Friday, November 8, 2013


Richmond moves forward with genetically engineered food labels, urban agriculture plans

By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times
Posted:   11/06/2013 06:29:38 AM PST | Updated:   a day ago

RICHMOND -- This city with an industrial legacy may be poised to move ahead with some of the state's most innovative policies promoting urban organic farming and labeling of foods produced with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The City Council on Tuesday approved two items directing staff to craft new city laws. The first, which passed unanimously, would provide local organizations that convert urban parcels into food-producing gardens with new "incentive zones" in which owners would benefit from steep property tax discounts, according to a staff report.

The second, which passed by a 5-2 vote, directs City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller to draft an ordinance requiring GMO labeling of food sold at local grocers.

Dressed as a "corn demon, " anti-GMO protester Ray Katsanes of San Francisco walks to the Golden Gate Bridge to join other demonstrators in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

"We have an urban agriculture movement in this city," said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who also expressed strong support for the labeling measure. "This is an opportunity to expand on that, and it's proven to be a positive image builder."

In recent years, Richmond has seen dozens of acres of abandoned, weed-choked urban parcels converted into small farms, often tilled by local volunteers and young workers paid by streams of private and public funding. The former World War II shipbuilding mecca and home to heavy industry is one of many industrial cities around the country to see a rise in urban farming, along with larger projects in places like Chicago and Detroit.

The GMO measure may prove more controversial, sparking fierce opposition from Councilmen Nat Bates and Corky Boozé on Tuesday and likely to elicit pushback from food retailers.

The GMO ordinance, proposed by Councilman Tom Butt, himself an urban farmer and devotee of organic foods, could require all food retailers regardless of size or where they get their products to label foods produced with GMOs -- identified as organisms whose genetic material has been altered to produce food more efficiently. The health effects of GMOs are subject to wide-ranging debate within the scientific community.

"Statewide, this may make sense," Bates said. "But for little old Richmond to try to impose these sanctions is a nightmare. Who will enforce this? How will we determine who has to do it?"

Last year, statewide ballot measure Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of genetically modified foods, narrowly failed in the face of millions in campaign spending by agricultural interests. Richmond's City Council passed a symbolic resolution in September 2012 supporting Proposition 37.

"It lost in California, but (labeling GMOs) is a growing movement around the world," Butt said, noting that the European Union, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and other sovereign states have mandated GMO labeling on produce. "It's probably going to happen sooner or later (in the U.S.)"

Richmond's council has not shied from legislative firsts in recent years, but proponents noted that Berkeley in September directed its staff to craft a similar labeling ordinance. Goodmiller said he believed the city had the legal authority to impose labeling requirements on merchants.

Butt and McLaughlin admonished that staff would have to navigate a series of questions and unintended consequences, including who would be affected, how to enforce the law and what the penalties would be.

Boozé and Bates scoffed at being in league with Berkeley on the law, and complained that labeling requirements could exacerbate the city's long-standing problems with attracting full-service grocers.

"How are our mom and pop stores supposed to (comply with) this?" Boozé asked.

Both ordinances are expected to come back to the council late this year for further deliberations.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or Follow him at


Thursday, November 7, 2013


Industry’s Secret Plan to Get the Feds to Kill GMO Labeling in Every State

With the disappointing results now in from I-522, the initiative in Washington State that would have required labeling of genetically-engineered food (aka GMOs), the looming question is, what’s next? At least for the junk food lobby, that answer in painfully clear: stop this state-level movement at any cost. In today’s New York Times, Stephanie Strom reports on the dirty details contained in industry documents that I obtained from the Washington State attorney general’s office in the wake of a lawsuit brought against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for illegally concealing donors to the No on 522 campaign.

As I explained back in February, the food industry’s ultimate game plan to stop the bleeding in the state-by-state onslaught of GMO labeling efforts is to lobby for a weak federal law that simultaneously preempts or trumps any state-level policy. While we have known that industry would want to put an end to the public relations nightmare happening state by state, this document for the first time reveals the lobbyists’ specific strategy.

The details are even worse than I thought and give new meaning to the word chutzpah. I had predicted a federal compromise, where industry would agree to a weak form of labeling in exchange for stripping state authority. But what industry wants instead is to stop state laws to require labeling, while not giving up anything in return. In their own words, the game plan is to “pursue statutory federal preemption which does not include a labeling requirement.”
Let me repeat that: The junk food lobby’s “federal solution” is to make it illegal for states to pass laws requiring GMO labeling. Period. End of story.

This is not the way preemption is supposed to work. A quick primer. Preemption simply means that a higher law trumps a lower law: so federal trumps state, and state trumps local. This is often the most economically feasible policy approach for business. But it’s also industry’s way of ensuring uniformity and stopping a movement in its tracks. Here is the pattern: a grassroots movement builds over time to enact local or state laws to protect public health or increase the minimum wage, or some other social goal, and industry fights these efforts for years, until they can no longer win. At that point, corporate lobbyists either get their own weak bill passed, or work with advocates to pass a compromise version. In exchange, this new law will preempt or prevent any state or city from passing a different or stronger law. It will also negate any law already passed. Forever.

But usually, there is some underlying legal requirement that industry must follow for the concept of preemption to even make sense. The idea is to require some action by industry, with the trade-off for companies to follow one standard instead of 50. Take menu labeling in chain restaurants as a good example. For that issue, there was also a grassroots movement in both states and cities around the nation. So when the National Restaurant Association had enough of fighting those bills, the lobbying group agreed to a federal compromise to require only calorie counts (a weak standard) in exchange for preemption, that is, not allowing any state or local laws to go further. In fact, the Grocery Manufacturers Association itself endorsed this plan.

