Friday, June 7, 2013


Debbie Stabenow Pledges To Oppose Monsanto Protection Act Extension Without Full Debate

Posted:   |  Updated: 06/06/2013 5:52 pm EDT
Ryan Grim

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, pledged to oppose the extension of the so-called the Monsanto Protection Act, a victory for advocates who have been pressing for its repeal.
Stabenow made her pledge in a conversation with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has been pushing the Senate to vote on an amendment to the farm bill that would repeal the provision. That vote was blocked by Republicans and on Thursday morning the Senate voted to end debate and move to final passage.
When two senators have a pre-arranged public conversation on the Senate floor, it's known as a colloquy and is typically the bow that ties up a deal struck beforehand. While Merkley was unable to get a repeal vote, the colloquy is a significant win for him, with Stabenow promising she will oppose any attempt to extend the Monsanto Protection Act in backroom negotiations.
Monsanto is a global seed and herbicide company that specializes in genetically modified crops. The MPA prevents judges from enforcing injunctions on genetically modified seeds even if they are deemed unsafe. Monsanto has argued that it is unfair to single the company out in the nickname for the law, which is technically known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, when other major agribusiness players also support it.
The measure was originally enacted into law by being inserted into an unrelated spending bill and is set to expire later this year. "The Monsanto Protection Act refers to a policy rider the House slipped into the recently passed continuing resolution and sent over to the Senate," Merkley noted on the floor. "Because of the time-urgent consideration of this must-pass legislation -- necessary to avert a government shutdown -- this policy rider slipped through without examination or debate."
"I wish to assure my friend that I think it would be inappropriate for that language to be adopted in a conference committee or otherwise adopted in a manner designed to bypass open debate in the relevant committees and this chamber," Stabenow told Merkley. "I will do my best to oppose any effort to add this kind of extension in the conference committee on this farm bill or to otherwise extend it without appropriate legislative examination."
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Sen Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made the case for the MPA, arguing that the measure aimed to protect farmers who had already purchased seeds that were later deemed unsafe. "I was raised -- my mom and dad were dairy farmers -- once you've made a decision to plant a crop for that year, you can't go back and undo that decision," he said. Requiring Monsanto or other seed companies to compensate the farmer for lost income wasn't a viable strategy, he said, if the seeds had previously been okayed before the court ruling. "You can't sue them for selling a crop that the federal government said is okay to plant," he said.
The measure enables the secretary of the Department of Agriculture to block a judicial injunction and allow the planting of a seed. The USDA, he said, called the provision redundant. "All that did was repeat authority that the secretary in a hearing the other day ... said he already had," Blunt said. "And it didn't require the secretary to do anything that the secretary thought was the wrong thing to do. Which is one of the reasons I thought it was fine."

