and preparing to implement those plans. Others, including Dannon, will remove GMO ingredients from their products.

Is victory really within our grasp this time?

The closer we get to July 1, the closer we are to winning the battle of all labeling battles. Which is all the more reason to keep up the pressure, on all fronts.

Can U.S. Senate put together a deal before July 1?

So far, efforts by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to pass a federal law which would preempt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law have failed.

But we haven’t heard the end of the DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know—Act. At least not yet.

Politico reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on April 26, told a gathering of the North American Agricultural Journalists, “There could be a deal” before July 1. According to Politico, Stabenow said: “We've offered some very specific language and there is a lot of support for it."

Stabenow didn’t divulge what that “very specific language” was, or who among those who have so far voted against the DARK Act might go for this new language. But our sources tell us Stabenow is pushing for the same old QR code and/or 1-800 telephone numbers that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has proposed—but with one difference. Stabenow wants those QR codes to be mandatory, not voluntary.

Will Roberts, who so far has adamantly opposed any option that actually requires labels, cave? If Stabenow’s version also includes a plan that would delay implementation of Vermont’s law?

Stabenow is in a tight spot. Nine out of 10 of her constituents want labels on GMOs, and they’ve been relentlessly vocal about that. But she’s under tremendous pressure from industry—including Michigan’s GMO sugar beet growers who fear food companies will switch to sugar cane rather than label—to stop Vermont’s law in its tracks.

The clock is ticking. But it hasn’t run out. The worst thing we can do now is be silent. It’s more critical than ever that we keep the pressure on.

What happens in Vermont doesn’t stay in Vermont

Meanwhile, back in Vermont, things heated up last week as the food industry looked for ways to stall and weaken Vermont’s Act 120.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened, as explained by Nancy Remsen in this April 25 report. The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association wanted to tweak the Vermont law, to the advantage of food companies (not consumers, of course). Specifically, the industry group wanted: 1) to prevent consumers from suing if they find non-labeled products on store shelves during the 18 months immediately after the law takes effect on July 1; and 2) to exempt food prepared in stores (think potato salad, sandwiches and baked goods).

How did industry plan to make changes to a law passed two years ago, and set to take effect in two months? By attaching them to the state’s budget bill—a bill lawmakers want wrapped up and passed by May 6, when the legislative session is due to end.

OCA and other groups called on our networks to let Vermont lawmakers know we expect them to stand strong against any attempts to weaken or delay Vermont’s law. We generated more than 500 calls to the Vermont State House because the future of the GMO labeling movement now comes down to upholding Vermont’s Act 120—a bill the national movement fought for and helped pass.

In the end, the Vermont Senate’s appropriations bill included a provision to delay the possibility of consumer lawsuits, by one year (January 1, 2018) instead of the 18 months industry requested. (The states’ attorney general retains the power to enforce the law beginning January 1, 2017, as specified in Act 120, and has said he will do so). Because the House version of the budget didn’t include the provision delaying consumer lawsuits, the final decision will have to be made when the House and Senate meet to negotiate a final bill.

Monsanto still fiercely protecting its right to deceive

While Big Food has been tinkering with the Vermont law, the state’s attorney general has been trying to pry incriminating evidence out of the hands of Monsanto and other biotech and food corporations. And that move may just work to the benefit of consumers who want labels.

According to Food Dive, Attorney General William Sorrell wants “major seed and food companies” to hand over internal research on GMO crops. The request comes as part of the GMA’s lawsuit, filed nearly two years ago.
Food Dive reports:

Requested research includes those related to "potential health or environmental impacts" of GMO crops and the pesticides used on them (from Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta). It also includes "consumer survey research" from the past decade about GMO foods and the use of the term "natural" on their product labels (from ConAgra, Kellogg, and Frito-Lay North America).

We think it's a safe bet that the GMA and Monsanto probably realize that they are better off labeling their products in compliance with Vermont's law, than risking the public release of their own potentially incriminating research on the health impacts of GMO crops and the pesticides used to grow them.

It’s one thing for the World Health Organization to come out with the determination that glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup are probably carcinogenic. It’s quite another if word gets out that Monsanto has known this all along—but kept the information to itself. The latter is clear grounds for legal action.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Don’t Let Congress Give Your Money to Monsanto!

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-04-27 14:24
Belong to campaign: Millions Against MonsantoCategory: Genetic EngineeringArea: USA

Remember the Monsanto Protection Act? Well, Monsanto’s minions in Congress have a new one for you: The Monsanto Promotion Act.

Now that the IRS has filled the government’s coffers, Congress gets to decide how to spend your hard-earned money.

The U.S. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has decided that:

$3,000,000 shall be used by the Commissioner of Food and Drugs, in coordination with the Secretary of Agriculture, for consumer outreach to promote understanding and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed, including through publication and distribution of science-based educational information on the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian benefits of such biotechnology, food products, and feed.

Wow, with legislation as crazy as this, it’s hard to know where to start.

TAKE ACTION! Ask your Member of Congress and Senators to remove the Monsanto Promotion Act. Tell them you don’t want your taxes to be spent on corporate welfare or industry propaganda, especially not to promote Monsanto’s GMOs!Read more

Organic Consumers Association Sues Two Infant Formula Makers for Falsely Labeling Products Organic

Organic consumers - Tue, 2016-04-26 13:25
All About Organics, Health IssuesOrganic Consumers AssociationApril 23, 2016 Baby being fed with bottle 420x280

The Honest Co. and Earth’s Best (made by Hain Celestial) Infant Formula Brands Contain Long List of Ingredients Prohibited by Federal Law under USDA Organic Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 26, 2016

CONTACT: Katherine Paul, katherine@organicconsumers.org, 207.653.3090

FINLAND, Minn. –  The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) announced today that the nonprofit consumer advocacy group has filed suit against two infant formula makers—The Hain Celestial Group (NASDAQ: HAIN), owner of the Earth’s Best infant and toddler formula brands, and The Honest Co.—for falsely labeling “organic” products that contain ingredients prohibited under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OPPA).

“It is fitting that we draw attention to these two companies for violating U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards this week, when leaders of the organic industry are convening to discuss and uphold organic standards at the Spring National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Washington, D.C.,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA’s international director.

“No one is more concerned about food labels and ingredients than new mothers responsible for feeding infants whose immune systems and brain development are so underdeveloped and vulnerable,” Cummins said. “As consumers, these mothers must rely on truthful labeling in order to make the best choices for feeding their infants and toddlers. Our job as a consumer advocacy group is to call out and hold accountable companies like The Honest Co. and Hain Celestial when they knowingly and intentionally mislead consumers. OCA has long been a defender of organic standards, which means also defending the organic label. Our goal with this lawsuit is to force these companies to either comply with USDA organic standards or stop calling their products ‘organic.’” 

The lawsuit against The Honest Co. alleges that the company is falsely representing its Premium Infant Formula as “organic,” when the product in fact contains 11 substances prohibited by federal law from organics. Some of the ingredients are federally regulated as hazardous compounds. At least one is irradiated. And some have not even been assessed as safe for human foods, much less for infant formulas.

The lawsuit against Hain Celestial alleges that the company’s Earth’s Best brands including Organic Infant Formula, Organic Soy Infant Formula, Organic Sensitivity Infant Formula and Organic Toddler Formula are all falsely labeled organic because they contain a spectacular array of ingredients that are non-agricultural and non-organic, all of which are prohibited under OPPA. For example, of the 48 ingredients in Earth’s Best Organic Infant Formula alone, more than half violate USDA Organic Standards.

The lawsuits were filed by OCA on behalf of the general public, with the help of Yve Golan of The Golan Firm; Kim Richman of The Richman Law Group, Todd Garber of Finkelstein, Blankinship, Frei-Pearson & Garber, LLP, and Beth Terrell of Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC.

Full complaint against The Honest Co.

Full complaint against The Hain Celestial Group

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The Organic Consumers Fund is a 501(c)4 allied organization of the Organic Consumers Association, focused on grassroots lobbying and legislative action.

CRISPR: The GMO Technology That Needs No Regulation, Says USDA

Organic consumers - Mon, 2016-04-25 18:35
Genetic EngineeringSteven HoffmanOrganic Consumers AssociationApril 24, 2016 button 1000x667

Repeat after me:  Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

That’s CRISPR, a new GE technology that uses an enzyme, Cas9, to cut, edit or remove genes from a targeted region of a plant’s DNA. And because it doesn’t involve transgenics, i.e., inserting genes from foreign species into an animal or plant, foods produced in this manner just received a free pass from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be sold into the marketplace.

In an April 2016 letter to Penn State researcher Yinong Yang, USDA informed the associate professor of plant pathology that his new patent-pending, non-browning mushroom, created via CRISPR technology, would not require USDA approval.

“The notification apparently clears the way for the potential commercial development of the mushroom, which is the first CRISPR-Cas9 gene-edited crop deemed to require no regulatory review by USDA,” reported Chuck Gill in Penn State News.

Why does this anti-browning mushroom not require USDA regulation? ”Our genome-edited mushroom has small deletions in a specific gene but contains no foreign DNA integration in its genome," said Yang. "Therefore, we believed that there was no scientifically valid basis to conclude that the CRISPR-edited mushroom is a regulated article based on the definition described in the regulations."

The USDA ruling could open the door for many genetically engineered crops developed using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, said Penn State. In fact, just days after USDA's notification regarding Yang's anti-browning mushroom, the agency announced that a CRISPR-Cas9-edited corn variety developed by DuPont Pioneer also will not be subject to the same USDA regulations as traditional GMOs.

In response to Pioneer's "Regulated Article Letter of Inquiry," about the new GE corn product, the USDA said that it does not consider the CRISPR corn "as regulated by USDA Biotechnology Regulatory Services," reported Business Insider.