But in the current GMA chutzpah scenario, the federal government would outlaw states from enacting GMO labeling, while food makers would not have to label their products. In other words, industry would stop the grassroots movement and not have to pay any price.
Now that the junk food lobby’s true agenda has been revealed, our federal representatives and officials are on notice: The food movement will be holding you accountable to ensure that this democracy-killing power grab does not come to fruition.

You can read the entire set of documents from GMA here. Much of the text is redacted, a sign that industry has a lot more to hide.

Michele Simon
Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in food industry marketing and lobbying tactics and author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back. She is also on the advisory board for Corporate Accountability International’s Value [the] Meal campaign and lives across the bay from San Francisco in Oakland. You can follow her blog and find her on Twitter.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013



What Really Happened to GMO Labeling in Washington

Monsanto and the junk food industry teamed up to shatter Washington state records. They dumped more than $22 million into fighting against GMO labeling.  Exactly $550 of the “no” campaign’s dollars came from inside Washington State.  This was a classic example of out-of-state corporate interests pouring massive money into maintaining control of our food systems.
And based on returns so far, it looks like a campaign full of misleading ads and laundered money may have done the trick.
There are still hundreds of thousands of votes to be counted, and it will be several days before we have the final results. But with over half of the ballots counted, the “no” side was winning with over 54% of the vote.
The pattern in Washington has been very similar to what happened to California’s proposition 37 a year ago.  Early polling found the initiative way ahead – consistent with national polls which find that a huge majority of the American public supports labeling of GMOs.
But then the misleading ads started pouring in.
The anti-labeling ads that blanketed Washington’s air waves recycled the same themes, and even some of the same content, that had been found most effective in California. They also included some extremely dubious statements.
For example, the “no” ads told consumers that this initiative would increase food prices by an average of $350-$400 per family per year. But Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) determined that this statement was untrue, and that this initiative would not raise the price of food.
The “no” ads told Washington voters that Initiative 522 contained all sorts of exemptions and special interest loopholes. And it is true that there were exemptions in the law for restaurant and medical foods. But these exemptions, far from being special interest loopholes, are consistent with generally recognized labeling standards practiced nationally and globally. Are we really supposed to believe that the “no” campaign thought the trouble with I-522 was that it was not strict enough?
The largest single donor to the “no” campaign, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), is currently facing a money laundering lawsuit from the state Attorney General. They channeled more than $11 million into this effort, and tried to hide their actual donors from the public. It would appear that companies like Coke and Pepsi wanted to keep us all in the dark, but did not want to face a consumer backlash so they tried to use the GMA as a cover.
The attorney general’s lawsuit generated some degree of disclosure, but the damage from millions of dollars in outside spending of laundered money had been done, and the legal proceedings, which seek punitive damages, will not be complete until months after the election is long finished.
What the GMA’s shenanigans tell us is that a growing body of companies fear consumer backlash if they oppose GMO labeling. Monsanto may not care, since they don’t sell direct to the consumer anyways. But with a lot of “natural” brands like Odwalla, Kashi, and Naked Juice owned by companies like Coke, Kellogg, and Pepsi, there is a growing fear that boycotts could hit their bottom line.
The non-GMO certified food sector has grown from nothing to $3.5 billion in sales in just the last three years. Whole Foods has reported a sales bump of 15% to 30% when products are certified non-GMO.
Consumer pressure, then, may be able to accomplish what ballot initiatives have not yet achieved. If non-GMO products can establish a stronger footing in the marketplace, and if companies (including “natural” brands) face boycotts when they or their parent corporations attempt to keep consumers in the dark, then the tide could turn very quickly.
Here’s an infographic highlighting some of the top companies that opposed, and supported, GMO labeling in the state of Washington.
Labeling initiatives are underway in at least 20 more states. Monsanto and the junk food industry may have managed to keep Washington voters in the dark a little longer. But it is going to be hard keep convincing the American people that we don’t want to know how our food was produced. 
“Win or lose, this is a long war,” said David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the initiative’s biggest donor. “Labeling is inevitable.”
Ocean Robbins
Ocean Robbins serves as adjunct professor at Chapman University and is co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) and CEO of the 85,000 member Food Revolution Network. Find out more and sign up for free here.


Democracy Loses Out as Big Money Overwhelms Grassroots Campaigns

In Washington and Maine, a flood of corporate cash swings popular opinion on key ballot issues