Merkley's repeal effort saw an outpouring of grassroots support, and a petition announced by his office quickly garnered more than 100,000 signatures. A petition put out by Food Democracy Now, which organized a protest at the White House shortly after the MPA became law in March, similarly picked up a quick 100,000 signatures, and a petition pushed by CREDO Action, an online progressive group with some three million members, did the same.
"That's big for us, the fact that it went from zero to 100,000 just in 24 hours," Becky Bond, the head of CREDO, told HuffPost at the time. "People are really passionate about this issue. A lot of the time people feel helpless with regard to corporate decisions ... The fact that there's someone in the Senate who's fighting for this is exciting to people and they're eager to get their names on it."
Watch the exchange between Merkley and Stabenow above, or read the transcript below:
Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I rise to talk about an issue that is important to many Oregonians, section 735 of the continuing resolution, also known as the Monsanto Protection Act. I appreciate this opportunity to engage in a dialog about it with Senator Stabenow, who, as the chair of the committee, is doing a magnificent job of guiding this farm bill through the Senate. The Monsanto Protection Act refers to a policy rider the House slipped into the recently passed continuing resolution and sent over to the Senate. Because of the time-urgent consideration of this must-pass legislation--necessary to avert a government shutdown--this policy rider slipped through without examination or debate.
That outcome is unfortunate and unacceptable because the content of the policy rider is nothing short of astounding. It allows the unrestricted sale and planting of new variants of genetically modified seeds that a court ruled have not been properly examined for their effect on other farmers, the environment, and human health.
The impact on other farmers can be significant. The current situation in Oregon of GMO wheat escaping a field test--resulting in several nations suspending the import of white wheat from the United States--underscores the fact that poorly regulated GMO cultivation can pose a significant threat to farmers who are not cultivating GMO crops.
Equally troubling to the policy rider's allowance of unrestricted sale and planting of GMO seeds is the fact that the Monsanto Protection Act instructs the seed producers to ignore a ruling of the court, thereby raising profound questions about the constitutional separation of powers and the ability of our courts to hold agencies accountable.
Moreover, while there is undoubtedly some difference in this legislative body on the wisdom of the core policy, there should be outrage on all sides about the manner in which this policy rider was adopted. I have certainly heard that outrage from my constituents in Oregon. They have come to my town halls to protest, and more than 2,200 have written to me.
In an accountable and transparent legislative system, the Monsanto Protection Act would have had to be considered by the Agriculture Committee, complete with testimony by relevant parties. If the committee had approved the act, there would have been a subsequent opportunity to debate it on the floor of this Chamber. Complete transparency with a full opportunity for the public to weigh in is essential.
Since these features of an accountable and transparent legislative system were not honored and because I think the policy itself is unacceptable, I have offered an amendment to the farm bill which would repeal this rider in its entirety. To this point, my efforts to introduce that amendment have been objected to, and it takes unanimous consent. This type of rider has no place in an appropriations bill to fund the Federal Government, and a bill that interferes with our system of checks and balances should never have become law.
Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I absolutely understand Senator Merkley's concerns about the issue and the concerns of many people about this issue. There has been a long-running understanding that we should not be legislating on appropriations, and I share the concern of my colleague that the Agriculture Committee and other appropriate committees didn't have an opportunity to engage in this debate.
As the Senator from Oregon knows, this language was included in the continuing resolution, the bill that funds the government, and that bill will expire on September 30 of this year. I agree with my colleague; we should not extend that provision through the appropriations process. We should have the same type of full and transparent process that both Senator Merkley and I have talked about today.
I wish to assure my friend that I think it would be inappropriate for that language to be adopted in a conference committee or otherwise adopted in a manner designed to bypass open debate in the relevant committees and this Chamber.
I will do my best to oppose any effort to add this kind of extension in the conference committee on this farm bill or to otherwise extend it without appropriate legislative examination.
Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I thank Senator Stabenow. I deeply appreciate the commitment of my colleague to ensure that the Monsanto Protection Act is not tucked into subsequent legislation in a manner that bypasses full committee examination and Senate debate.
The farm bill is extremely important to our Nation. The Senator from Michigan has worked with me to incorporate a number of provisions that are important to the farmers in Oregon, including disaster programs, responding to forest fires, specialty crop research programs, improvements in insurance for organic farmers, and low-cost loans offered through rural electrical co-ops for energy-saving home and business renovations.
It has been a real pleasure to work with Senator Stabenow on those provisions and, again, I thank the Senator for her support for them and for advocating responsible legislative examination of measures such as the Monsanto Protection Act.
Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I thank the Senator from Oregon for his advocacy on so many important policies in this legislation. We worked together closely on forest fires. Senator Merkley and I have been on the phone many times. He wanted to make sure I was aware of what has happened to farmers, homeowners, and landowners in Oregon.
We share a great interest in so many areas as it relates to our organic growers and rural development as well as what is happening in terms of energy efficiency, and, as my friend mentioned, rural electric co-ops.
I thank Senator Merkley for his leadership in many areas, and I look forward to working with the Senator from Oregon as we bring the farm bill to a final vote.
Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, again, I thank the chair for her leadership. I know how much she looks forward to the conclusion of this process as we try to enable folks to have various amendments which are appropriate for the farm bill debated on the floor.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) blocked Sen. Jeff Merkley's (D-Ore.) amendment, but Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) was the one who objected to it on the Senate floor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Seeds of Destruction“The Monsanto Protection Plan”: Monsanto’s Deception Game on GMO in Europe