Not so fast, cautions Michael Hansen, Ph.D. Just because USDA says CRISPR needs no regulation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which uses the international CODEX definition of “modern biotechnology” – would “clearly include” the new Penn State CRISPR mushroom, says the Senior Scientist for Consumers Union.

“The biotechnology industry will be trying to argue to USDA that these newer techniques are more "precise and accurate" than older GE techniques and should require even less, or no scrutiny,” he says. “Thus, the issue of what definition to use for GE is a crucial one,” Hansen points out.

“The government does realize that there is a disconnect between USDA and EPA and FDA about what the definition of genetic engineering is, and that is part of the reason why it is in the process of reviewing the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” Hansen says. “Thus, the last sentence in USDA’s letter to Dr. Yang at Penn State would say, ‘Please be advised that your white button mushroom variety described in your letter may still be subject to other regulatory authorities such as FDA or EPA.’”

Yang does plan to submit data about the CRISPR mushroom to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a precaution before introducing the crop to the market, he says. While FDA clearance is not technically required, Yang told Science News, “We’re not just going to start marketing these mushrooms without FDA approval.”

Gary Ruskin, co-director of the advocacy group U.S. Right to Know, told Fusion on April 25 that the organization’s concerns about genetically engineered food crops extend to Penn State’s new CRISPR mushroom. “What are the unknowns about CRISPR generally, and in particular, in its application in this mushroom?” he asked. “Regulators should determine whether there are off-target effects. Consumers have the right to know what’s in our food.”

In Europe, however, where anti-GMO advocates have strongly opposed CRISPR, Urs Niggli, director of the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) was recently quoted in the German newspaper Taz that CRISPR may be different from traditional GMO technologies and could alleviate some concerns groups like FiBL have with older gene-editing techniques. His comments have since been subject to much interpretation and criticism among both pro- and anti-GMO circles.

While biotech proponents claim that CRISPR has much to offer, Nature reported in June 2015 that scientists are worried that the field's fast pace leaves little time for addressing ethical and safety concerns. The issue was thrust into the spotlight in April 2015, when news media reported that scientists had used CRISPR technology to engineer human embryos. The embryos they used were unable to result in a live birth. Nature reported that the news generated heated debate over whether and how CRISPR should be used to make heritable changes to the human genome. Some scientists want to see more studies that probe whether the technique generates stray and potentially risky genome edits; others worry that edited organisms could disrupt entire ecosystems, Nature reported.

Steve Hoffman is a communications consultant for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

CALL TODAY: Stop the New Attack on Vermont's GMO Labeling Law!

Organic consumers - Fri, 2016-04-22 13:11
Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationKatherine PaulOrganic Consumers AssociationApril 20, 2016 gmo label 420x280

Under pressure from Monsanto and Big Food lobbyists, Vermont lawmakers are weighing a rider to the state budget bill that would let food companies off the hook for complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law until January 1, 2018.

Vermont lawmakers could decide as early as today to pass the state budget bill. If they leave the rider in, Big Food will have more time to work with Congress on a federal preemption bill—to keep Vermont’s law from ever taking effect.

Even if you don’t live in Vermont, please CALL VERMONT LAWMAKERS TODAY at 802-828-2228 or 1-800-322-5616. Tell them to keep their hands off Vermont’s GMO labeling law! Tell them consumers in all 50 states are counting on them to protect our right to know!

Vermont voters and lawmakers overwhelmingly supported Act 120, a law to require GMO labels. The governor signed it into law May 8, 2014. Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) promptly sued to overturn it, but so far, the courts have refused to block the law. In a preliminary ruling, the courts said Act 120 is constitutional, and does not violate interstate commerce laws.

Desperate to avoid truthful labeling of their products, the biotech and food industries have worked tirelessly, and spent millions, to try to pass a federal bill to stop Vermont’s law from being implemented by the July 1, 2016 deadline.

But so far, Monsanto and the GMA have failed to convince enough U.S. Senators to preempt Vermont’s law. They’ve failed to get the votes they need for their DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know—Act. So they’re coming in the back door, using the Vermont Senate appropriations process—to delay the law, and buy themselves more time.

Lobbyists for Big Food claim they need more time to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling law—but what they really want is more time to preempt it.

Vermont lawmakers claim they can’t hold up the state budget—or the end of the 2016 legislative session—just to protect the July 1 GMO labeling deadline.

That’s just wrong. Vermont voters have waited long enough. And who’s to say that if food companies succeed with this rider, and continue to fail in in their efforts to pass a federal preemption bill, they won’t find more ways to weaken Vermont’s labeling law—until it’s no longer worth the paper it’s written on?

Food companies have had ample time to prepare GMO labels. Some companies are already labeling, even though state officials have already said they won’t actually enforce the law (by levying fines) until January 1, 2017. Other companies have said they are prepared to meet the deadline.

Vermont lawmakers owe it to their constituents to uphold Vermont’s law and enforce it.  Anything less is just pandering to big corporate interests.

Even if you don’t live in Vermont, please CALL VERMONT LAWMAKERS TODAY at 802-828-2228 or 1-800-322-5616. Tell them to keep their hands off Vermont’s GMO labeling law! Tell them consumers in all 50 states are counting on them to protect our right to know!

Stop a DARK Act Comeback!

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-04-20 17:55
Belong to campaign: Millions Against MonsantoCategory: Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationArea: USA

Everybody loves the Comeback Kid—unless it’s the DARK Act that’s coming back.

In March, the Senate voted down the DARK Act, the bill that would Deny Americans our Right to Know about GMOs.

Since then, Monsanto  and its front groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) have been using their power, influence and, most of all, money  to ram some version of the DARK Act through Congress before Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law takes effect on July 1.

Reliable sources say that the DARK Act will soon be up for another vote.

Last time, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) didn’t have the votes to pass his bill to take away states’ rights to label GMOs. Many of those who voted against the bill were pro-GMO Senators who take campaign contributions (and their talking points) from companies like Monsanto. But realizing they would take a lot of heat from their constituents, they voted no in the hope that a more palatable "compromise" bill might come along. 

These Senators who voted against the DARK Act last time could easily flip their votes to support a “compromise” (capitulation) to block Vermont’s law and replace it with a weak federal standard, because of—what else?—pressure from the big corporations who profit from toxic pesticides and GMO foods.

TAKE ACTION: Stop the DARK Act Comeback! Tell your Senators: Protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law.Read more

Beyond Pesticides to Regeneration!

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-04-20 09:12
April 19, 2016Organic Consumers AssociationBrian JordanHealth Issues violet 420x280

I have a confession. 

Until I watched actress Kaiulani Lee kick off the Beyond Pesticides 34th National Pesticide Forum  this weekend in Portland, Maine, I had only vaguely heard of Rachel Carson, marine biologist, environmental activist and author of “The Silent Spring.”

But Lee’s keynote performance, “A Sense of Wonder,” brought Carson to life for all of us who attended this important conference. Using Carson’s own words, Lee gave voice to the struggles Carson faced—the backlash she endured from the chemical industry, and the personal sacrifices she made in order to change the conversation around how we regulate chemicals, and how as a nation we address environmental issues.

It was a lesson in where we came from and where we are today.

If Carson's struggle in the 1950s and 1960s sounds all too familiar, it’s because we are fighting the same circular battle with today’s chemical industry and agribusiness giants—one product at a time, with a new, often worse, one always just around the corner.

This year’s Beyond Pesticides forum had something for everyone. Scientists, lawyers, lawmakers, farmers, journalists and activists came together to share notes on the state of the movement.

And they all agreed—we have a pathway to finish what Rachel Carson started.

Presenters Kristin Ohlson and Jonathan Lundgren discussed the coming shift in the way we farm. Ohlson, author of “The Soil Will Save Us,” spoke about the limitless potential of regenerative agriculture. She profiled farmers who have discovered that healthy soil isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Cultivating healthy soil creates farms that are more resistant to drought, pests and other calamities. It also bolsters long-term yields and exponentially decreases water consumption. And best of all, healthy soil has the power to sequester billions of tons of planet-warming carbon.

Lundgren, a former USDA scientist, presented pesticide research that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tried to muzzle.  But the moral of Lundgren’s presentation wasn't about pesticides. It was about regenerative agriculture.

“Pesticides are a symptom of the problem,” Lundgren said. “And the source of that problem is a chemical farming system that relies on vulnerable monocultures that destroy the soil.”

There was no shortage of activists at the conference, all of whom were looking for ways to bring about meaningful change, either locally or on a national scale. George Leventhal, a councilman from Montgomery, Md., Montgomery County, Md., which successfully passed a widespread ban  on pesticides, shared tips on how to fight the chemical companies at a local level. 

There were many other speakers who provided expert advice and shared critical updates on the movement to end pesticide use. Keep checking back at the Beyond Pesticides website, where videos of the presentations will soon be posted.

Meanwhile, my take-away from the conference? The regenerative movement has officially begun. We can win the battle against Monsanto and tackle climate change at the same time. We’ve got an endgame!

Support OCA’s Regeneration International project here. 

Brian Jordan is a communications assistant with the Organic Consumers Association. 

Hormone Disruptors: Everyday Poisons in Non-Organic Food, Body Care Products, Water Bottles and Home Furniture

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-04-14 13:23
All About Organics, Health IssuesElaine Catherine R. Ferrer and Ronnie CumminsOrganic Consumers AssociationApril 13, 2016 neuron_cell420x280.jpg

The Big Food giants, the pesticide and genetic engineering corporations such as Monsanto, the chemical, cosmetics, body care, food packaging, bottled water, and home furnishings industries—they all have a dirty secret.  

