‘The tremendous amount of money spent speaks to depth of public unease about GMOs,’ says lead author
What exactly is the agrichemical industry hiding with its high-cost public relations and lobbying efforts to convince the U.S. public that genetically modified organisms and pesticides are safe?
According to a just-released study by the newly-formed nonprofit organization U.S. Right to Know, the answer is: A great deal.
Entitled Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs, and authored by Gary Ruskin, the study aims to expose the “sleazy tactics” of corporations like Monsanto and Dow Chemical.
“Since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the United States, costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them,” states the report. “The purpose of this campaign is to deceive the public, to deflect efforts to win the right to know what is in our food via labeling that is already required in 64 countries, and ultimately, to extend their profit stream for as long as possible.”
In fact, according to Ruskin’s calculations, the industry spent more than $103 million since 2012 on defeating state initiatives to mandate GMO labeling in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, with Monsanto alone spending over $22 million.
“The tremendous amount of money spent speaks to depth of public unease about GMOs,” Ruskin told Common Dreams.
The biotechnology industry—whose tactics include attacking scientists and journalists—switches its message depending on the regulatory environment, notes the report. For example, St. Louis-based Monsanto backs GMO labeling in the UK, where such labeling is mandatory, but strongly opposes it in the U.S. “Half of the Big Six agrichemical firms can’t even grow their GMOs in their own home countries,” states the report, due to health and environmental concerns in European countries.
Industry PR firms such as Ketchum—whose clients include tobacco corporations and the Russian government—have had considerable success in manipulating public opinion about GMOs. However, beneath the spin are a number of red flags about the environmental and human health impacts of agrichemical products.
According to the report, “big agrichemical companies have a well-documented record of hiding the truth about the health risks of their products and operations,” from the cancer-causing danger of polychlorinated biphenyls produced by Monsanto to the tragic human impacts of the chemical weapon Agent Orange, which was primarily manufactured by Dow Chemical and Monsanto.
Despite this track record, U.S. oversight of the industry is inadequate, according to the study, thanks largely to the anti-regulatory structures put in place by former Vice President Dan Quayle. The Food and Drug Administration, in fact, does not directly test whether GMOs are safe.
“This report presents a new argument for why the FDA regulatory process doesn’t work,” Ruskin told Common Dreams. “The FDA trusts agrichemical companies and the science they pay for, but the industry has repeatedly hidden health risks from the public so there is no reason to trust them.”
According to Ruskin, this is analogous to the pharmaceutical industry, where positive results get published over negative ones. “What we know is that agrichemical companies have repeatedly hidden health risks, repeatedly suppressed scientific results adverse to the industry,” Ruskin continued. “There is no registry of studies, no way to know. There are are no epidemiological studies on the health impacts of GMOs.”
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance will award its 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) of Palestine and Community to Community Development (C2C) of Bellingham, Washington. The ceremony takes place in Des Moines on Oct. 15 and recognizes both organization’s courage and commitment to community-led efforts to end injustice in their communities. US Food Sovereignty Alliance notes that these groups both advocate for communities whose human rights to food, land and life are in constant violation.
UAWC works with farming and fishing families in Palestine’s occupied West Bank and Gaza. UAWC, a Palestinian small farmers’ movement, was formed in response to the socio-political conditions that Palestinian farmers were facing and now continue to face. Because of Israeli occupation policies, Palestinian farmers are unable to sell produce at markets, cannot access the sea to fish, and face the confiscation and destruction of their land and water to make way for illegal settlements. Besides working for recognition of Palestinians’ rights to food, UAWC also builds solutions in the communities, from seed banks to cooperatives to extension services for farmers, works for the rights of women, and coordinates humanitarian relief.
C2C works with indigenous Mexican immigrant farm worker communities in Washington State. It is “led by women of color that have lived the reality that U.S. history reveals; that people of color, women, and poor and low income communities have been excluded from the promise of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ so eloquently expressed in our great country’s Declaration of Independence.” In particular, C2C works with migrant farm worker communities in Washington State whose families are indigenous to Mexico with deep agricultural traditions. They are using their skills, knowledge, and culture to produce food for the U.S., but face the structural violence of deportation, detention, firings, and poverty and whose rights to food, land, freedom, and respect are constantly violated.Both organizations are being honored for their work to reclaim their human right to food through food sovereignty, the democratic recognition of full human rights, and for their commitment to the leadership of those most impacted by the policies that produce hunger.
“These organizations represent communities fighting for their rights and against the forces that make their struggles invisible. The Food Sovereignty Prize shows how food sovereignty is the path toward a just society,” said Kathy Ozer, National Family Farm Coalition, member of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance.