- Jon Queally, staff writer
In two referendum battles that took place on opposite sides of the country on Tuesday, the power of big money campaigns funded by out-of-state corporate interests once again revealed itself by overwhelming grassroots campaigns trying to champion a local common good.
From Maine, where a small town tried to thwart a pipeline company from building a tar sands export terminal, to Washington state, where a broad coalition of consumer advocates and food safety groups called for labeling of genetically modified foods—both campaigns won and maintained the support of the local population... until the corporate money started pouring in.
Local backers of Washington's bid to pass the GMO labeling law, known as I-522, were defeated by corporate interests that spared no expense in the final weeks to overcome the strong support the measure had received since the campaign began. As the Seattle Post Intelligencer reports:
The No on 522 campaign, at $22 million, was the most lavish initiative effort — and likely the most brazen — in the history of Washington state. It saw an unprecedented laundering of campaign contributions. Supporters raised a little less than $8 million, a big enough war chest, but were overwhelmed.
Though the ballot initiative supporters once maintained a 3-to-1 edge over the anti-labeling side, that deluge of money—most of it used to purchase expensive television ads leading up to Election Day—was able to turn the tide. In the end, though some ballots remain to be counted, the measure went down to defeat by an approximate margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
As Jill Richardson, an expert on food and agricultural policy, explained Wednesday in the aftermath: "Shortly before voters got to weigh in on Initiative 522, polls pointed to a tight race but the consumer-friendly measure still looked like it might pass." Then, shortly before Election Day, opposition forces "ponied up nearly $5 million for last-minute ad buys," delivering a win to corporate giants like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, BASF and industry lobbyists at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
In Maine, where a local zoning ordinance designed to prevent the possible construction of a tar sands pipeline terminal on the waterfront of South Portland, another grassroots campaign, represented by a citizens group called Protect South Portland, was overwhelmed by record funding supplied by some of the world's largest fossil fuel companies. As in Washington, the money came in strong and heavy in the final, but crucial, weeks of the campaign.
As the local Portland Press Herald reports, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance (or WPO) was defeated by only a slim margin in which 51 percent voted against, while 49 percent came out in favor. That difference was less than 200 votes in total, however, in a local ballot fight that saw the oil industry pour over hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of those trying to defeat the effort.
The oil industry was represented locally by the Save Our Working Waterfront campaign which drew most of its backing from the Maine Energy Marketers Association (or MEMA) and oil giants Citgo, Irving, and the American Petroleum Institute.
As the Bangor Daily News reports:
The campaign received large amounts of media exposure, as it pitted a citizens group against a campaign funded primarily by petroleum industry groups.
MEMA far out-raised Protect South Portland, whose largest single contributor was the Natural Resources Council of Maine. When cash, in-kind contributions and loans are calculated into the equation, MEMA raised nearly $600,000 in support, far outpacing Protect South Portland, which raised roughly $42,000, according to financial disclosure forms filed with the city clerk’s office. The imbalance prompted the ordinance’s local advocates to decry the influence of “out-of-state oil interests.”
As Protect South Portland organizer Robert Sellin told Common Dreams ahead of Election Day, the local spending by the oil industry was "completely over the top."
"Clearly they have all the money," Sellin said of the oil industry's outsized involvement in the local fight. "We are talking about some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. They do not want a community to stand up for itself. They are going to do everything they can to squash our initiative and discourage other jurisdictions."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Why Big Pharma Won't Stop Breaking the Law

The schizophrenia drug Risperdal was at the heart of government investigations into improper marketing that stretched back more than a decade. (Image: JB Reed/Bloomberg via Getty Images)Did you hear that America's biggest drugmaker just agreed to one of the largest criminal and civil settlements in U.S. history? No, you probably didn't -- because news of Johnson & Johnson's $2.2 billion penalty for illegally marketing one of its drugs was buried today in the business section.
Why is a major crime by such a large pharmaceutical company a ho-hum news story? Because it's become a routine one. Big Pharma has been caught breaking the law again and again in recent years, paying gigantic penalities. Before this most recent case, Johnson & Johnson had settled 14 separate cases with the government since 1991, paying a total of $2.33 billion in penalties, according to a report last year by Public Citizen. Nine of these settlements occurred between 2010 and 2012. 
"You'd think that some Big Pharma execs would be serving prison terms by now. Yet despite 303 settlements with the government over the past two decades, not a single top executive has gone to prison, much less faced criminal prosecution."
And Johnson & Johnson is just one of many companies that has been found to repeatedly break the law. Most of the big drugmakers have the same rap sheet. All told, the report found 303 settlements over past 24 years with total penalties of nearly $30 billion. 
What kinds of crimes are we talking about here? Serious ones, in many cases. In announcing the settlement with Johnson & Johnson yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the company -- and another firm, Janssen -- had pushed doctors to prescribe an anti-psychotic drug, Risperdal, in ways never approved by the FDA.
The companies allegedly downplayed the serious health risks associated with Risperdal – including the risk of stroke in elderly patients – and even paid doctors to induce them to prescribe the drugs.  
Think about that: A major drugmaker bribing doctors and putting people's health at risk to make a profit. In other cases, drugmakers have conspired with doctors to overbill and defraud Medicare and Medicaid. 
You'd think that some Big Pharma execs would be serving prison terms by now. Yet despite 303 settlements with the government over the past two decades, not a single top executive has gone to prison, much less faced criminal prosecution. 
In this case with J & J, the company's current CEO, Alex Gorsky, led the sales and marketing division at the time the Risperdal episode unfolded. You'd think he would be a ripe target for prosecution. Nope. In fact, Johnson & Johnson didn't even admit wrongdoing in making kickbacks to doctors as part of the settlement. Once again, we've seen a de facto guilty plea without much acknowledgement of guilt. 
Remember, Johnson & Johnson is a repeat offender, with at least 10 settlements of criminal and civil charges in the past three years. 
So what happens when major crimes are committed and no actual human offenders ever gets punished? More crimes are committed. As Public Citizen noted in releasing its report: "For Big Pharma, Crime Pays."

David Callahan

David Callahan is a co-founder of Demos and now edits the Demos blog David is the author of eight books and his many articles have been published in such places as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, and The American Prospect.