All of these industries make products that are routinely laced with dangerous, often deadly chemicals called hormone (or endocrine) disruptors. These chemicals can make you (and your children) fat, diabetic, susceptible to cancer and infertility. They can cause damaging mental and behavioral changes. Pregnant women who ingest even tiny amounts of these chemicals can give birth to boys with genital deformities, and girls who will reach puberty at an alarming young age. 

All these “Better Living Through Chemistry” companies and their PR firms and trade associations, bolstered by their minions in the mass media and academia, like to reassure us that these toxic, carcinogenic, gender-bending compounds in their products have been thoroughly tested and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory bodies. 

They spend millions of dollars in advertising and lobbying to convince the public and the regulatory agencies not to worry about what they describe as “a tiny amount” of Roundup/glyphosate/atrazine/2,4 D weed killer, phthalate, flame retardant, triclosan, or other hormone disruptor in your food, plastic toy, water bottle, perfume, mattress, anti-bacterial hand soap, or other household product, (and of course your urine and your blood stream). It’s just a little poison. Just like that little bit of  lead or pesticide or nitrogen fertilizer residue in your tap water, hormone disruptors are something you can learn to live with, right?

No wonder millions of consumers, especially pregnant women and parents of young children, have lost faith in big corporations and the government, and are switching to organic food and other truly natural, non-chemically tainted products.

There’s mounting evidence that genetically engineered and chemically sprayed crops can pose great danger to people’s health—danger that starts at the hormonal level. New research shows that the additives (co-formulants) used in glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, may have damaging endocrine-disrupting effects. That’s sobering news, given that billions of pounds of Roundup are sprayed on both GMO and non-GMO crops every year, everywhere in the world.

We don’t have any trouble understanding the potential of a chemical to cause brain damage, or birth defects, or cancer. But damage to the hormone/endocrine system? That’s less obvious to those of us who don’t have a clear understanding of the role hormones play in the human body—or how even tiny amounts of agrichemical and industrial compounds can disrupt those hormones, wreaking havoc with our health. 

Biology 101: the endocrine system

Before you can understand how endocrine disruptors work, it’s crucial to learn first what the endocrine system does. This exquisitely balanced yet complex system of glands and hormones regulates vital functions, such as:

• Body growth
• Stress response
• Insulin production and utilization
• Intelligence and behavior
• Sexual development and reproduction
• Metabolism
• Immunity

The endocrine glands, which include the thyroid, pituitary, adrenal, pancreas, thymus, ovaries, and testes, release carefully measured amounts of hormones into your bloodstream. These act as natural chemical messengers that travel to different parts of the body in order to control and adjust many life functions.

Once endocrine disruptors enter the picture, this harmonious process is thrown off balance. 

What are hormone/endocrine disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors (also called endocrine-disrupting compounds or EDCs) are synthetic, man-made chemicals used in everyday applications and products, such as personal care and household products, agricultural chemicals, plastics and more. These external substances affect your body by mimicking, antagonizing or complexly disrupting specific endocrine pathways. 

There are different ways endocrine disruptors can affect your health. In some cases, they can mimic a natural hormone which then fools the body into over-responding to the stimulus. A good example of this would be if you ingested the IGF-1 growth hormone factor found in Monsanto’s (now Elanco’s) genetically engineered recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). This hormone, injected into dairy cows to force them to produce more milk, can potentially cause the proliferation of cancer cells in humans consume rBGH-derived milk. (More here). 

Other hormone-disrupting chemicals can cause the human body to respond at inappropriate times, for instance by triggering insulin production at times when the body doesn’t actually need it.  

Other EDCs can block growth hormones needed for normal development. Some directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system, causing overproduction or underproduction of hormones. Too much or too little of a hormone, caused by chemicals outside the body that disrupt the endocrine system, can damage your health in multiple ways.

Associated with a wide range of health problems 

The adverse consequences of EDCs have been proven by scientific research on laboratory animals, fish and wildlife and human epidemiology. In humans, endocrine disruptors are said to cause reproductive health problems (such as poor sperm quality, abnormalities in male sex organs, infertility, and even precocious puberty), affect immune, thyroid and nervous system function, and even raise your risk of certain diseases like cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO), along with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), released a report in 2013 on the effects of EDCs. Touted as one of the most comprehensive reports on these chemicals, the findings revealed a wide variety of health problems associated with these synthetic substances. These include:

• Non-descended testes in young males
• Developmental effects on the nervous system in children
• Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children
• Prostate cancer in men
• Breast cancer in women
• Thyroid cancer

Endocrine disruptors have also been associated with other health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and impaired mental development. Unborn children are at a particularly high risk, as animal studies found that exposure to even small amounts of certain EDCs during pregnancy may trigger childhood or adult obesity. There are some EDCs that can target beta and alpha cells in the pancreas, as well as liver and fat cells, which may lead to insulin-resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.

Lurking in your home right now?

What really makes endocrine disruptors so dangerous is how ubiquitous they are. There are hundreds of these pervasive chemicals today. Your body can absorb them through inhalation, through your skin or by ingesting them directly from food. And they are everywhere—in food tainted with pesticides, personal care products, antibacterials, electronics, textiles and clothing. Plastics, laundry detergents and cleaning products, and even office supplies may all contain EDCs.

So that means that the food you eat, the water you drink, the bed you sleep in, and even the cookware you use every day may be exposing you to some type of endocrine disruptor. 

What are the most common hormone disruptors to watch out for? These include:

• Pesticide residues in foods. Most non-organic grocery store or restaurant foods, including produce, processed foods, meat and animal products contain pesticide residues, many of which are endocrine or hormone disruptors.
• Flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used in household goods, furniture, and even mattresses. These are said to mimic thyroid hormones, which can lead to decreased fertility. Exposure to PBDEs in utero and during childhood was also associated with neurodevelopmental delays in school-age children.
• Phthalates, commonly used in personal care products like perfumes, hair spray, mousse and gel, and lotions are gender-bending chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine systems of animals, leading to testicular cancer, infertility, and genital deformation. 
• Bisphenol-A (BPA) mimics estrogen and may cause brain damage, hyperactivity, poor immune function and prostate health and early puberty. BPA is one of the most widely used chemicals, found in plastics, receipts, and canned goods (it coats 75 percent of cans in North America). Its supposedly “safe” counterpart, bisphenol-S (BPS), is harmful as well.  
• Triclosan, found in antibacterial products, soap, and certain toothpaste brands, can alter hormone regulation, interfere with fetal development and increase your risk of cancer. 

Are you consuming EDC-loaded foods?

Going back to pesticides, remember that unless you’re consuming raw, organic fruits and vegetables from trustworthy sources that don’t use pesticides, then you’re at risk of exposure to endocrine disruptors.   

One study clearly demonstrates this. Conducted by British scientists and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the study revealed that many agricultural pesticides disrupt male hormones. The study found that 30 of 37 widely used pesticides tested by researchers either blocked or mimicked male hormones. Sixteen of the 30 had no known hormonal activity until now, while 14 had some previous evidence of this effect. None of these 16 pesticides are included in the EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which will test 200 chemicals in food and water for their hormone-disrupting abilities. 

Of the tested compounds, fenitrothion, an organophosphate insecticide used on orchard fruits, rice and other grains, vegetables, was the most potent in terms of blocking androgens. Unsurprisingly, the EPA plan to study fenitrothion faces strong opposition from the pesticide industry.

R. Thomas Zoeller, chairman of the Biology department at the University of Massachusetts, said the British study was very important, as it reveals that the pesticides most prevalent in the human population affect the androgen receptor:

"Considering all the evidence that human male reproduction is exhibiting troubling secular trends (sperm count and quality, hypospadias, cryptorchidism, testis cancer), this is highly troubling."  

Exposure to EDCs isn’t limited to consuming pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables. Meat, dairy and other animal products may put you at risk of EDCs. Animals raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) typically consume antibiotics, hormones and other industrial chemicals that may have hormone-disrupting properties. Even farmed fish and seafood harvested from polluted waters and exposed to heavy metals may also have dangerously high levels of endocrine-disrupting contaminants.

How to reduce your exposure

As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure. According to the 2013 WHO and UNEP report, the effects of EDCs may not show up until decades later–when it may be too late. 

Instead of waiting for the effects of EDCs to strike, you should make a conscious effort to avoid them in the first place. Here are some of the easiest ways to do this:

• Reduce your exposure to EDC-containing pesticides and fertilizers by buying only organic produce and 100% grass-fed, free-range, organic meats. Avoid processed, prepackaged foods as well, as these are common sources of BPA and phthalates. 
• Buy products that come in glass jars or bottles, rather than plastic containers or cans. 
• Use only natural cleaning products at home. Better yet, make your own. Baking soda, vinegar and lemon are some ingredients you can use.
• Opt for organic personal care brands, like shampoos, toothpaste, cosmetics and antiperspirants. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a comprehensive database on safe and high-quality products that are free of EDCs and other potentially harmful chemicals.   
• Avoid products with artificial fragrances like fabric softeners, dryer sheets and air fresheners. Opt instead for those that are fragrance-free.

The best way to avoid endocrine disruptors is to choose products that are made by companies that support sustainability, and that are Earth-friendly and certified organic. By making smart consumer choices, you can limit your exposure to these damaging chemicals and protect your health in the long run.

Elaine Catherine R. Ferrer is a contributing writer to the Organic Consumers Association and Mercola.com.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association. 