engdahlOn May 31 world media headlines read similar to this from Reuters: “Monsanto backing away from GMO crops in Europe.” The original source for the story is attributed to a German left daily, TAZ which printed excerpts from an interview with an official spokeswoman of Monsanto Germany.
 Ursula Lüttmer-Ouazane reportedly told Taz “We’ve come to the conclusion that this has no broad acceptance at the moment.”
Her remarks were circulated worldwide and Reuters interviewed Monsanto corporate spokesman Thomas Helscher who reportedly said,
“We’re going to sell the GM seeds only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. As far as we’re convinced this only applies to a few countries in Europe today, primarily Spain and Portugal.” [1]
 Before the world opens the champagne to celebrate the death of GMO and its paired herbicides such as Roundup, it is worthwhile to look more closely at what was officially said.
 What Monsanto itself says
 A visit to the official website of Monsanto Germany presents an official company press release referring to the media statements:
Aktuell überschlagen sich die Medien mit der Nachricht, dass Monsanto die Vermarktung von gentechnisch verbessertem Saatgut in Deutschland und Europa eingestellt haben soll. 
Das stimmt so nicht. Monsanto bietet schon seit einigen Jahren nur dort  gentechnisch verbesserte Sorten an, wo ein funktionierendes Zulassungssystem und breite Unterstützung auf landwirtschaftlicher und politischer Ebene für die Technologie vorhanden ist. Aber grundsätzlich ist es richtig, dass Monsanto sich in Deutschland und Europa auf die Züchtung und Verkauf von konventionellem Saatgut und Pflanzenschutzmitteln konzentriert.” [2]
Translated, the essential part says,
”Right now the media is flooded with reports that Monsanto has stopped the marketing of GMO seeds in Germany and the EU. That is not correct…”
Then on the parent website of Monsanto in St. Louis, the following statement appears:
“We have a robust business selling high-quality, conventional corn, oilseed rape and vegetable seeds to our farmer customers in Europe. We’ve been telling people in Europe for several years now that we’ll only sell biotech seeds where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. These conditions apply only to a few countries in Europe today, primarily Spain and Portugal. As Hugh Grant, our CEO told the Financial Times in 2009, ‘Europe’s going to make up its own mind in its own time.’ The only GM trait grown in Europe today is a corn resistant to the European corn borer, an insect that can do considerable damage to crops. Its cultivation accounts for less than 1% of the all corn cultivated in Europe (by hectares).” [3]
Both statements are worth closer attention.
First the German statement is a bit different from the US version. It officially denies as false the press reports that they have ceased marketing of GMO seeds in the EU.
Second, their statement that they concentrate on breeding and sale of conventional seeds and plant protection chemicals is nothing other than a description of what the present status of Monsanto sales in the EU, nothing more. Because of the limited use so far of Monsanto GMO seeds in the EU, Monsanto business by definition is focuses now where it earns money.
However the “plant protection chemicals” Monsanto refers to are primarily its own Roundup herbicide, which by license agreement with farmers must be sold paired with all Monsanto GMO seeds, but is also the number one weed killer sold in Europe and the world. It has also been proven to be highly toxic even to human embryo cells.
 The US statement has interesting important differences. First it gives no hint of any change in Monsanto policy towards spreading GMO seeds in the EU. It states explicitly they will continue to spread GMO seeds in Spain and Portugal, both EU countries. And it cites chairman Hugh Grant, not to be confused with the Hollywood actor, indicating the company expects the EU to come around on allowing its GMO. And it cites the present status of its GMO corn in the EU. Nothing more. No statement of a stop to GMO in the EU.
 Suspicious Timing…
 Yet for most of the world who don’t have time to research the official statements of Monsanto but merely glance at a Reuters or TAZ headline, the message has been delivered that Monsanto has given up its EU effort on proliferating its GMO seeds. The timing of the TAZ interview is suggestive of what seems to be a carefully orchestrated Monsanto PR deception campaign. The TAZ original by writer Jost Maurin appeared on the same day, May 31, less than one week after March against Monsanto , a worldwide protest demonstrations against Monsanto, took place in more than 400 cities in some 52 countries around the world. [4] The TAZ article that was then used as reference for all world media after, appeared under the emotional and factually misleading headline: Sieg für Anti-Gentech-Bewegung: Monsanto gibt Europa auf (Victory for anti-GMO Movement: Monsanto Gives up Europe).
The March against Monsanto was notable in several key respects. Most alarming for Monsanto and the GMO cartel was the fact that it was the first such demonstration not organized by anti-GMO NGOs such as Greenpeace or BUND or Friends of the Earth. In Germany where this author participated as a speaker in one of the events, it was all organized by concerned activists via facebook. But the NGOs who formally oppose GMO were reportedly nowhere to be found as sponsors or even reportedly as active organizers.
That march presented Monsanto and friends with a frightening new element—the danger that that grass roots anti-GMO protest would spread and make life even more difficult for GMO proliferation in Africa, in China, India, Latin America and of course eastern and western Europe. All indications are that the timing of the well-formulated TAZ interview, notably with a left newspaper openly opposed to Monsanto GMO, was an orchestrated attempt to “manage perceptions” and take the headwind out of the sails of the growing anti-GMO sentiment in the EU and abroad. For the moment, Monsanto has gained a tactical victory in propaganda points as the broad public takes the retreat at face value. As one experienced opponent of Monsanto GMO put it, it bears all the hallmarks of a slick PR campaign, “like a Burson & Marsteller tactic that applies to many controversial bad practices and part of why it works is that it takes a long time to build consumer/activist energy and momentum, whereas the PR-company can start on a very short runway …”
What Monsanto has not done is to recall its already commercialized GMO Maize in the EU, that despite damning independent scientific study of some 200 rats over a two year span showing rats fed GMO maize and Monsanto Roundup herbicide showed dramatically more cancer tumors, higher death rates and organ damage compared with non-GMO-fed rats.[5]
Moreover, Monsanto openly admits it is pushing its way deep into the eastern European market for seeds, though mentioning only conventional seeds. Monsanto Vice President for International Corporate Affairs, Jesus Madrazo,  stated that the company has been focusing  on gaining market share in the conventional corn market in Ukraine, and that Eastern Europe and South America are key growth areas for the company now.
Then in the USA, it has leaked out that Monsanto directly worked with its apparent current favorite US Senator, Roy Blunt, a Republican from Monsanto’s home state of Missouri and one of the major recipients of Monsanto campaign finance, to draft for Blunt an obscure paragraph Blunt got into a spending bill, a bombshell that exempts Monsanto from being sued for any damage its crops or chemicals cause.[6]
Called by opponents the Monsanto Protection Act, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the Monsanto Protection Act was a part of the spending bill that they were voting on. The Monsanto bill, signed into law by President Obama despite hundreds of thousands of protest petitions not to, essentially gives Monsanto and other GMO purveyors legal immunity, even if future research shows that GMO seeds cause significant health problems, cancer, anything. The federal courts no longer have any power to stop their spread, use, or sales. [7] The only other corporations in the US enjoying such outrageous legal immunity are the pharmaceutical vaccine makers.
What we have is a quite different picture from the slick spin reported by TAZ and from there picked up worldwide uncritically by mainstream media. Monsanto by its own open admission has not ceased marketing its GMO products and herbicides in the EU. It has not ceased imports of its GMO soybeans and GMO corn into the EU where it has managed to escape the EU GMO labeling law.
Monsanto also states it is concentrating on building market share in eastern Europe, where often regulators are more “relaxed” and in the notoriously corrupt Ukraine. They do not deny promoting GMOs there either; rather they state positively their focus on conventional seeds only. Simply put, the geopolitical stakes behind Monsanto and the attempt to control the world’s most vital seeds of life are far too high for the company to raise the white flag of surrender so easily. 
A Monsanto precedent