By honoring these two distinguished organizations, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance and its 32 member organizations reaffirm that food sovereignty is the solution to end structural inequality and violence expressed in hunger and poverty and debunk the myth that growing more food will end hunger. “The honorees of this year’s Food Sovereignty Prize should remind people that, as the farm labor leader Cesar Chavez said, ‘Our struggle is not about grapes or lettuce, it is about people,’” said Alison Cohen, WhyHunger, member of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. “This year’s honorees also remind us that hunger exists because of an unjust food system that denies communities their basic human right to food, land and a living wage, not because people don’t know how to grow crops or aren’t working.”
With a handful of international agribusinesses controlling 75 percent of the world’s seeds, 20 percent of the world’s food retail, and over 50 percent of the world’s livestock, the almost 1 billion people that the United Nations estimates to be hungry are suffering because their livelihoods as food producers are in constant threat by land and water grabs and the corporate consolidation of seeds and fishing rights – not because the world isn’t producing enough food. “The goal of the Food Sovereignty Prize is to elevate the issue of self-determination and to bring public attention to grassroots struggles defending community autonomy. We all need to express our opposition to violent military occupation and corporate resource grabbing whether it occurs in Haiti, Palestine or Tanzania, as well as closer to home in south central Los Angeles, Detroit, or indigenous territories across the Great Lakes. These critical social justice and human rights issues are quite ignored by the ‘powers that be’ which created the World Food Prize,” said John Peck, Family Farm Defenders, a member of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance.
The USFSA represents a network of food producers and labor, environmental, faith-based, social justice and anti-hunger advocacy organizations. Additional supporters of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize include Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – Des Moines, Occupy the World Food Prize, and the Small Planet Fund, along with media sponsor EcoWatch.
The Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony will be held on October 15th in Des Moines, Iowa, at the Iowa Historical Building at 7 pm Central Time. For more information about the ceremony, event updates and registration, background on food sovereignty and the Food Sovereignty Prize winners, visit www.foodsovereigntyprize.org. Also, visit the Food Sovereignty Prize on Facebook (facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize) and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).
This is reposted from www.GRIID.org
Yesterday, MLive ran a story citing Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow who believes that the 2012 Farm Bill that passed in the Senate and is being voted on in the House today is a “win for Michigan.”
Actually, the MLive posting wasn’t much of an article, since it was mainly a re-printing of a statement from Senator Stabenow, with no other voices or a critical assessment of the version of the bill passed by the Senate.
The version passed by the Senate is not a win for Michigan, unless you define Michigan as big business. According to Food & Water Watch, which has been organizing a campaign to get the federal government to pass a Fair Farm Bill, the Senate passed version of the Farm Bill benefits the large agri-businesses in the US, not small farmers or a sustainable food system.
Although the Senate bill made changes to commodity policy that will be touted as reform,the bill reinforced prior farm policies that favor large industrial-scale agriculture and overproduction of commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Only a few companies sell what farmers need (like seeds, fertilizer and tractors) and only a few firms buy what farmers raise, which means they pay more for supplies and get less for their crops and livestock. The four largest companies in each industry slaughter nearly all the beef, process two-thirds of the pork, sell half the groceries and process about half the milk in the United States.
This is no accident. It’s the direct result of lobbying campaigns by major agribusinesses, industry trade associations and the policies that Congress passed on their behalf. And the process in which the Farm Bill was decided is even more disconcerting. Started in secretunder the guise of the Supercommittee budget slashing process last fall, the farm bill has had little input from anyone other than a handful of legislators and the Big Ag lobbyists who pay the most to play. The secret farm bill developed for the Supercommittee got scant scrutiny from the Senate Agriculture Committee. The 1,000-page proposal was released only a few days before the Committee finalized the nearly trillion-dollar legislation in three short hours – that’s about $90 million a second.
Then, when the Farm Bill finally made its way to the Senate’s agenda last week, nearly 300 amendments flooded in. From the absurd (ending the federal food stamp program and taking on Canadian geese) – to the outright irrelevant (aid to Pakistan and protecting the Pentagon budget), many of the amendments had little to do with farming or food.
The House version of the bill was introduced last week and might be decided on today. The MLive story mentions this in one sentence, but offers up no information on what is in the House version of the Farm Bill, nor where Michigan members of Congress stand on this issue.
Again, according to Food & Water Watch, the House version so far has not been a benefit to the public. They state:
Most of today’s action was related to the nutrition title, which primarily funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). The House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill cuts $16 billion from SNAP benefits, primarily by limiting eligibility. The Committee rejected an effort to make the cuts even steeper (by applying the draconian Ryan Budget cuts) but also rejected an effort to restore the SNAP cuts or use the lower level of $4 billion in cuts in the Senate Farm bill.
So, it not only appears that the Farm Bill will maintain the tax payer subsidies to big Ag, it will continue massive support for factory farms, unsustainable agriculture practices and punish low income families with cuts to food assistance. One more reason why we need a food revolution!
This is re-posted from Organic Bytes
The Senate Has Voted … Against GMO Labels
The vote was 26 in favor of GMO labels, 73 opposed. Click here to find out how your Senators voted. More info on this Senate vote next week!
… For Corporate Welfare for Insurance Companies, Not Food Stamps for Hungry Kids
An amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, would have cut the amount paid to insurance companies to subsidize their costs in selling crop insurance. Last year, the government paid insurance companies $1.3 billion, and Ms. Gillibrand’s amendment would have reduced that amount to offset a $4.5 billion cut to the food stamp program. But the Senate rejected the amendment, 66 to 33.
Find out how your senators voted and let them know what you think.
… To Support Rural Development – the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” Will Invest in Jobs, After All!
$150 million in critical funding for rural economic development and new farmer programs was restored through an amendment introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
That’s $35 million for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the keystone new farmer program at USDA; $50 million over five years for the Value-Added Producer Grants program that helps farmers transition to new markets and products that return more of the consumer food dollar back to the farmer and the local community; $15 million for the Rural Microentrepeneur Assistance Program to help start new small rural businesses; and $50 million to begin to eliminate the backlog in water and sewer projects in small rural communities.
Find out how your senators voted and let them know what you think.
… To Keep Organic Programs – Smart Move, as Organic Grows the Fastest, Creates the Most Jobs!
An amendment by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) to remove all funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program went down on a 42-57 vote.
Find out how your senators voted and let them know what you think.
Unfortunately, the Senate leadership decided not to consider votes on amendments to…
- Encourage more USDA-funded research on plant and animal breeding to improve health, nutrition, farm income, and food security.
- Allow the direct sale of raw milk and raw milk products across state lines.
- Legalize the production of industrial hemp, a potential new bumper crop for U.S. farmers.
- Codify an agreement between egg producers and the Humane Society of the United States to increase the size of hen cages over the next 18 years and end the practice of depriving hens of food and water to increase egg production.
This is re-posted from GRIID.org
Editors Note: We have been tracking Michigan Senator Stabenow’s role on this issue, since she is the Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Food & Water Watch began a campaign last year to target Stabenow, but despite the thousands of letters and signatures Stabenow has not taken the position they had hoped. Below is the most recent update from Food & Water Watch on the 2012 Farm Bill.
This is a critical moment for our food. The Farm Bill is a massive, far-reaching bill that touches almost every aspect of our food, from research funding to agricultural policy to farm subsidies. It is only renewed about once every 5 years. We need to make sure the 2012 Farm Bill moves our food system in the right direction.
In this new Farm Bill, we need to protect what we gained in the 2008 bill, and on that foundation, we need to begin building a food system where consumers have access to safe, healthy food and small farmers can compete in the market. But giant corporate interests are ready to block us every step of the way, using the Farm Bill to win bigger profits for themselves. That’s why we need our Senators to use the 2012 Farm Bill to fix our broken food system.
We have a choice: will this Farm Bill get our broken food system back on track, or if it will continue to favor corporate agriculture over small farmers and consumers? Every Senator will be key in making this choice, and they need to hear from you. Will you ask your Senator to help craft a Fair Farm Bill?
- Help small farmers compete in the marketplace with the packer ban amendment. Every day, family farms are going out of business, largely because they can’t compete against large corporations that control most aspects of our food supply. One damaging tactic that corporations use is holding onto their livestock, manipulating the price of meat in the markets and selling when it benefits them most. But small farmers can’t afford to wait for the right market conditions to sell their livestock. We need to ban meatpackers from owning livestock, to level the playing field for family farmers.
- Protect the future of non-GE crops with the Tester amendment on seeds and breeds. More and more, agriculture research is controlled by corporations who are focused on expanding their genetically engineered crops. Every year farmers are left with fewer choices of seeds that are not genetically engineered. This amendment would guarantee that non-GE crops get a fair share of the research funds. At least 5% of research funding would have to go toward something other than genetically engineered crops.
Big corporations will be pushing for policies in the new Farm Bill that help their profit margin. Make sure your Senator knows that’s not what our country needs. It’s up to us to urge our Senators to protect small farmers, and consumers like you, in the Farm Bill, not pave the way for more industrialization of our food. If these policies are put in place, we could make progress toward a more equitable food system. Tell your Senators that you demand their strong leadership for a Fair Farm Bill.