OCA Helps Mayan Communities Fight Back Against Monsanto

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-04-13 21:02
April 11, 2016Organic Consumers AssociationMercedes LópezGenetic Engineering ConsultaIndigenaMaya 750x500

Monsanto has a long history of sneaking around—or outright violating—the law. Nowhere has that been more evident lately than in Mexico’s Campeche and Yucatán regions, where the agribusiness giant, in collusion with Mexican government authorities, is violating a court order requiring them to consult with indigenous communities before granting permits for the growing of genetically modified (GM) soy crops.

OCA Mexico and Millones Contra Monsanto have joined Mayan authorities, activists, scientists, community organizers and human rights experts in the Civil Observation Mission, a project that will document specific violations of the consultation process, and work with communities to educate the public about the impact of GM soy crops on Mayan tradition and the region’s biodiversity.

A win for activists, but . . .

Last November, Monsanto was served a “Double Whammy” when Mexican Courts banned the planting of GMO corn and soy in the Mexican states of Campeche and Yucatán. These victories galvanized the anti-GMO movement across Mexico. But unfortunately, there’s evidence in the Yucatán that Monsanto, with help from Mexican government insiders are once again pushing their agenda behind closed doors, to the detriment of Mayan communities.
 
Over the last decade, the Mexican government has granted Monsanto permits to develop over 253,000 hectares for the experimental planting of GM soy in nearly seven states. The government did this without formally consulting the surrounding indigenous communities, whose livelihoods depend on a rich tradition of organic honey production. When Mayan authorities and beekeepers from Campeche and the Yucatán saw the impact soy was having on their highly prized organic honey production, they joined scientists and activists in a lawsuit against Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), the government agencies responsible for granting the GM soy permits. The lawsuit accused the government of failing to follow the proper process for permitting, destroying the livelihoods of Mayan beekeepers and violating the rights of indigenous communities through the excessive use of herbicides and related deforestation.

The courts ruled in favor of the Mayan authorities in March 2014. The ruling was finalized in November 2015, when the federal government temporarily banned GM soy in Mexico and mandated that indigenous communities be consulted before any GMO soy permits could be granted. As part of the settlement, the Mexican Supreme Court appointed the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) and the Intersecretariat Commission on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM) to ensure that Mayan communities were included the consultation process.

Unfortunately, the CDI turned right around and violated the court ruling. On March 31 (2016), the CDI announced that the Mayan permit review body would be composed of 36 communities from Holpechén, six from Tenabo in Campeche and two additional communities from the Yucatán. However, the CDI failed to provide transparency on the selection process, and just days after the March 31 announcement, the commission was already conducting consultations in closed-door meetings, in direct violation of the court ruling which mandated that meetings be open to the public.

It was this blatant violation that led to the formation of the Civil Observation Mission. OCA Mexico and Millones Contra Monsanto are committed to helping the Mission carry out its work to protect the Yucatán region from contamination and loss of biodiversity related to Monsanto’s GM crops. To learn more or support the Mission’s work, visit:

http://demandacolectivamaiz.mx/wp/
http://viaorganica.org/
http://www.sinmaiznohaypais.org/
https://www.facebook.com/MA-OGM-Colectivo-sin-Transgénicos-562681677096387/timeline

Donate to keep Monsanto’s GMO corn out of Mexico

Mercedes López Martínez is the networking coordinator for Vía Orgánica and OCA Mexico.

Monsanto’s Evil Twin: Disturbing Facts About the Fertilizer Industry

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-04-07 11:55
Genetic EngineeringMartha Rosenberg and Ronnie CumminsOrganic Consumers AssociationApril 5, 2016 double_robber_crime_burglar_420x280.png

What do you know about the worldwide chemical fertilizer industry? If you’re like most people, not much. 

There’s plenty of press coverage and consumer awareness when it comes to genetically engineered food and crops, and the environmental hazards of pesticides and animal drugs. But the fertilizer industry? Not so much—even though it’s the largest segment of corporate agribusiness ($175 billion in annual sales), and a major destructive force in polluting the environment, disrupting the climate, and damaging public health. 

Learning the facts about chemical fertilizers and the companies who produce them will give you yet another reason to boycott chemical/GMO/factory farmed foods and choose organic and grassfed animal products instead. Remember, organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, or animal drugs.

Here’s a list of underreported facts that raise disturbing environmental and regulatory questions about Monsanto’s Evil Twin—the chemical fertilizer industry.
 
1) Chemical Fertilizer is the Largest Industry in Global Agribusiness
 
According to the ETC group, a watchdog organization that researches the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of industrial agriculture and GMOs, the world’s seven dominant pesticide, GM, and seed companies (including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and Syngenta) represent a $93 billion market. The global, energy-intensive chemical fertilizer industry is almost twice as large, at $175 billion.

Like most of the other multinational players in Big Food Inc., the fertilizer industry has secretive, vertical or “cartel” like qualities that obscure operations and make regulation difficult. Increasingly, seed and GMO companies, farm equipment producers, pesticide/herbicide makers and crop and soil data producers work in each others' interest seamlessly and behind the scenes, according to ETC. 

As ETC points out: “With combined annual revenue of over $385 billion, these companies call the shots. Who will dominate the industrial food chain? And what does it mean for farmers, food sovereignty and climate chaos?”
 
Industrially mined phosphorus and potash, along with synthetic nitrogen, are major components of the fertilizer industry. Up to 85 percent of the world's known phosphate rock reserves are located in Morocco. About 70 percent of potash comes from former Soviet states and Canada.  
 
 2) Fracking Has Made U.S. a Huge Nitrogen Fertilizer Producer
 
In recent years, U.S. production of nitrogen fertilizer has boomed thanks to the falling price of natural gas used in its production. The reason for the cheap gas of course is fracking—the process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with pressurized water spiked with toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, fracking releases large amounts of climate disrupting methane and toxic chemical laden fracking liquids which can permanently pollute underground aquifers.

That’s bad for the environment—but good for fertilizer companies. Thanks to low natural gas prices, after decades of importing nitrogen fertilizer from the Middle East, the number of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer plants is growing. The three leading domestic producers—Koch Industries, Orascom Construction Industries and CF Industries—are reaping the benefits.
 
Who’s driving demand for all this nitrogen fertilizer? Monsanto. 

Between 2005 and 2010, U.S. growers of genetically engineered corn, largely for GMO animal feed and ethanol, increased their nitrogen fertilizer use by one billion pounds. New nitrogen fertilizer plants are being situated close to the corn and soybean growers to feed demand more efficiently. “It is a highly concentrated and oligopolistic-type industry,” says Glen Buckley, a fertilizer industry consultant who spent 30 years working at CF Industries, based in Deerfield, Ill.
 
3) Koch Industries Is a Fertilizer Leader
 
In 2010, Koch Industries was named “the world’s third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer,” according to the Wichita Eagle. Koch, which along with Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations in the U.S., is infamous for its support of extreme right-wing politicians and climate deniers. Koch Industries is part of a large system “of buying, leasing, upgrading and expanding fertilizer manufacturing, trading and distribution facilities worldwide.” It controls over 65 terminals “where it wholesales nitrogen fertilizer to co-ops and grain elevators for sale to farmers, as well as selling to the chemical industry,” reported the Eagle. 
 
Not surprisingly, Koch’s fertilizer unit, called Koch Agronomics, has drawn the ire of environmentalists.  Pollution is “strictly monitored and legally permitted by federal, state and local governments,” Steve Packebush, president of Koch Fertilizer and vice president for nitrogen for Koch Industries told the Eagle. But how strict are those guidelines, really?
 
 4) Chemical Fertilizer "Enforcement" Is Often Self-Monitoring
 
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the severe harm nitrogen fertilizer does to waterways, including to marine life and humans. Yet the agency’s “enforcement” of harmful excessive farm runoff sounds a lot like an honor system. 

Asked how National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which allow farming operations to discharge nitrogen, are “enforced,” the EPA says, “The permit will require the facility to sample its discharges and notify EPA and the state regulatory agency of these results. In addition, the permit will require the facility to notify EPA and the state regulatory agency when the facility determines it is not in compliance with the requirements of a permit. EPA and state regulatory agencies also will send inspectors to companies in order to determine if they are in compliance with the conditions imposed under their permits.”
 
Self-monitoring by private industry is of course a government trend across the board. In the late 1990’s the government rolled out the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program which took away the majority of those “pesky” federal meat inspectors’ duties and allowed Big Meat to self-police its own slaughterhouses. Sometimes U.S. meat inspectors were openly defied and laughed at. HACCP was quickly dubbed Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray. Meat inspectors identified greater amounts of feces and contamination in meat soon after the program was instituted. Since then, self-policing by food producers has only been expanded.
 
5) Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollutes the Environment and Drinking Water
 
As most people know, nitrogen runoff from non-organic farms and feedlots into waterways causes hypoxic conditions—lack of oxygen—which regularly kill fish in shocking quantities. 

Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water.

Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon, and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.
 
Excessive nitrates in drinking water, common in the corn-growing areas of the U.S, are known to cause deadly "blue baby" syndrome in infants, and have been linked to cancer in adults. In combination with herbicide residues such as Syngenta’s atrazine, nitrates become even more toxic, potentially causing brain damage and hormone disruption. 

In some rural areas, fertilizer pollution levels are 10 times beyond so-called “allowable levels,” although golf courses and homeowner fertilizer and pesticide use in urban areas also contribute to the problem. Last fall, the Des Moines Water Works sued three neighboring farming counties over their nitrate discharges but, reported the Associated Press, "the litigation has provoked intense criticism from Iowa's powerful agricultural industry, which argues that farmers are already taking voluntary measures to control them."
 
6) Nitrogen Fertilizers Harm Workers and Communities
 
Anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen compound compressed into a clear, colorless liquid for easy application, is extremely dangerous to workers and neighboring communities. It poses explosion and fire hazards as well as respiratory risks. 