There is a relevant precedent for this Monsanto PR deception campaign. In 1999, after months of growing worldwide anti-Monsanto protest over the fact Monsanto had made a takeover bid to buy Mississippi company, Delta & Pine Land in order to acquire Delta’s patent on a radical new GMO technique known officially as GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) and popularly as Terminator technology. Delta has won a patent together with the US Government’s USDA for the Terminator. It would force a GMO seed or plant to “commit suicide” after only one harvest, forcing the farmer to return each year to Monsanto to buy new seeds regardless the price or availability.

The Terminator image threatened to derail the entire fledgling GMO project at the outset such that Rockefeller University President and GMO financial sponsor, Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, made a rush visit to meet Monsanto’s board and convince them to make what was a tactical retreat in order to limit damage to a very fragile GMO campaign worldwide. Monsanto announced, deceptively it proved, that it would not pursue “commercialization” of Terminator technology and it dropped its takeover bid for patent holder Delta & Pine Land. The anti-GMO NGOs claimed a huge victory and nothing was heard for seven years until, with no fanfare, in 2006 Monsanto announced it was acquiring Terminator patent co-holder Delta & Pine Land. This time there was scarcely a peep from the anti-GMO lobby. They had lost momentum and the deal went ahead. [8]

It remains to be seen if the forces for healthy non-GMO agriculture today prove as gullible as in 1999.