November 5, 2013
2:51 PM

CONTACT: Food Democracy Now!
Brett Abrams: 516-841-1105 :

NEW Poll Finds Widespread Support for GMO Labeling As NH House Committee Prepares to Vote on GMO Labeling Law

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE - November 5 - As voters in Washington hand in their ballots today to determine the fate of GMO labeling in their state, the issue of labeling genetically modified organisms or GMOs, as they’re commonly known, is heating up in New Hampshire. This Thursday, the New Hampshire House Environment and Agriculture committee will vote on a similar bill, HB 660, to require GMO labeling in the Granite state.
Consumer support for GMO labeling in the U.S. is wildly popular, according to the recent political opinion survey of New Hampshire registered voters on GMO food labeling conducted by The Mellman Group on behalf of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots movement of more than 650,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to creating a more sustainable future for farmers and the environment.
According to pollster Mark Mellman, “The survey found nearly all Democrats (93%), Independents (89%) and Republicans (90%) in the state of New Hampshire agree that they have the right to know whether their food contains GMOs."
“These statewide polling results are absolutely consistent with national polling data showing that an overwhelming majority of citizens want the right to know what is in our foods. When is the last time that 90% of NH citizens agreed on anything?”, said Gary Hirshberg, Founder of Stonyfield Farm and Chairman and Founding Partner of Just Label It. “The only question now is whether our citizen legislators will support individual citizens rights over those of a handful of chemical corporations who are trying to protect their profits.”
"The numbers speak for themselves," says Janet Wilkinson, NOFA-NH Executive Director.
"The people of New Hampshire overwhelmingly support GMO labeling. We hope the House Environment and Agriculture Committee members consider this new information when they vote on HB 660 this Thursday."
Thursday’s vote in the New Hampshire House will take place only days after an important vote in Washington state, where voters are casting their ballots in the hopes to pass the first successful ballot initiative that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S.
Last year in California, Prop 37, a popular ballot initiative, failed narrowly by a vote of 48.6% to 51.4% after an onslaught of $46 million in negative ads from the opposition.
The citizen-led movement to label GMOs is only picking up steam. For the second time in twelve months, voters from California to Washington will have gone to the polls in an effort to overcome significant resistance from giant chemical and junk food companies who fear labeling, despite the fact that they already label their products in 64 other countries around the world. This time around, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Kellogg’s and General Mills have spent $22 million in Washington, making it the most amount of money to defeat a ballot initiative ever spent in the state’s history.
However, this year, twenty-six states, from Hawaii to Maine and Alaska to New Hampshire, have introduced legislation or ballot initiatives to pass GMO labeling, with the states of Maine and Connecticut passing legislation that goes into effect once four other states pass similar bills. Experts agree, no matter what the vote determines in Washington, the democratic movement for labeling will only continue.
“In a democracy, citizens have rights and nothing is more fundamental than the right to know what’s in the food you eat and feed your family,” said Dave Murphy, Founder and Executive Director of Food Democracy Now! “All we’re asking for is a simple label, something that 64 other countries around the world already require to ensure openness and transparency in our food supply. Without labels there is no free market in our food supply.”
As the new poll commissioned by Food Democracy Now! proves, the movement to label genetically engineered foods has near unanimous support, including a growing number of farmers who believe labeling genetically engineered foods makes sense for them and their customers .
"Customers are increasingly asking about how I grow our food at farmers markets," says Earl Tuson, who farms at Red Manse Farm in Loudon, NH. "People want to know about my growing practices and I'm happy to tell them. They want to know about what is in their food so that they can make informed choices about their diet and that of their family, and they should have the right to do so. "
Food Democracy Now! is a grassroots community dedicated to building a sustainable food system that protects our natural environment, sustains farmers and nourishes families.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Zofia Haufman: GMOs – 5 Reasons why we NEED to know if it’s GMO