"It [Anhydrous ammonia] must be stored and handled under high pressure, requiring specially designed and well-maintained equipment," says the University of Minnesota's extension site. "In addition, to ensure their safety, workers must be adequately educated about the procedures and personal protective equipment required to safely handle this product."
 
In 2013, an anhydrous ammonia explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage near Waco, Texas, killed 15 and injured 160, and caused 150 buildings to be razed. (At the time, Governor Rick Perry was in Chicago recruiting businesses to relocate in Texas, where safety regulations were more lax and would not cut into their profits.)
 
In 2006, railroads asked to be relieved of their common carrier obligation to haul fertilizer products like anhydrous ammonia or to be protected by a liability cap. Accidents like last year's in South Carolina, where people within a 1.5- mile radius of a derailed train carrying ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonium were evacuated, occur regularly.
 
Yet the Fertilizer Institute trade group says “The historically high safety record of anhydrous ammonia transport by rail has been achieved over the years by the fertilizer industry, the railroads and tank car manufacturing and leasing companies working in a close cooperative effort.”

7) Chemical Fertilizers Destroy the Soils’ Natural Ability to Sequester Excess Atmospheric CO2
 
According to GMO no-till advocates, adding nitrogen fertilizer to soil, is supposedly “climate friendly” because it allegedly helps crops draw CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil as organic carbon. But University of Illinois soil scientists disputed this view in "The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration," a research paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality:

"…excessive [fertilizer] application rates cut profits and are bad for soils and the environment. The loss of soil carbon has many adverse consequences for productivity, one of which is to decrease water storage. There are also adverse implications for air and water quality, since carbon dioxide will be released into the air, while excessive nitrogen contributes to the nitrate pollution problem."

Not surprisingly, much of the organic carbon decline the researchers identified occurred in the fertilized soil found in corn belts.
 
The ETC group agrees with the University of Illinois researchers. 

There is growing recognition that synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHG). The estimated cost of environmental damage from reactive nitrogen emissions is between $70 billion and $320 billion in the European Union alone."

8) Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Chemical Fertilizers Are a Major and Persistent Greenhouse Gas Pollutant

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is responsible for approximate 5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Nitrous oxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's nitrogen cycle, and has a variety of natural sources. However, human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management, and industrial processes are increasing the amount of N2O in the atmosphere. 

The primary cause of N2O contamination of the atmosphere are the nitrogen fertilizers used in industrial (non-organic) agriculture.

Nitrous oxide molecules, in comparison to other greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, an average of 114 years. NO2 also has much more potent heat-trapping characteristics. The impact of one pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide. 

Although transportation, industry and energy producers are significant and well-recognized GHG polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated,” industrial food and farming. Industrial food and farming accounts for a huge portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s ridiculously low estimates range from 7 percent to 12 percent, but some climate scientists believe the figure could be as high as 50 percent or more. Industrial food and farming also destroys the natural capacity of plants and soils to sequester atmospheric carbon.

Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including nitrous oxide, which are responsible (along with methane) for at least 20 percent of global warming. 

Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed or produce ethanol. Given that about 80 percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing factory-farmed meat, dairy and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the over-production and over-consumption of factory-farmed meat and animal products.

The most climate-damaging greenhouse gas poison used by industrial farmers is synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems, which generate their own large share of GHGs during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms.  

German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5 percent of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today. 

During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, both the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb-making capacity have soared. By the 1990s, more than 90 percent of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic. 

According to the USDA, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen, the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of GHG for every pound produced. That’s 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.  

Regenerative Organic Farming and Ranching Can Drastically Reduce GHG Emissions

The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, greenhouse gas damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will require wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of millions of chemical farms, feedlots and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens. 
  
If we carried out a full environmental impact statement on industrial and factory farming synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use, we would never give these practices a permit for agricultural use. Ironically, although factory farming is responsible for more GHGs than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under proposed EPA regulations designed to limit GHGs, unless citizens demand it. We must demand that methane pollution from factory farms and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer pollution on chemical farms be highly taxed and regulated in the short term, and phased out, as soon as possible. We must substitute instead cover crops, compost and compost tea, as currently utilized in organic farming and ranching.

In the meantime, consumers should boycott all foods and products emanating from Monsanto and its Evil Twin: the chemical fertilizer industry.

Martha Rosenberg is a contributing writer to the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Will Consumers Be GMO Labeling 'Fools'?

Organic consumers - Fri, 2016-04-01 14:22
March 31, 2016Organic Consumers AssociationKatherine PaulGenetic Engineering, Politics & Globalization Court Jester 420x280

Tomorrow, in observance of April Fools Day, OCA activists will deliver jester hats to several key U.S. Senators, along with this message: Thank you for voting against the Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-Kan.) DARK Act (S.2609) Please don’t make fools of the nine out of 10 voters who want GMO foods labeled by accepting a compromise version of the bill in order to preempt, or delay implementation, of Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

Why the jester headwear? Because we know that several of the Senators who voted against the DARK Act on March 16, are on record as wanting to preempt Vermont’s law. We believe they’re just waiting for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to introduce a compromise bill—and then they’ll turn right around and betray you.

Who are those Senators? Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). What will they do when Congress reconvenes and the Senate takes up the DARK Act again? It’s anybody’s guess—but we guess they’ll vote to preempt Vermont by supporting some sort of compromise to the DARK Act. (More on these Senators, and next steps on the DARK Act here).

OCA rejects any federal labeling bill unless it meets or exceeds the standards set by Vermont, and does not preempt or delay implementation of Vermont’s bill. Since there’s less than a snowball’s chance in hell Congress will pass such a law, we think Congress should stop fooling around, get out of the way, and let Vermont’s law proceed on schedule. Here’s why:

•    There is no constitutional basis for preempting Vermont, according to this legal analysis by a Republican firm, and according to U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss's March 27, 2015 84-page ruling against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other industry groups' request for a preliminary order to block the Vermont law. Judge Reiss said: “The safety of food products, the protection of the environment and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests, as is the state’s desire to promote informed consumer decision-making.”
 
•    States have a constitutional right, granted in the 10th Amendment, to enact laws when the federal government has failed to take action. The Vermont bill has been upheld thus far by the federal courts because its "'Findings' and 'Purpose' reflect a substantial interest in the need to disclose information relevant to potential health consequences from human consumption of GE food; to accommodate religious beliefs and practices regarding GE and GE food; to promote informed consumer decision-making; and to address the potential 'unintended' consequences from GE food production to non-GE crops and the environment." This is why the majority of consumers, both in Vermont and across the nation and the world, support labeling, not because of some abstract “right to know” concept. As the court found, the Vermont law is "supported by a state interest beyond merely satisfying consumer curiosity."
 
•    Also as reinforced by the ruling on Vermont, state GMO labeling laws do not interfere with interstate commerce, despite industry’s attempt to convince Congress members otherwise.
 
•    After he took office, President Obama issued an executive order calling on federal lawmakers to not preempt state laws. The President explained that, even though the Federal Government’s role in promoting the general welfare is “critical,” the States play a concurrent and often more aggressive role in protecting the health and safety of their citizens and the environment.
 
In the interest of the health and safety of its citizens and their environment, Vermont lawmakers passed a strong, constitutionally sound labeling law. Even if Congress agreed to a mandatory federal law, that law would pale by comparison to Vermont’s. There would be exemptions, high thresholds and loopholes. It’s just naïve to think Congress, whose members take in millions from Monsanto and Big Food lobbyists, will do the right thing.

Multinational food companies are already beginning to remove GMOs, or label them in all 50 states. Once corporations are required to state “produced with genetic engineering” on products that contain GMOs, consumers will either choose to buy them, or choose not to buy them. Depending on what consumers do, food companies will decide whether or not to keep selling products with GMO ingredients, or remove the GMO ingredients.

That’s how a free market is supposed to work—with informed consumers driving demand. But unless laws mandate these labels, corporations can choose not to label, or they can tell consumers they will label, but then set their own "standards" for labeling which could include high thresholds and loopholes in order to avoid labeling. "Voluntary" is not an acceptable standard.

TAKE ACTION: Tell your Senators: No compromise! Protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law

Dial 888-897-0174 to tell your Senators to vote against any compromise that would block or delay Vermont's bill from taking effect.

Read our press release

Help us protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law

 

GMO Labeling Activists Deliver ‘April Fools’ Jester Hats to US Senators

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-03-31 13:03
Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 30, 2016 Court Jester 420x280

Message from Activists: Don’t Make Fools of Voters Who Want GMO Foods Labeled

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2016

Contact: Organic Consumers Association: Alexis Baden-Mayer, alexis@organicconsumers.org, 202-744-0853; Katherine Paul, katherine@organicconsumers.org, 207-653-3090

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In observance of April Fools Day, activists with the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) will on April 1, deliver jester hats to several key U.S. Senators. The activists will deliver the hats along with thanking the Senators for their March 16 votes against the DARK Act (S.2609), the bill introduced by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would Deny Americans the Right to Know about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used to produce our food.

The message of thanks will accompany a stern warning: The nine out of 10 voters who support GMO labels don’t want to be made fools of.

“Any Senator who flips his or her vote to support any bill that blocks Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120) from taking effect on July 1, might as well wear a jester’s hat that says, ‘April Fools! Monsanto Rules!’” said Alexis Baden-Mayer, OCA’s political director. “We want these Senators to stay strong and maintain the victory for consumer rights that was achieved on March 16, when these Senators voted against the DARK Act.”