[1] Reuters,  Monsanto backing away from GMO crops in Europe, May 31, 2013, accessed in
[2] Monsanto Germany Press Release, Stellungnahme zur Vermarktung von gentechnisch verbessertem Saatgut in Europa, May 31, 2013, accessed in

[3] Monsanto, Monsanto Position on GM Cultivation in Europe, accessed in
 [4]  Jost Maurin, Sieg für Anti-Gentech-Bewegung: Monsanto gibt Europa auf, TAZ, 31.05.2013, accessed in!117205/
 [5]F. William Engdahl, Saat der Zerstörung, 2013 Neue Auflage, Kopp Verlag.
[6] RT, Obama signs ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ written by Monsanto-sponsored senator,, March 28, 2013, accessed in
 [7] Ibid.

[8] F. William Engdahl, Monsanto Buys ‘Terminator’ Seeds Company, Global Research, August 27, 2006, accessed in


Seeking Food Ingredients That Aren’t Gene-Altered

J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times
Lizanne Falsetto’s company, thinkThin, spent 18 months looking for nongenetically modified ingredients for its Crunch bars.
Pressure is growing to label products made from genetically modified organisms, or “G.M.O.” In Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, at least one chamber of the state legislature has approved bills that would require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, and similar legislation is pending in more than two dozen other states. This weekend, rallies were held around the globe against producers of genetically altered ingredients, and consumers are threatening to boycott products that are not labeled.
And so, for many businesses, the pressing concern is just what it will take to gain certification as non-G.M.O.
Lizanne Falsetto knew two years ago that she had to change how her company, thinkThin, made Crunch snack bars. Her largest buyer, Whole Foods Market, wanted more products without genetically engineered ingredients — and her bars had them. Ms. Falsetto did not know how difficult it would be to acquire non-G.M.O. ingredients.
ThinkThin spent 18 months just trying to find suppliers. “And then we had to work to achieve the same taste and texture we had with the old ingredients,” Ms. Falsetto said. Finally, last month, the company began selling Crunch bars certified as non-G.M.O.
The Non-GMO Project was until recently the only group offering certification, and demand for its services has soared. Roughly 180 companies inquired about how to gain certification last October, when California tried to require labeling (the initiative was later voted down), according to Megan Westgate, co-founder and executive director of the Non-GMO Project.
Nearly 300 more signed up in March, after Whole Foods announced that all products sold in its stores would have to be labeled to describe genetically engineered contents, and about 300 more inquiries followed in April, she said.
“We have seen an exponential increase in the number of enrollments,” Ms. Westgate said.
The shift is evident in prices of nongenetically modified crops, which have been rising as more companies seek them out. Two years ago, a bushel of non-G.M.O. soybeans cost $1 to $1.25 more than a bushel of genetically modified soybeans. Now, that premium is $2. For corn, the premium has jumped from 10 cents to as high as 75 cents.
“We’ve had more calls from food processors wanting to know if we can arrange for non-G.M.O. supplies,” said Lynn Clarkson, founder and president of Clarkson Grain, which sells such conventional grains.
In this country, roughly 90 percent or more of four major crops — corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets — are grown from genetically engineered seeds, creating a challenge for companies seeking to swap to ingredients sourced from conventional varieties. A portion of the conventional varieties of those crops is exported, and much of the rest of those crops is already spoken for by organic and other companies here.
Additionally, the livestock industry is increasing its demand for non-G.M.O. crops to meet growing demand among consumers for eggs and meats sourced from animals that have never eaten genetically modified feeds.
On Saturday, at least two million people in 436 cities in 52 countries rallied in protests against the seed giant Monsanto and genetically modified food, according to the organizers of the “March Against Monsanto.” The company, based in St. Louis, is the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds and the pesticides used to protect them.
Farmers have long crossbred plants to improve genetics in an effort to increase productivity and resistance to pests and diseases, and decrease the need for water, among other things.
The type of genetic engineering done by Monsanto and its competitors, however, involves inserting genetic materials, sometimes from wholly different plant species and bacteria, directly into the DNA plants like corn or soybeans.
Regulators and some scientists say this poses no threat to human health, but a growing number of consumers are demanding increased information about what is in their food, whether it is gluten or genetically engineered ingredients.

Monsanto said it respected people’s right to express their opinion, but maintained that its seeds improved agriculture “by helping farmers produce more from their land while conserving natural resources such as water and energy.”
Mr. Clarkson said that, so far, there were more of those non-G.M.O. crops than buyers for them, and large companies like Silk and Hain Celestial that have long been users of conventional crops say they are not worried.
“I don’t think you can discount the number of companies that are not in favor of labeling, which is what is driving demand right now,” said Ellen Deutsch, senior vice president and chief growth officer at Hain. “But if demand does grow, we will need to maintain our longstanding relationships with our suppliers.”
Errol Schweizer, national grocery buyer at Whole Foods, said he was already seeing shortages in organic and conventional seeds, as well as in commodity ingredients sourced from conventional crops.
“Suppliers are going overseas to get what they need,” he said. “We know farmers need to feel secure that there’s a market for what they grow, and I’m saying, please plant these crops, there is a demand.”
Dealers in conventional crops say more farmers will switch to them if the demand is there, but it will take time. Most food-processing companies have an 18-month supply chain for crops like corn and soy, which means that if they begin making a switch today, the earliest they might get certification would be in 2015.
And farmers cannot simply replace genetically engineered seeds with conventional ones, because soil in which genetically modified crops have been grown may not be immediately suitable for conventional crops.
“There’s a transition period required,” said Richard Kamolvathin, senior vice president at Verity Farms, which sells meats, grains and other products derived from conventional crops, as well as natural soil amendments. “You don’t just stop growing G.M.O. seed and then start growing non-G.M.O. seed.”
Nor can companies simply replace, say, corn flour from genetically engineered corn with its non-G.M.O. cousin without wreaking havoc on things like taste, consistency and mouth feel.
Every ingredient in a product must be verified by affidavit, and storage and processing facilities, as well as transportation equipment, must be scrubbed of all traces of genetically modified supplies.
Those requirements may be too high a hurdle for some food processors. Big makers of pivotal ingredients like corn and soy oil, for instance, cannot easily switch back and forth between genetically engineered and conventional sources.
Even companies that use conventional crops in production have to work hard to get certified. Silk, a large maker of soy and nut “milks,” has used soy beans from plants that are not genetically modified since its founding.
But it took the company some eight months to gather and compile lists of all its ingredients, affidavits from suppliers, test records and other information, then go through independent testing for confirmation, before its products gained non-G.M.O. certification — and it helps underwrite the Non-GMO Project.
“It’s a pretty significant undertaking,” said Craig Shiesley, senior vice president for plant-based beverages at WhiteWave Foods, the parent company of Silk. “We make 100 million gallons of soy milk using one million bushels of soy beans, and this affects not only all those bushels of soy beans and other ingredients like vitamins and flavorings, but also all of our manufacturing and distribution.”
While Whole Foods tries to help suppliers procure non-G.M.O. ingredients, its labeling initiative is causing headaches.
“Whole Foods has come in the back door and inadvertently created something of a crisis,” said Reuven Flamer, the founder of Natural Food Certifiers, which certifies foods as organic or kosher and is now adding non-G.M.O. certification to its list of services. “People who make organic products support non-G.M.O. standards, but they are already paying a premium for their supplies and certification.”
Based on the demand he is seeing for non-G.M.O. certification, Mr. Flamer says it is almost certain the supply of conventional seeds and crops, and derivatives of those crops, is going to become an issue.
That worries Manuel Lopez, whose family owns El Milagro, a tortilla and tortilla products company in Chicago. “We’ve always used non-G.M.O. corn,” he said, “and our concern is about our supply.”
The cost of the corn El Milagro uses is roughly 1.7 times the cost of genetically engineered corn, he said, and the company cannot pass on all the additional cost to customers.
Mr. Lopez is hopeful, though. “I believe there are a lot of farmers who want to get away from G.M.O.,” he said. “If they see more demand, I think they will respond.”


How Grassroots Advocates Beat the Biotech and Food Lobbies

This week, Connecticut won the honor of becoming the first state to pass a law requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled. (The governor has indicated he will sign.) It was really only a matter of time. The disappointing defeat of Prop 37 last fall in California (thanks to a massive industry disinformation campaign) sparked a national movement that has resulted in labeling bills getting introduced in about half the states.
But how did the small state of Connecticut make this happen?
I spoke at length with the leader of the effort, Tara Cook-Littman of GMO Free CT, who worked for the past two years as a volunteer. (See the group’s impressive list of coalition partners.)
She said for a long time efforts to pass labeling bills went nowhere, but things started to change two years ago once advocates formally organized themselves. While at first she and others “were dismissed as a bunch of crazy moms and environmentalists,” things started to pick up last year “when advocates were able to show themselves to be a serious movement with political power.”
What about the opposition? Cook-Littman said it was formidable, and that industry made all the same fear-mongering arguments we heard last year during Prop 37 in California about higher food prices and confusing consumers.
She and others suspect the biotech industry was funneling money through the trade group the Connecticut Food Association, which represents retailers and wholesalers. Also in opposition was the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the national trade group for food makers, which firmly stated its opposition to Prop 37 last year, calling it the organization’s “single-highest priority.”
In addition, Cook-Littman told me about the front group industry formed to oppose the bill, “Connecticut Farm to Food.” (For more about front groups, see my recent report.) This group’s home page claims boldly if inexplicably, “Forced labeling will drive business and science out of Connecticut.” Listed as sponsors are three groups: The Council for Biotechnology Information (a trade group for the biotech industry; its website is, the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, and the previously mentioned Grocery Manufacturers Association. In other words, two of these three groups behind this “Connecticut” organization are based in Washington DC.
The toughest opposition though, Cook-Littman said, came from the Connecticut Farm Bureau, which claimed the bill would hurt farmers, despite the bill not even being about farming, but rather food products. “They claimed that farmers’ sales of value-added products would be destroyed if they had to be labeled,” she said. But as a strong counterweight, advocates had the support of the state’s numerous organic farmers, led by the Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, which Cook-Littman called “our truest partner.”
Still, how did this grassroots group fight off such high-powered lobbyists representing at least three major industries – biotech, food retailers, and food manufacturers? She said, “We just got louder.”
What exactly was the turning point for the movement? Cook-Littman said face-to-face meetings with politicians were critical. “We spent a lot of time developing relationships with our representatives. Just spending that time with them was invaluable,” she said.
Also, the group’s social media presence, especially on Facebook, allowed non-paid advocates to engage in less time-consuming ways. “We told our representatives, ‘Look at what’s happening on Facebook.’”
And simply showing up in massive numbers when it counted: at two critical rallies, one before the legislative session began, another just weeks ago, along with a huge turnout for the hearing.
Cook-Littman credits the national advocacy group Food Democracy Now! for being a vital partner in the effort. “We could not have done it without them. They always believed in us, while others discounted us,” she said. “They also helped drive more than 40,000 phone calls to the governor’s office and provided strategic advice along the way.”
Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, told me that another turning point was when Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream came to the capital to testify in support of the bill.
“That gave the issue instant credibility because Ben and Jerry’s is a very successful company. There were politicians who had been against the bill standing in line for ice cream and a photo opp with Jerry.”
Also, there were several times during the process when they thought the bill was dead. But the advocates didn’t give up; another crucial lesson: to hang in there.
Of course, to get any bill difficult bill passed, compromises must be made along the way. While the labeling provisions of the bill are strong, unfortunately, legislators added a “trigger clause,” which requires that four other states in the northeast region enact similar bills before the law takes effect in Connecticut.
Cook-Littman told me that the advocates fought to keep this provision out, but at the end of day they were advised to take the compromise or else risk the bill going down to defeat, with an uncertain future. She is quite confident that the clause will actually motivate other states to get bill passed. And as a member of the Right to Know Coalition of States, she is determined to help others in doing so. She also hopes the passage helps the Washington State ballot measure coming up for vote this November.
What advice does Cook-Littman have for advocates in other states facing similar opposition from powerful lobbyists?
“I told my fellow advocates, ‘Stand in your power as a constituent and let your representatives hear you.’ Too often, we give up our power,” she said. “But once you realize that you can make a difference, that’s when change happens. Also, stay the course and keep fighting.”
Dave Murphy called the Connecticut victory “one giant step for Connecticut and one giant leap for the GMO labeling movement.” He continued: “The grassroots have won the day in Connecticut for a key victory over Monsanto and the biotech lobby. It was inspiring to watch Connecticut legislators supporting GMO labeling stand strong in the face of the biotech industry’s effort to kill the bill.”
Also feeling inspired, Cook-Littman told me, “It truly feels amazing to know that our little state of Connecticut, with its grassroots power, was able to beat back the opposition to get the bill passed. I really do think it is an important step and will encourage other states to do the same.”
I couldn’t agree more. These victories don’t come very often. Let’s savor this one.