GMOs: 5 Reasons why we NEED to know if it’s GMO
Zofia Hausman, Co-Founder, Citizens for GMO Labeling
“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” Alexis de Tocqueville
In recent years, the GMO labeling movement has focused on America’s “right to know.” It has served our cause well and helped to raise awareness across all demographics. However, in the past 18 months, ground-breaking peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of GMOs on animals, human health and the environment have come to light and they are shifting the playing field. Americans are now realizing that they need to know if their food is genetically engineered.
With mounting scientific evidence strongly indicating that genetically engineered crops and food products are unsafe, we must be able to trace and identify GMOs. Without labels this will not be possible. Martin Dagoberto, co-founder of MA Right to Know GMOs and Citizens for GMO Labeling, argues the urgent case for our “need to know” in his paper  “GMO labeling: An urgent case for state action on food transparency.” We list the five most important reasons why we “need to know if it’s GMO” here:
  1. There is a growing body of evidence that the consumption of GMOs is linked to auto-immune diseases, digestive disorders, infertility and cancer. People with illness need to safeguard their health and opt-out of the GMO experiment.
  2. Federal agencies have demonstrated unwavering support for GMO Agriculture; it’s up to the states to set the standard for labeling laws before the federal government initiates watered down legislation which may preempt more effective state-level standards and/or delay implementation.
  3. No labeling means no tracking of health impacts, no accountability, no liability. U.S. public health officials are unable to recognize linkages between GMO food intake and the many unexplained health problems facing Americans today. Nor can the corporations who sell these products be held accountable.
  4. Loosened regulations are now allowing for increased chemical residues – the escalation of herbicide use comes at the expense of soil, plant and human health and undermines efforts toward sustainable agriculture.
  5. Protecting the free market to prevent a global monopoly of the food and seed supply. GMO labeling will allow consumers to decide if they want to support the arguably reckless practices of particular agricultural interests, and is one immediate step toward a more informed, transparent and functional free market.
On October 21st, the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility issued a statement strongly rejecting claims by GM seed developers and some scientists that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is “over”. In addition, ENSSER endorsed the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GMO product safety and urged GMO proponents to do the same.
“We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigor and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.”
With support from scientists around the world, Americans are beginning to learn, through peer-reviewed analysis and study, that GMOs do in fact present serious risks to our health. It is imperative that the GMO Labeling movement arms itself with these findings and moves on from our simple “right to know” to an escalated message of the “need to know”. Our well-being, and that of our future generations, depends on it.
Yes on 522, the current GMO labeling ballot initiative in Washington State, has picked up the baton where California’s Proposition 37 left off. Out of state support is needed – please click here to find out how you can get involved.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Join us in the final 48 hours to stop Monsanto - Washington state votes 4 GMO labeling Nov 5th - Join us to win the Food Fight of the century!
Dear K,
I just got off the phone with the Yes on I-522 campaign in Seattle, Washington and things are going down to the wire in this election to win GMO labeling. Right now, Monsanto and the GMA's negative ads are flooding the airwaves, attempting to deceive voters, but we still have the edge.
At this moment, thousands of volunteers across America are busy calling Washington voters to tell them the truth about GMO labeling and make sure they send their ballots in on time. The election is over this Tuesday, November 5th and we need your help today!
We only have two more days in this campaign and we need to make sure that every vote counts!
This week you can help turn the tide by making calls to voters in Washington state to make sure they’re not confused by Monsanto and the grocery cartel’s deceptive ads.
Click here to make calls to help get out the vote for Tuesday’s Nov. 5th election so we can win Yes on 522 and win GMO labeling in Washington and beyond!
Incredibly, Monsanto, Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, Kellogg's and General Mills already label their products in 64 other countries around the world!
After spending $46 million to defeat Prop 37 in California, these same companies are now spending $22 million to kill labeling in Washington.
What are they trying to hide from the American public?
THINK LABELS DON'T MATTER? Did you know that AquaBounty's GMO salmon may be approved soon?
If you have any question over whether genetically engineered foods should be labeled, consider the fact that in the coming months the Obama administration is poised to approve genetically engineered salmon. And once approved, the world’s first GMO animal could appear on your plates without you knowing it.
After genetically engineered salmon, what’s next?
This week, the Yes on 522 campaign released a powerful ad to remind us all what’s at stake if we don’t win GMO labeling here in America - see what ABC News had to say!
The truth is, we all have the right to know what’s in our food and corporations who profit from selling food to us and our families do not have the right to hide that information from us.
We shouldn't be a part of their grand science experiment!
Please take a few minutes to help get the word out in Washington.
Click here to volunteer to make phone calls to voters in Washington to vote YES on I-522. All you need is a phone and Internet. You can even do it in your pajamas!
The I-522 Ballot initiative is simple, it will inform Americans whether their food has been genetically engineered in a laboratory or not and it has Monsanto, DuPont and the junk food companies running scared.
Together we know we can overcome the opposition’s dirty money campaign - help put us over the top by making a call for GMO labeling today!
Here's to victory!
Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Action! Team
Food Democracy Action! is a 501(c)4 allied organization of Food Democracy Now!, focused on grassroots lobbying and legislative action. Donations are not tax-deductible. Thank you for your support!


Seed laws in Latin America: The Offensive Continues, So Does Popular Resistance

The world’s agribusiness corporations are pursuing their attempts to privatize and monopolize our seeds. Behind their efforts is a clear goal: to make the age-old practice of saving and breeding seeds into a crime and gain monopoly control over seeds. Latin America has not escaped these attacks.(Photo: GRAIN)
Much of this corporate activity is being carried out under the aegis of an international convention known as UPOV, but not all of it – some Latin American governments have come up with farm-unfriendly provisions of their own devising, involving patents on biotechnology “events,” health standards, marketing standards, certification laws, various types of record keeping requirements, tax rules, the misnamed “good agricultural practices,” research programs, seed market establishment policies, and more.
Eight years ago we wrote, “If we look at them today, seed laws are all about repression. They’re about what farmers can’t do. They dictate what kind of seeds can’t be sold, can’t be exchanged and in some cases can’t even be used. All in the name of regulating trade and protecting food growers! In this sense, seeds laws go hand in hand with intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes like plant variety protection and patents. The two kinds of laws – marketing regulations and property rights – reinforce each other.”
If anything has changed since then, it is that privatization strategies have become more numerous, extreme, and ambitious. What the multinationals and the governments were not expecting was the level of the popular resistance that has emerged at the national and regional levels.

What is UPOV?
The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) is an intergovernmental organization with its head office in Geneva, Switzerland. UPOV came into being with the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and was revised in 1972, 1978, and 1991. The mission of UPOV is, according to the organization, “to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection, with the aim of encouraging the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society.”2 In UPOV-speak, “protection” means privatization.
The history of UPOV is that of an ongoing and apparently limitless expansion of seed company rights along with a concomitant shrinkage of farmers’ rights and freedoms. The original convention only granted property rights over varieties developed by the party requesting them; it granted little more than an exclusive right to market a private variety and did not establish specific sanctions. With its subsequent revisions, UPOV now grants monopoly rights over “discovered” varieties and the production, marketing, export and import thereof. In addition, it allows property owners to apply for the confiscation of crops, plantations, harvests, and products derived from the harvest. It even allows companies to file criminal complaints, which can lead to prison terms for farmers.
UPOV 91 is the version of the convention now being imposed around the world under the pretext of “protection.” However, it has been clearly demonstrated that UPOV 91 violates farmers’ individual and collective right to save seed for replanting and allows corporations to monopolize biodiversity. These provisions give the corporations total commercial control over seeds and knowledge that were once owned collectively by whole communities. A further menace represented by UPOV is that it accelerates the erosion of biodiversity by promoting varietal uniformity. This is tremendously risky because uniformity can lead to crop loss and greater food insecurity. Finally, seed privatization hinders research and the free flow of knowledge.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the following countries are UPOV members: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. Of these, only Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Peru are currently applying UPOV 91.3
The bottomless pit of corporate ambition
The seed laws now being drafted amount to the wholesale application of UPOV 91 and in some cases go even further. For example:

a) They allow for the privatization of “discovered” varieties. Not only is this nonsensical from the standpoint of intellectual property law (only human inventions are patentable), it is absurd when applied to plant varieties, which are mostly the work of many human beings over long periods of time. In other words, the new laws allow companies or research institutes to take what does not belong to them: the indigenous plant varieties developed by farmers. This theft is facilitated by the absence of any provision in the laws that would prevent varieties shown to be already circulating in peasant agriculture from being declared “new.”

b) The theft becomes truly outrageous where new laws grant property rights over “similar” varieties as well, regardless of how long these have been in existence. In other words, UPOV laws legalize retroactive theft. One such clause, included in Resolution 970, put forward by Colombian Institute for Livestock and Agriculture (ICA), touched off a farmers’ strike that forced the government to withdraw the resolution.

c) Penalties for those who refuse to make sense out of this nonsense are significantly increased. Not only can seeds be confiscated, so can the crops, plantations, harvests, and products derived from them. The offences are summary in nature, meaning that complainants can avoid lengthy evidentiary proceedings and still obtain the confiscation of the materials in question. Practical experience provides good reasons to fear that the corporations will try to scare farmers and peasants who dare to rebel by hitting them with multiple complaints under these laws. The situation is exacerbated by the option for the corporations to file criminal complaints, which can result in jail terms for the farmers.
This is the heart of the UPOV laws. Some of them go even further: in the Chilean case, the law initially gave enforcement power to the seed companies, creating a de facto private police. The Argentine bill creates a mandatory registry of “seed users” – meaning anyone who grows food, for a living or otherwise.
And the UPOV laws themselves are only part of the story. Certification and marketing laws have been a central feature of seed privatization campaigns in Mexico and Colombia. Brazil has turned to marketing standards. In Argentina, the privatization of biotechnological “events” is making unfortunate headway, while throughout the Southern Cone, corporations are creating a parallel legal universe by forcing their customers to sign royalty-bearing private contracts. Almost everywhere we find credit and technical assistance policies being made contingent on the use of seeds produced by corporations or research institutes.
All these mechanisms work together towards a single goal: absolute corporate control over seeds.
Resistance is growing and spreading
But Latin America is also where citizens have successfully resisted many such attempts to take away their rights. The following is a rundown of ongoing popular and peasant campaigns that have been key to the defeat of these corporate machinations.
The UPOV offensive in Chile differs little from what is taking place in other countries. Various provisions facilitate the appropriation of local seeds by corporations and criminalize peasants’ use of their own seeds. Absurd situations are created in which companies registering any variety as their own can stop people from using varieties “similar” to it. And the threat of confiscation of seeds, crops, and plantations is among the new measures imposed on peasant families who dare to continue doing what they have always done.
What the corporations and the government did not expect was the societal reaction against these measures. The first act in the drama was the passage on first reading, in 2010, of the UPOV 91-compliant Seeds Act, this over fierce opposition by peasant organizations (especially ANAMURI and CLOC-VC) and civil society groups.
Despite this initial defeat, the organizations continued to raise public awareness of the dangerous aspects of the act. As a result of their efforts, by the time Chile joined UPOV 91, domestic opposition had become much broader and more vehement. A group of senators appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare Chile’s UPOV membership unconstitutional. This initiative too was unsuccessful, but public education efforts continued under the impetus of the widespread social mobilization that has taken place since 2011.
Today, rejection of seed privatization and the “UPOV 91” Act has become a broad-based national concern which has, so far, kept the bill from being passed. Under pressure from the US government, the right-wing government fast-tracked the bill, attempting to push it through before the opposition could react. This time, mobilization took place all across the nation and involved high-profile marches, Internet-based information campaigns, radio programs, TV interviews, information sessions in rural communities and universities, meetings with religious authorities, conversations and discussions with senators, and so forth.
The impact of all this mobilization work was to break the silence on the issue in Chile and to convince a majority of senators (21 of 38) to vote against the bill. Faced with this new situation, the government withdrew the bill, intending to postpone voting until after the November 2013 elections, when a number of its senatorial opponents will have retired.
At time of writing, in early October, peasant and civil society organizations are continuing to mobilize to ensure that the bill goes down to defeat.
The bill to amend the Seeds Act in Argentina is the fruit of active lobbying by Monsanto beginning in 2003. It was then that the company began to request “legal certainty” for its investments in GMOs. Since the government of the day was not receptive to its overtures, the company announced that it was withdrawing from the country and would not introduce new events. In its battle to collect royalties, Monsanto asked the European courts to stop whole shiploads of GE soybeans from departing for Argentina because Argentina refused to pay for the genes they allegedly contained. The courts threw out Monsanto’s claim.
At the end of the last decade, the government repeatedly announced that it was going to table a new Seeds Act in Congress, but it was only in 2012 that a radical change of official stance took place. In June 2012, President Cristina Fernández announced at the Council of the Americas that further to conversations with Monsanto, the company would be making new investments in the country, focusing on a GE corn processing plant in the Malvinas Argentinas district of the city of Córdoba.
A few months later, in a joint press conference, Minister of Agriculture Norberto Yahuar and Pablo Vaqueros, President of Monsanto Argentina, announced the approval and launch of a new genetically modified soy variety called “Intacta” (resistant to glyphosate and insecticide) and an amendment to the Seeds Act to protect investors “because of the high costs they incur.” A commitment was made to table the corresponding bill in Congress before the end of 2012.
Civil society organizations reacted immediately, and with even greater vehemence when it became known that the draft under discussion was being negotiated in secret by the Ministry of Agriculture with the large seed trade associations and landowners. The call to reject the Seeds Act amendments spread across society and was taken up by a great many associations. It led to a range of oppositional activities, mobilizations, presentations, and documents.
An analysis of the leaked draft, obtained by its opponents, showed that it includes amendments to the existing act (dating from 1973) designed to incorporate nearly the entirety of UPOV 91 into domestic law.
The National Indigenous Peasant Movement, Friends of the Earth, and GRAIN started a petition campaign which, by late November, had garnered the support of more than 500 civil society organizations and 3,500 individuals.
The document “10 motivos para luchar contra el proyecto de ley que pretende privatizar las semillas en la Argentina”4 reads as follows: “the bill does not protect knowledge or biodiversity; it merely promotes privatization and protects property rights to what is in fact the collective heritage of our peoples, especially the peasant and indigenous communities. In this way, it puts forward an unacceptable principle: that it is possible and acceptable to privatize knowledge and various life forms.” It continues: “This paves the way to further expropriation and privatization of agricultural and wild biodiversity in Argentina. The bill makes possible the greater privatization of Argentina’s genetic resources and native biodiversity by expanding so-called plant breeders’ rights. In addition, it makes illegal or gravely restricts practices that have existed since the beginning of agriculture: seed selection, breeding, improvement, saving, reproduction, and exchange based on the previous harvest.”
The document concludes with a call to “reject this bill, which represents a grave attack on every inhabitant of this country. Agriculture fulfills an eminently social function, that of sustaining and feeding the entire population. To jeopardize the food security and sovereignty of Argentina by granting new privileges to transnational agribusiness corporations is to take the road of surrendering our national sovereignty.”
Due to the broad-based rejection of the initiative, the bill never made it into Parliament, and its opponents claimed a partial victory. In the initial months of 2013, the Minister of Agriculture announced that the bill would not be sent to Congress in an election year. However, he soon announced (under pressure from Monsanto, it seems clear) that the bill would be submitted to Congress right after the elections.
In the meantime, Monsanto is keeping up its offensive by forcing people who buy the new “Intacta” RR2 soybeans to sign an “extended royalty” contract. Monsanto states on its web site for this variety5 that “growers wishing to opt, at their own discretion, to use soybean seeds containing the Intacta RR2 technology must sign a limited-use license with Monsanto for the technology.” This provision attests to a very peculiar understanding of the concept of discretion that verges on the illegal.
Argentine civil society continues to monitor these developments closely and to act accordingly. One important step is a blockade, spearheaded by the groups “Asamblea Malvinas Lucha por la Vida” and “Mothers of Barrio Ituzaingó Anexo,” of the intended construction site for a Monsanto plant, which has been ongoing for three weeks.