The Senate delivery of the “April Fools! Monsanto Rules!” jester hats was prompted by reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is working with Sen. Roberts on an alternative version of the DARK Act that would still take away states’ rights to label GMOs, but would attract more Democratic votes by promising some type of national GMO labeling scheme, one possibly involving QR barcodes, toll-free phone numbers or some other alternative to on-package labels.

“I’d love to see GMO labels nationwide, but I don’t want to be made a fool of,” said Kryssi Jones of No GMOs 4 Michigan. “It’s hard to trust Sen. Stabenow because she takes money from Monsanto and Dow Chemical.” Sen. Stabenow knows that whatever gets passed in the Senate is going to be weakened when it is reconciled with the House version of the DARK Act (H.R. 1599) in the conference committee. I grew up surrounded by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMOs and now I have breast cancer. I know how dangerous GMOs are to our health, and how important it is that we know what we’re eating.”  

In addition to Sen. Stabenow, recipients of the jester hats will include other Senators who voted against the DARK Act, but whose support for Vermont’s right to enforce its GMO labeling law isn’t necessarily assured: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.),  Sen. Rand Paul (R-N.Y.), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

On March 16, Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a mostly Republican-led effort to bar states from requiring labels for foods made with GMOs. On a 48-49 vote, the bill, which would have instead set up a federal, voluntary GMO labeling system, fell well short of the required 60 votes. By flipping his vote at the last minute, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ensured that the Senate could revisit S. 2609 to consider amendments. It’s expected that the bill will come up again soon after Congress reconvenes on April 4.

In July 2015, the Republican-controlled U.S. House approved its version of the bill, H.R. 1599, which also would have preempted state GMO labeling laws.

Tell Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival Board: Support Truth and Free Speech. Don’t Censor “VAXXED.”

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-03-31 12:57
Belong to campaign: Appetite for a ChangeCategory: Health IssuesArea: USA

On its website, the Tribeca Film Festival celebrates “storytellers,” including the likes of Tom Hanks, John Oliver, Tina Fey and others.
 
But there’s one storyteller the film festival’s board is determined to silence this year—Dr. William Thompson, a scientist who blew the whistle on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for suppressing data that linked the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine to autism.
 
“VAXXED - From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” is a documentary film based on claims by Thompson that he and colleagues at the CDC lied about the results of their own study, a study that revealed a link between the MMR vaccine and the rise of autism in African American boys. The film, directed by Andrew Wakefield and produced by Del Bigtree, features journalist Ben Swann who examines Thompson’s claims through interviews he conducts with doctors, journalists, authors and former CDC specialists.
Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca festival and parent of an autistic child, came under fire for plans to screen the film at this year's prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. When the complaints started rolling in, the actor initially defended the decision. But on March 26, he pulled the plug, telling "The Hollywood Reporter," he didn't believe the film "contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for."
 
TAKE ACTION: Tell Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival Board: Support Truth and Free Speech. Don’t Censor “VAXXED.”Read more

Now We Know Why Bee Colonies Are Dying Near Corn Fields

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-03-30 08:12
Environment & ClimateAlex SwerdloffMunchiesMarch 27, 2016https://munchies.vice.com/en/articles/now-we-know-why-bee-colonies-are-dying-near-corn-fields bee hive

Flickr user andrewmalone

Beekeepers have long said that pesticides are killing off bee colonies in record numbers. Now, for the first time, a landmark law passed by Minnesota in 2014 will actually compensate two beekeepers for damage caused by neonicotinoids, one of the most widely used class of insecticides in the world. The State of Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture found that toxic dust, drifting over from neighboring corn fields, found its way into the bee colonies and resulted in the deaths of a multitude of bees.

Minnesota’s unusual law allows for compensation by the state to beekeepers whose bees suffer “acute pesticide poisoning.” The law requires a “bee kill investigation” in which a team of investigators gathers samples of the dead bees, which are then tested for the presence of pesticides. A written evaluation follows. If the colony is indeed found to have been poisoned, the state is required to compensate the beekeeper at fair market value for the affected colony.

Until now, it hasn’t been easy proving that pesticides kill bees; this is the first successful award to beekeepers under the 2014 law. John Peckham, program supervisor at the state agriculture department, told the Star Tribune, “These are the most complex cases we ever deal with.”

State Senator Rick Hanson who sponsored the law said, “This is the first action of any state, a finding of fact, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees. Once you have a state compensating people for a loss, it’s real.”

The specific insecticide that was implicated in the Minnesota cases is clothianidin; it is used as a coating on corn and soybean seeds throughout the US. The insecticide protects seedlings from insects in the soil by growing within the plant and making the entire plant poisonous to pests. We reached out to Bayer CropScience, which makes the insecticide, for comment, but they didn’t get back to us before publication.

Food Companies Plan to Label GMOs—but Is There More to the Story?

Organic consumers - Wed, 2016-03-23 14:58
Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationKatherine Paul & Ronnie CumminsOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 22, 2016 420x280, grocery store, labels

The world’s largest food corporations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars (some of it illegally) to avoid being required to label the genetically engineered ingredients in their products.

But with the July 1 deadline for complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law on the horizon, a handful of the largest multinational food corporations have announced they will now label GMOs—not solely because they will be forced to, but because as General Mills claims, they believe “you should know what’s in your food and how we make ours.”

Have consumers won the GMO labeling battle? Have these food companies that so fiercely fought to keep labels off their products really split with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the multi-billion-dollar lobbying group that is still trying to overturn Vermont’s law in the courts, and preempt it in Congress?

To be sure, consumer pressure has had an impact on brands’ decisions to label. We should celebrate that. But before we break out the champagne, it’s worth noting that not all of the food companies that announced plans to label have taken a strong position on labeling. Equally important, four out of the five companies announced plans to label after a Senate bill to preempt Vermont’s labeling law failed, but before the Senate has a chance to come back with an amended version of the bill after Congress returns on April 4 from Easter recess.

Is there something more to these recent announcements than just the need to comply with Vermont’s law? As in, a strategy to lull consumers into complacency, while at the same time forcing Congress to give food companies what they’ve wanted all along—a free pass on labeling?

It’s also worth noting that all of the companies that have revealed plans to label adamantly defend the “safety” of GMOs—without once mentioning the fact that the vast majority of GMO crops, from which GMO food ingredients are derived, are sprayed with glyphosate, classified last year by the World Health Organization as “a probable human carcinogen.” Clearly, we have a long way to go before food corporations acknowledge the devastating consequences of the GMO monoculture model on the environment, human health and global warming.

Who’s labeling, and why?

Campbell’s Soup Co. CPB (NYSE), General Mills (NYSE:GIS), Mars and Kellogg’s (NYSE: K) and ConAgra Foods (NYSE CAG) have all declared they will label GMOs in time to comply with Vermont’s July 1 deadline, and in accordance with the Vermont law’s standards. The companies say that any costs associated with labeling won’t be passed on to consumers—a claim that deflates one of the industry’s long-standing, albeit routinely debunked, arguments that GMO labeling will lead to higher food prices for consumers.

Campbell’s was first out of the gate, and the first to break with the GMA on the lobbying group’s non-negotiable stance against mandatory labeling. After spending a half a million dollars to help defeat California’s Proposition 37 ballot initiative that would have mandated labels, Campbell’s now says the company supports a mandatory federal labeling solution. Following Campbell’s January 1 announcement, we reached out to clarify what the soup company would do if Vermont’s law were preempted at the federal level. A Campbell’s spokesperson responded by saying that regardless of what happens in Congress, Campbell’s products will be labeled, with the words “partially produced with genetic engineering,” in all 50 states. On the surface, that's good news. But let's not forget that a federal labeling bill could forbid companies from printing those, or similar words on a label, in the interest of preventing food producers from "stigmatizing" biotechnology.

Similarly, we reached out to General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s this week asking for clarification on their positions. Kellogg’s responded, but wouldn't provide answers to our direct questions, referring us instead to the official statement (which doesn't answer our questions). We haven't yet heard back from ConAgra, but we did receive responses from General Mills and Mars.

When asked if General Mills now supports a mandatory federal labeling solution, Mike Siemienas, manager of brand media relations, told us in an email that the cereal giant is “supportive of a model similar to what is used for organic products.”  In other words, voluntary, not mandatory. Asked if General Mills would label its GMO products according to Vermont standards even if Congress were to preempt Vermont, Siemienas wrote: “ . . . we would comply with any law that Congress passes.” We took that as a no.

But General Mills appears (so far) to be alone in continuing to side with the GMA on opposing mandatory labeling laws. Jonathan Mudd, Mars’ global director of media relations, told us by email that Mars, like Campbell’s, supports “the establishment of a mandatory national labeling system.” Mudd also confirmed that Mars will label its products “consistent with Vermont” regardless of whether or not Vermont is preempted “because we believe in consumer transparency.” (Mars pitched in $376,000 to defeat California’s Proposition 37. But after anti-labeling food corporations became boycott targets following the defeat of Prop 37, Mars sat out similar battles in Washington State (2013) and Oregon (2014).

Campbell’s and Mars both cited the “need to avoid a 50-state patchwork” of labeling laws as their reason for supporting a mandatory federal solution, as opposed to supporting states’ rights to pass GMO labeling laws. On the surface, the patchwork argument might sound rational—until you consider the fact that there are more than 100 state laws, governing food labeling, including a Vermont maple syrup labeling law, and a Minnesota law governing the labeling of wild rice. None of these laws ever created “chaos” in the marketplace, as U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has warned about Vermont’s GMO labeling law. And none were ever opposed with the same relentless determination, much less lavish spending, as GMO labeling laws. Maybe because none of them affected Monsanto’s bottom line?

Timing is everything

General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s all revealed their labeling plans after the Senate failed to pass S. 2609, a bill intended to preempt Vermont. It’s possible that their announcements signal that these food giants have conceded defeat, especially as they all noted the need to comply with the Vermont July 1 deadline.

That’s the optimistic view. But the timing of these announcements, made before the Senate returns to try again to try to pass a preemption bill, could also be part of a calculated strategy to win over more Senators to a compromise bill, one that will delay or outright preempt enactment of Vermont’s Act 120.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), sponsor of the Monsanto- and GMA-funded S. 2609 (dubbed by opponents as the DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know Act) is unwavering in his rejection of any legislation that requires labels on GMO ingredients. Though he is adamant about a “federal solution,” Roberts outright, and illogically, rejects the idea of a uniform mandatory federal solution.

Roberts’ rigid position on mandatory vs. voluntary cost him the support of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a key player in the GMO labeling drama. Stabenow says she would support a mandatory federal labeling law, though whether that support would include on-package labels, or some sort of QR barcode scheme or toll-free phone numbers, both of which have been floated as alternatives to on-package labels, remains unclear.

Still, Stabenow and other Senators representing Big Ag states are under tremendous pressure (by corporations, not voters) to keep Vermont’s law from taking effect. The Big Food corporations know this. So is it possible that companies, by announcing, in quick succession that they will label voluntarily, hope to send the message that there’s no need to pass a mandatory labeling law, because they’ve already volunteered? And could those big companies, or at least some of them, pull the plug on their labeling plans if federal legislation preempts Vermont? (Again, Campbell’s and Mars have said they will proceed regardless of what happens in Congress—we know that's not the case for General Mills; Kellogg's and ConAgra haven't confirmed one way or the other). 

That’s one possibility. Here’s another. General Mills told Politco’s Jenny Hopkinson that while the company won’t pass on the cost of labeling to consumers, the Minnesota-based cereal giant will have to spend “millions of dollars” to comply with Vermont’s law. Could this “woe is me” message win enough sympathy votes from Senators who may still be on the fence (and who are being hounded by their corporate donors), that they’ll be persuaded to betray consumers in order to stave off what General Mills or other companies allege is a “huge” financial burden?

It’s also possible that this is just a public relations ploy by corporations that are banking on the fact that a federal law will pass before they have to label, and that that law will include restrictions that prohibit them from printing “produced with genetic engineering,” or similar wording, on their packages. That scenario would allow them to say, gee, we tried to give consumers what they want, but Congress wouldn’t allow it.

Whatever the new-and-improved version of the Senate bill morphs into, assuming the Senate passes a bill, it will have to go back to the U.S. House. There, members of a Republican-controlled Joint Standing Conference Committee will try to “reconcile” the Senate bill with the House version, H.R. 1599, which passed the House in July by a vote of 275 – 150. Guaranteed, the House won’t sign off on anything with the words “mandatory” or “on-package.” In fact, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), according to Politico, “declared just this week that he won't support on-package labeling, which he has said stigmatizes the technology.” Whatever ends up coming out of the committee will have to go back to the House and Senate for a full vote.

That leaves consumers no choice but to continue to hammer our Senators with this message: No compromise. Let Vermont’s law take effect. And if you really can’t tolerate supporting states’ rights to pass labeling laws, then pass a federal labeling law that meets, or preferably exceeds, the standards set by Vermont’s law.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

The DARK Act: You Slayed It—For Now!

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-03-17 23:59
Genetic EngineeringAlexis Baden-MayerOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 15, 2016 Supergirl

Thanks to your tremendous and relentless pressure, you defeated the DARK Act today.

Let’s hope it rests in peace. But if it doesn’t, we’re prepared, with your help, to engage in some fierce zombie slaying.

Not enough votes—yet

After all his posturing and bribing and coercing, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) didn’t have enough votes to pass S. 2609, or what we’ve all come to know as the DARK Act, the bill that would Deny Americans the Right to Know about GMOs.

This is an exciting preliminary victory. It’s your victory.

Thank you to everyone who called your Senators and donated to the fight for our right to know! Now it’s time to call those Senators who voted with us, and say thank you.  Please click here to see how your Senators voted and then call the Capitol switchboard at 1-202-224-3121.

Here’s a quick summary of the vote.

There were very few Democrats who voted for the DARK Act: Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

There were also a few Republicans who broke ranks: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

If these DARK Act opponents stay strong, they can defeat this bill, and Vermont’s GMO labeling law will take effect on July 1.

Once Vermont’s law takes effect, our movement will snowball, passing laws across the country and forcing food companies to give every American our right to know about GMOs. We’ll finally have mandatory food labels requiring the words “produced with genetic engineering” to be printed on the package.

What compromise lurks?

Unfortunately, an uncompromising win is far from guaranteed. There is still the danger that pro-GMO Democrats will decide to stab us in the back.

Politico reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is floating an alternative to the DARK Act. While the text of the proposal has not been made available, reporter Jenny Hopkinson says Stabenow's sponsorship of the measure could provide” enough cover” for Democrats to vote to preempt state GMO labeling laws.

What exactly that “cover” looks like has yet to be revealed. Mandatory QR codes? Toll-free numbers? Whatever it is, you can bet it will preempt Vermont.

What’s next, and when?

After the vote on the DARK Act failed today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flipped his vote from yes to no. He’s on the DARK side for sure, but this was just a procedural maneuver that allows the Senate to bring an amended version of the DARK Act back into the realm of the “un-dead.”

How soon could the DARK Act be resurrected? As early as this week, or perhaps in two weeks, after the Senate returns from its recess.

We need to stay strong and unite around this message to the Senate:

1.    GMOs should be labeled ‘Produced with Genetic Engineering’ using words on the package. Anything less is unacceptable.
2.    QR codes, symbols and acronyms would hide information about GMOs from people who aren’t in the know. Any “solution” requiring a smart phone discriminates against people who don’t have smart phones.
3.    The people of Vermont shouldn’t have to wait for the food companies to voluntarily label GMOs or for the federal government to write regulations. Vermont’s GMO labeling law must be allowed to take effect on July 1.
4.    There are real concerns about the safety of GMOs, especially as more than 99 percent of the GMO crops grown in the world today are engineered to increase our exposure to pesticides like Monsanto’s Roundup, which the World Health Organization says is a probable carcinogen.

Meanwhile, we at OCA thank you for all of your hard work, and your tremendous financial support—support that has brought us to today’s victory.

It’s critical that we remain vigilant. And it’s important to reach out and thank those Senators who voted for consumers, not Monsanto, today. Please click here to see how your Senators voted and then call the Capitol switchboard at 1-202-224-3121.
 

Court Ruling a Victory for Mexico Farmers and Anti-GMO Activists

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-03-17 09:02
Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationMercedes López Martínez and Ercilia SahoresOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 16, 2016 Indian Corn


 

On March 8, 2016, Mexican farmers, consumers and activists scored a major victory when a federal appeals court ruled that genetically engineered corn can’t be grown in Mexico until a class action lawsuit, filed by scientists, consumers, farmers and activists has been resolved.

The March 8 ruling allows the biotech industry to continue experimental trials of GM corn, but with a new twist—the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) will now require regular assessments of the impact of the of the test crops on neighboring non-GM fields and human health.

This recent victory follows a seven-year battle that has drawn together a broad coalition of coalition of individuals and civil society organizations, including scientists, farming groups, beekeepers, indigenous groups, environmental groups, human rights groups and artists bound together by a single mission: to protect the integrity of Mexico’s most popular agricultural crop. The coalition, called Sin Maíz, No hay País (Without Corn, There is No Country), has for years been collecting scientific data about GMOs introduced in Mexico.

The Organic Consumers Association’s Mexico-based team, working through our sister organizations, Vía Orgánica and Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos, is proud to have played a role in achieving this victory. We also know that this is just the first of many legal hurdles we will have to overcome in our continued battle to defend the integrity and diversity of Mexico’s corn and its connection with an entire culture.

The history behind Monsanto’s Assault on Mexico’s Corn

In 2009, changes in Mexican law allowed biotech giants like Monsanto to conduct trials of GMO corn in approved regions of the country.

Two years later, in 2011, Monsanto and Syngenta asked for a permit to plant GM corn in several states in Northern Mexico. Not surprisingly, they found legal loopholes and sympathetic government officials. The imminent infiltration of GM corn in Mexico threatened Mexico’s ancient tradition of seed exchanges and seed banks. It also threatened to cross contaminate native corn crops, pollute the environment, destroy biodiversity, poison the people and bring poverty to small producers by privatizing corn production through the sale of proprietary patented seeds—just as industrial GMO crops have done in other parts of the world.

This new and imminent threat led to the creation of the 73-member Sin Maíz, No hay País Coalition which has since worked tirelessly to protect and defend Mexico’s traditional corn economy and culture. In July 2013, the coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s process for permitting the planting of GM corn, on the basis that GM corn would threaten biodiversity for current and future generations.

Monsanto and Syngenta responded by hiring the best international and national law firms to fight off the coalition’s team of legal experts, some of whom worked pro bono. The coalition sought national and international funding. OCA has so far contributed $30,000 to support the struggle.

In 2014 and 2015, multinational agribusiness companies, led by Monsanto and Syngenta, filed a number of lawsuits in an attempt to defeat the coalition. They were unsuccessful and instead only strengthened the grassroots group, which gained increasing national and international attention.

As the coalitions’ class action suit gained momentum, it was challenged by more than 70 entities, including Syngenta, Pioneer, DuPont and Monsanto, governmental agencies such as the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and SAGARPA.

The formal trial, which ultimately led to the March 8 ruling, began in January 2016.

A heritage worth protecting

Mexico is home to 59 native varieties of corn. The Mexican people have crafted over 600 unique corn-based dishes, creating a rainbow of colors and flavors that come from each unique variety. The story of Mexico’s most commonly produced grain dates back thousands of years, when corn was first domesticated in Mesoamerica. That’s when the relationship between human beings and plants first developed, giving birth to the center of genetic heritage and diversity of corn and a culturally and protein rich civilization.

So central to Mexico’s culture is corn, that it has been the subject of entire books. One of those books, “Men of Maize,” written by Miguel Ángel Asturias and based on the sacred book of the Mayan Popol Vuh, explores the deep connection between the Mexican people and teocintle, as the grandfather of corn.

It’s a heritage Sin Maíz, No hay País is determined to vigilantly protect, despite this recent first-round victory. The coalitions demands will not ease until the federal courts:

•    Admit that, voluntarily or involuntarily, significant contamination of non-GM fields has already taken place

•    Acknowledge that GMO crops affect the human right to conservation, sustainable use and fair and equal participation of biological diversity in native corn because they violate the Law on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms.

•    Acknowledge that agricultural biodiversity will be highly affected by the release of GMO corn

•    Declare the suspension of the introduction of transgenic maize in all its various forms, including experimental and pilot commercial plantings, in Mexico, birthplace of corn in the world.

For more information:

http://demandacolectivamaiz.mx/wp/

http://viaorganica.org/

http://www.sinmaiznohaypais.org/

Donate to keep Monsanto’s GMO corn out of Mexico

Mercedes López Martínez is the networking coordinator for Vía Orgánica.

Ercilia Sahores is Latin America Political Director for Regeneration International.

 

'Rage against the Monsanto'

Organic consumers - Tue, 2016-03-15 14:48
Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationRonnie CumminsOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 14, 2016https://action.organicconsumers.org/o/50865/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=12139 Fundraising meter $235k

Tomorrow is the day we will likely witness, again, the DARK side of our democracy. The side where bought-and-paid for politicians will stop at nothing to protect corporate profits.

Tomorrow is also the day we wrap up our current fundraising campaign. As our team works today to try to prevent the votes needed to pass Monsanto’s DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act in the Senate, I am asking that you help us reach another fundraising goal, so we don’t miss out on matching funds from Mercola.com.

Please help us raise about $15,000 more by midnight tonight, March 15. You can donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

I’ll be perfectly honest. We may not win in the Senate tomorrow. The millions of dollars of campaign contributions that flow from Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, General Mills, Kellogg’s and all the other members of the multi-billion-dollar Grocery Manufacturers Association into the campaign coffers of our politicians have hopelessly corrupted the system.

We’re not just dealing with genetically modified foods. We’ve also got ourselves a genetically modified democracy.

If the Senate passes a bill tomorrow that preempts Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and sets up a worthless federal voluntary QR barcode system instead, we won’t give up. We will pressure President Obama to veto that bill.

But no matter what happens, the rebellion against Monsanto, against toxic herbicides poisoning our food and our environment, against a commodity-based agribusiness industry that destroys biodiversity and local economies while it promotes global warming will not end tomorrow.

To borrow a theme from music history, we will continue to “Rage against the Monsanto.”

Labeling has always been just one battle in the global war against a system that by every measure has failed, yet persists because it has managed to pollute entire governments.

Though here in the U.S. we may not force Monsanto and Big Food to label the ingredients they claim to be so proud of, our voices are having an impact all over the world.

In Europe, 1.5 million people have signed a petition demanding a ban on Monsanto’s glyphosate. And EU member countries, including France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden have launched a “shock rebellion” against Monsanto’s Roundup.

In Mexico, our sister organization Via Organica, and our 300 member coalition, Sin Maize No Hay Pais, (Without Corn We Have No Country), just won a major legal battle when a judge ruled that Monsanto and the other Gene Giants cannot sell or cultivate GMO corn in the country.

Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, France, Scotland, Latvia and Switzerland have banned GMOs.

Monsanto, once a Wall Street darling, was recently downgraded by Goldman Sachs and Citi Group.

Yes, we will be outraged if Congress hands Monsanto another win tomorrow. Outraged. But not silenced.

And we will need your voices, and your support, to build a healthy, regenerative food and farming system..

Please help us raise about $15,000 more by midnight tonight, March 15, so we can close out this campaign. You can donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

Thank you!  

Ronnie Cummins
National Director, Organic Consumers Association and Organic Consumers Fund

P.S. Please make a generous donation today to stop Monsanto's wrecking ball! Donations made to the the Organic Consumers Association, a 501(c)(3) are tax-deductible. If you don't need the tax deduction, please consider making a donation to our 501(c)(4) lobbying arm by clicking here. Thank you!

A 'powerful' paragraph

Organic consumers - Thu, 2016-03-10 20:38
Genetic Engineering, Politics & GlobalizationRonnie CumminsOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 10, 2016 oca-march-2015-205k-420.png

You already know that the Senate Ag Committee recently pushed out a bill which, if passed, will wipe out Vermont’s GMO labeling law. The bill will also allow food companies to continue to hide GMO ingredients in their products.

But did you know that if Monsanto gets its way, that same bill will also require the federal government to force feed consumers lies about genetically engineered food?

Our ally in this fight, Mercola.com, will match up to $250,000 if we can raise that much by midnight March 15—and we still have about $45,000 to go. Please donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

What’s the latest plan, supported by Monsanto and its minions in Congress, to brainwash the American public about GMOs?

Buried in S. 2609, the bill Sen. Pat Roberts is trying to push through the Senate, is this gem:

‘SEC. 294. INFORMATION FOR CONSUMERS.

‘‘(a) EDUCATION.—The Secretary, in coordination with other Federal agencies as appropriate, shall provide science-based information, including any information on the environmental, nutritional, economic, and humanitarian benefits of agricultural biotechnology, through education, outreach, and promotion to address consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology. 

In other words, your tax dollars will be used to promote the so-called “benefits” of Monsanto’s GMOs—instead of promoting the devastating impact these vast commodity monocultures, and the toxic chemicals used to grow them, are having on your health, and the health of our entire ecosystem.

And this will all be done at the direction and insistence of the federal government.

If that’s not outrageous, I don’t know what is. 

But then, we’re talking about Monsanto. The same company that last year added a paragraph to the Chemical Safety Bill, one that guarantees Monsanto will never be held liable for any of the damages, to the environment or to humans, caused by PCBs.

PCBs, you may recall, were finally banned. But not until Monsanto, aided by government regulatory agencies, tried its best to convince us PCBs were “safe.”

Will the U.S. Senate pass another bill written by, and for, Monsanto next week?

We will do everything in our power to stop it. We urge you to do the same, by calling your Senators. And by continuing to fund this fight.

Our ally in this fight, Mercola.com, will match up to $250,000 if we can raise that much by midnight March 15—and we still have about $45,000 to go. Please donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

Thank you!

 

Ronnie Cummins
National Director, Organic Consumers Association and Organic Consumers Fund

P.S. Please make a generous donation today to stop Monsanto's wrecking ball! Donations made to the the Organic Consumers Association, a 501(c)(3) are tax-deductible. If you don't need the tax deduction, please consider making a donation to our 501(c)(4) lobbying arm by clicking here. Thank you!

It's worth fighting for, Mr. Frodo

Organic consumers - Tue, 2016-03-08 18:44
Genetic EngineeringRonnie CumminsOrganic Consumers AssociationMarch 7, 2016https://action.organicconsumers.org/o/50865/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=12139 oca-march-2015-115k-420.png

As I write this letter, I can’t help but think about this quote from J.R. R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and the classic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy:

“Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”

It would be easier, and heaven knows less costly, to give up on the fight against Monsanto. But I believe there are good people in this world—good farmers, good farmworkers, good mothers and fathers and grandparents—who deserve clean water, healthy soils, a stable climate and toxic-free food.

And I they—and you—are worth fighting for. 

Our ally in this fight, Mercola.com, will match up to $250,000 if we can raise that much by midnight March 15. Let’s stop Monsanto’s wrecking ball! You can donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

This coming week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and the rest of Monsanto’s minions in the U.S. Senate will work overtime to hand Monsanto another anti-consumer GMO labeling victory. 

They will lie about the reasons

They will tell you labeling can't be done, even though food corporations already do it in 64 other countries.

They will tell you how concerned they are that labels will make you pay more for your food, even though those lies have been exposed countless times.

They will tell you that labeling will trigger “chaos” in the marketplace, even though no other state food labeling laws have ever done so.

They will tell you that a voluntary standard is all we need, as if corporations that have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to keep labels off their products would suddenly voluntarily label them.

They will tell you that GMOs, and the carcinogenic toxins like glyphosate that are used to grow them, are “proven” safe, even though a growing chorus of reputable scientists say otherwise.

How could so many politicians, fall so in line with Monsanto’s lies?

Cash. Lots of it. Cold. Hard. Cash. Millions and millions of dollars spent to protect a corporation whose sole existence depends on selling poisons that pollute our water, our soils, our bodies.

It’s a corrupt and evil—and shortsighted—system that protects the purveyors of poisons, instead of the very future of life.

But I believe there’s good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for. This is our story. We're not turning back.

And I don't take for granted that you are in this fight with me.

Our ally in this fight, Mercola.com, will match up to $250,000 if we can raise that much by midnight March 15. Let’s stop Monsanto’s wrecking ball! You can donate online, by mail or by phone, details here.

In gratitude,

 

Ronnie Cummins
National Director, Organic Consumers Association and Organic Consumers Fund

P.S. Please make a generous donation today to stop Monsanto's wrecking ball! Donations made to the the Organic Consumers Association, a 501(c)(3) are tax-deductible. If you don't need the tax deduction, please consider making a donation to our 501(c)(4) lobbying arm by clicking here. Thank you!