In April 2012, the Colombian Congress passed Bill 1518 adopting the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, thus complying with its obligation to protect the interests of agribusiness corporations under the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States.
Colombian civil society immediately denounced the fact that the law had been passed without regard for higher-order provisions and international legal frameworks which obligate the government to guarantee the rights of everyone under its jurisdiction and, more specifically, to preserve the country’s food sovereignty and security.
According to Grupo Semillas and the “Semillas de Identidad” campaign, UPOV was ratified “without regard for the fundamental right of ethnic minorities to prior consultation,” and its main goal is to achieve “the granting and protection of plant breeders’ rights. The strategy begins by establishing a set of conditions that native and indigenous varieties cannot meet because their genetic improvement was the result of farmers operating according to entirely different principles from those of modern plant breeders. It continues by enacting provisions for the protection of [corporate] economic interests and essentially forces farmers to use these seeds at the behest of the transnationals.”6
Based on this analysis, a number of organizations appealed to the Constitutional Court and, in December 2012, obtained a decision declaring Law 1518 unenforceable.7 In so doing, they halted the progress of UPOV 91, arguing that the government had failed to consult the indigenous and tribal peoples in regard to legislative or administrative measures affecting them directly, as required by Article 6 of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO). While the threat of UPOV’s approval still looms, the consultation process required by the Court has yet to be put in place. This decision caused consternation on the part of the United States, which asserted in the media its entitlement to sue Colombia for losses caused by the Constitutional Court’s decision to declare the unenforceability of Laws 1518 and 1520, since these laws were intended to bring the country into compliance with the FTA.8
During 2013, events related to peasant struggles put the fate of seeds back in the spotlight. A documentary film, 9.70: la historia de la semilla privatizada,9 by the young director Victoria Solano, sent shock waves through Colombian society as people woke up to the impact of seed privatization.
Resolution 9.70 of the ICA (Colombian Institute for Livestock and Agriculture) dates from 2010 and is intended to control the production, use, and marketing of seeds. This resolution applies the concepts of intellectual property law to seeds and was passed as a requirement for approval of the US-Colombia FTA. “The documentary analyzes the impact of the resolution, focusing on the case of Campoalegre, a town in southern Colombia where it was applied. In 2011, the ICA went to the town and confiscated 70 tons of rice. It later returned with law enforcement officials, and ultimately dumped the rice into a landfill, claiming that it was illegal,” said the filmmakers.
The powerful public impact of the documentary coincided with the beginning of peasant mobilizations on August 19, which shook the country. The peasants’ rejection of Resolution 9.70 became a central component of their demands. As a result of these campaigns, Resolution 9.70 was “frozen for two years” – an immense triumph for Colombia’s peasants and civil society organizations. However, the central demand of the people of Colombia has yet to be granted: the outright repeal of the resolution along with any attempt to impose UPOV 91 through other channels.10


In Venezuela, a bill to amend the Seeds Act is making its way through the legislative process and causing great concern among civil society organizations. The situation there is complex because the initiative inaugurates an intellectual property regime even as it takes the salutary step of banning GMOs.
The GMO-free Venezuela campaign11 has been monitoring this bill and has called for “a ban on transgenic seeds in the country, a ban on any type of intellectual property rights or patents over seeds, and an expanded debate over the bill with a view to building an appropriate legislative framework in conjunction with the revolutionary popular collectives and movements.”
The bill’s proponents have stated in public that it will ban GMOs in Venezuela, but the popular campaign has expressed concern in regard to the “language of the bill, which continues to recognize plant breeders’ rights, does not clearly define the mechanisms that will be used for surveillance and punishment of those who violate the transgenic seed provisions, establishes a strict oversight regime for indigenous or common seed, establishes sanctions that may result in the criminalization of traditional seed exchange practices, and still lacks mechanisms for public participation. We consider all these aspects to be issues of concern to the popular movement in the continuing debate over this bill.”
The commitment to a broad public debate and the intense mobilization on the part of Venezuelan social movements have opened up the political space necessary for amendments to be made to the bill so that it meets popular demands.


With the entry into force of NAFTA, a sequence of laws were passed12 – first the Plant Varieties Act (1996),13 followed by the Biosafety Act (2005)14 and the Seeds Act (2007)15 – whereby the Mexican legal system took a big step towards seed registration, certification, patenting, and privatization. It is a clear attempt to force farmers to use lab-created seeds and to criminalize the saving and exchange of native seeds, even though these practices have formed the basis of indigenous, peasant, and indeed the entire country’s food systems for millennia.
Although Mexico did not sign the 1991 version of the agreement, its Seeds Act of 2007 explicitly provides for the criminalization of native seeds by establishing arbitrary quality and “stability” criteria that essentially amount to the freezing of varietal traits in time. It is as if seed evolution itself is being outlawed, and farmers are being made accomplices to the crime.16
This law, along with the Plant Varieties Act of 1996 (enacted to comply with UPOV) and its regulation of 1998, paved the way for the privatization of plant varieties and breeding materials, as well as for-profit variety concessions and sales under regulations highly favourable to the corporations.
In 2012, a vast coalition of peasant and civil society organizations succeeded in halting the UPOV 91 amendments to the Plant Varieties Act. The amendments would have had the grave outcome of granting private breeders “monopolies to obtain exclusive profits from the sale of seeds and other plant material for up to 15 years, or 18 in the case of perennial ornamental, forest, or orchard plants – even when the plants they used to develop the new varieties are in the public domain.”17 Genetically modified organisms were included pursuant to the Biosafety Act, which was absurd “since GMOs are created by introducing genetic material from non-plant species.”18
The “reloaded” version of the Plant Varieties Act would have given a key boost to the Seeds Act of 2007 in that it would have inaugurated a seeds policy along with a search and seizure system for uncertified or unregistered seed – absurdly termed “pirate seed” for lack of an invoice, when these varieties have been saved and exchanged for at least 6000 years. The amendments to the Plant Varieties Act have been postponed, but it would be a mistake to suppose they have been abandoned.19
In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, the situation varies depending on whether or not an FTA has been signed with the United States. This is the case for Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, which have had to change their domestic laws in accordance with CAFTA, and for Peru, which also has an FTA with the United States. As for the rest of the continent, while there are no active attempts to push through UPOV 91, the general pattern of industry influence over government continues, and we may well see a push for UPOV in the coming months (e.g., in Paraguay).

Resistance bears fruit

In the context of the ascendancy of agribusiness in the region, it is surprising that resistance to corporate control of seeds has borne fruit in nearly every country where campaigns have been mounted.

In Argentina, the draft of the Seeds Act being discussed in secret never emerged from the Ministry of Agriculture to be tabled in Parliament.

In Chile, societal mobilization helped secure a majority of senators to vote against the “Monsanto Bill.”

In Colombia, peasant mobilization put a temporary stop to Resolution 9.70.

In Venezuela, there are firm commitments to keep the principles upheld by Hugo Chávez from being betrayed.

And in Mexico, societal campaigning prevented the Federal Plant Varieties Act from being revised for compliance with UPOV 91.

This brings us to October 2013. We don’t know what will happen in the coming months, but it’s clear that these wins do not mean the battle is over. The social movements are well aware of the continuing challenges involved with coordinating activities, raising awareness, and finding new allies to fend off future attacks. If we are to defend seeds as a heritage for all peoples, nothing less will do. We must all continue to dedicate ourselves to the success of the Seeds Campaign of Via Campesina.


GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems