Saturday, May 17, 2014


Look Who’s Spent $100,000,000 To Keep Americans Eating In The Dark

The Grocery Manufacturers Association(GMA) sounds friendly enough. The word “grocer” brings to mind wholesome mom-and-pop shops out to feed the community.
But the GMA is not an association of small-time corner stores. In reality the GMA represents the arguably sordid interests of its members – some of the biggest junk food and pesticide companies on the planet.
In the last three years, the GMA has spent more than $100 million advancing its agenda – stopping regulation of junk food, opposingeducation about healthy eating, and most fervently of all, fighting the labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
With 93% of the American public wanting to see GMOs labeled, it takes a sustained and substantial effort to keep us in the dark. And all the more so when 64 other nations, including the entire European Union, have already mandated the labeling of GMOs, But the GMA is nothing if not committed. The goal? To protect the profits of the junk food companies and pesticide companies who make up its membership.  And to defeat the radical idea that people have a right to know what’s in the food they’re eating.
This explains why the GMA was horrified on May 8, when Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed the state of Vermont’s historic bill requiring food manufacturers to label food that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and to ban the practice of labeling foods containing GMOs as “natural”.
Vermont’s bill came on the heels of similar laws passed in 2013 in the states of Connecticut and Maine, but with a crucial difference. The Connecticut and Maine bills contain “trigger” clauses, which mean that the laws don’t take effect unless other neighboring states pass similar bills. Why did legislators in these states install these “trigger clauses”?  They were afraid that the GMA would ensnare their states in lawsuits that they simply did not have the resources to defend.
But now that the state of Vermont has boldly stepped forward without a trigger clause, how do you think the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) has responded?
On May 9, exactly one day after Governor Shumlin signed Vermont’s historic legislation, the GMA announced that it will sue the state of Vermont in federal court in an effort to overturn the labeling bill.
Vermont was not surprised. The state has established a “food fight” legal defense fund, and is accepting donations from other states. Many state Attorney Generals across the United States are backing Vermont’s efforts. Although some legal analysts believe Vermont will win, victory is far from certain. The biggest junk food companies in the world are fighting the labeling initiative through their front group, the GMA.
Elsewhere in the country, the battle continues. People in the state of Oregon who believe people should be allowed to know what’s in their food have been working towards a ballot initiative that would require GMOs to be labeled. The GMA’s response? First came efforts in the courts, backed by unknown donors (though it’s not hard to guess who they might have been), which argued about the wording of the initiative. But on May 8th, the very day the governor of Vermont signed that state’s GMO labeling bill, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the wording was fine. Now organizers have until July 3 to gather 87,213 valid signatures, and if they do, the issue will be placed before voters on the November ballot.
And who do you think will spend lavishly to try to stop them?
If you guessed the GMA, you’re right. In the last few years, the GMA and its members spent more than $60 million barely defeating GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington. They’re not about to roll over and let Oregon voters decide what they think is best for their state.
Here’s what the GMA finds perplexing.  There are currently 84 bills on GMO labeling in 29 states, as well as a labeling bill in Congress. It’s getting harder and harder to fight all of them.
So the GMA has come up with a preemptive bill that aims to deal a death blow to mandatory labeling of GMOs in the United States. Food manufacturers in the U.S. currently don’t have to label products that contain GMOs, and the bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, would keep it that way.
The big question, of course, is who exactly is funding the GMA’s massive effort to keep us in the dark about what we’re eating? The GMA’s major contributors include such bastions of healthy eating as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Smucker’s. Perhaps not surprisingly, despite the fact that it is not in the grocery business at all, Monsanto is also a member.
Realizing that the GMA is fighting health and consumer freedom at seemingly every turn, concerned organizations and strategists have started asking what can be done to peel away the organization’s funding base.
A look at the GMA’s major supporters reveals that many of them own a raft of brands that are regularly purchased by natural foods consumers.
Coca-Cola, one of the GMA’s top donors, turns out to be fueled not just by sales of Coke, but also by sales of Honest Tea, Zico Coconut Water, Simply Orange, Odwalla, and Powerade.
Fortunately for fans of the right to know what’s in our food, there’s a petition and boycott campaign underway, launched by the Food Revolution Network (for which I serve as CEO), and the Center for Food Safety. We chose Coca-Cola because it was one of the top donors to the GMA, and because we thought it might be uniquely vulnerable to the demands of natural foods consumers. According to Bloomberg News, Coca-Cola’s healthier brands are playing a major and increasing role in the company’s profitability. In recent years sales of Coke have been leveling off, but sales of Honest Tea, for example, have been exploding.
We are asking Coca-Cola to be accountable to the natural foods consumers from whom it profits, by ceasing to fund efforts aimed at derailing GMO labeling. More than 250,000 people have signed on so far. Want to help? Join the Coca-Cola brands boycott, and find out how you can get informed and take action, here.
What You Can Do
If you want to stand up to the GMA’s antics, and for your right to know what’s in your food, there are plenty of things you can do.
1) Join the Coke boycott team here.
2) Tell Smucker’s to stop blocking GMO labeling here.
3) Download the Buycott app for your smartphone and join Organic Consumer’s Associations new campaign, “Buy Organic Brands that Support Your Right to Know” so you can scan products before you buy them.
4) Support the “right to know” efforts in Oregon with funds or volunteer time here.
5) Tell the US Congress to oppose the federal bill that would block mandatory labeling efforts by signing the Center for Food Safety’s petitionhere.
6) Support Vermont’s epic struggle by making a contribution to the state’s legal defense fund, here.
7) Find out about California’s new legislation that has industry lobbyists freaking out – and if you’re in California, call your state Senator now. All the info is here.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Reuters / Thierry Roge ​GMO producers should be punished as terrorists, Russian MPs say

euters / Thierry Roge
Published time: May 15, 2014 12:47
Edited time: May 16, 2014 11:13
A draft law submitted to the Russian parliament seeks to impose punishment up to criminal prosecution to producers of genetically-modified organisms harmful to health or the environment.

The draft legislation submitted on Wednesday amends Russia's law regulating GMOs and some other laws and provides for disciplinary action against individuals and firms, which produce or distribute harmful biotech products and government officials who fail to properly control them.

At worst, a criminal case may be launched against a company involved in introducing unsafe GMOs into Russia. Sponsors of the bill say that the punishment for such deeds should be comparable to the punishment allotted to terrorists, if the perpetrators act knowingly and hurt many people.

“When a terrorist act is committed, only several people are usually hurt. But GMOs may hurt dozens and hundreds. The consequences are much worse. And punishment should be proportionate to the crime,” co-author Kirill Cherkasov, member of the State Duma Agriculture Committee told RT.

Russian criminal code allows for a punishment starting with 15 years in jail and up to a life sentence for terrorism.

Less severe misdeeds related to GMOs would be punishable by fines. For instance the administrative code would provide for up to 20,000 rubles (US$560) in fines for failure to report an incident of environmental pollution, which would also cover harmful GMO contamination, if sponsors of the bill have their way.

Russia gave the green light to import of GMOs and planting of bioengineered seeds as part of its accession to the WTO, but the Russian government remains skeptical of GMOs. In April, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that his cabinet will postpone the beginning of certification of GMO plants for growth in Russia due to lack of proper infrastructure needed to test their safety.

The government also opposes imports of GMO food, saying the country has enough farmlands to provide enough regular food to feed itself.

But the new draft legislation, even if adopted, would be difficult to enforce in practice. Proving a direct link between certain GMOs and health or environmental problems could be difficult, considering that harmful effects, if they manifest, may take years to become apparent.

Critics of the draft bill also point out that it fails to suggest amendments to laws regulating textile production and pharmaceutical industry, both of which have been using genetically-altered products for years.

“The global pharmaceutical industry uses GMOs much wider than food industry does. And there is the question, who should be punished in this case – producers of medicines which are used to treat people, or those who want to ban them,”commented Aleksandr Korbut, vice-president of the Russian grain union, to Izvestia newspaper.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Are pesticides linked to health problems in Argentina?
By Linda PresslyBBC World Service, Assignment
13 May 2014 Last updated at 20:21 ET
Viviana Perez and her daughter NadiaViviana Perez and her daughter Nadia
Could pesticides - their use and abuse - increase levels of cancer and birth defects? It is a question asked across the vast belt of Argentina where GM crops are grown. In Chaco, the Minister of Public Health wants an independent commission to investigate a growing health crisis.
On a hot, still day the buzz of a distant, small plane is just audible.
"They fumigate all around with airplanes", says Carlos Fria who is out shopping for fruit and vegetables in Avia Terai. This small rural community sits, slap bang in the middle of Chaco - the flat, sprawling, northern province that nudges the border with Paraguay.
Carlos lives near Avia Terai, and says agrochemicals are sprayed close to his home, contravening local laws.
"If the wind changes the agrochemicals come into the house. My uncle just died
of cancer. My wife too passed away from cancer. Now many, many people are dying of cancer - it didn't used to be like that," he says.

Cancer is becoming more common everywhere. Could Carlos's experience just be part of life in the modern world? He doesn't think so.

"In my opinion, this has to do with the poison they put on the fields."
Chaco was once famous for its cotton. Beef cattle dotted the endless plains. Now soya dominates the landscape. Argentina has become one of the world's largest producers of GM soya, with some 20 million hectares under cultivation. It is the nation's leading export.
The biotechnology revolution in agriculture began to transform Argentina in the mid-1990s. And it is the agrochemicals that support the crops that worry people.
Carlos FriaCarlos Fria lives in Avia Terai: "If the wind changes, the agrochemicals come into the house"
In local research published in 2012, of those surveyed in Avia Terai, nearly a third said someone in the family had cancer in the last 10 years. In comparison, in one of Chaco's ranching communities, just 3% of those asked said they had a relative with cancer.
One of the report's authors was Dr Maria del Carmen Seveso, who was in charge of intensive care in a hospital in the nearby town of Presidencia Roque Saenz Pena, before she retired. She says it reflects her own experience of an increase in patients with aggressive tumours. About a decade ago she noticed something else too - a rise in the number of pregnant women with eclampsia, a life-threatening condition.
"We saw 20 cases in five years. Then in 2006, we had 20 women just in that one year. In 2007 the number rose again - this was the year they fumigated the land with agrochemicals most intensively, and planted the most soya beans here. Then the doctor in charge of neo-natal services at the hospital gave me some data. It showed that around 3.5% of babies born at the hospital had birth defects - he said the more usual figure would be around 1%."
Dr Raul Horacio Lucero, head of molecular biology at the National University of the North East in Chaco, also collected data about disabled infants who began to be referred to him in the 1990s.
"I'm talking about all kinds of disability - some had missing limbs, others had aberrations of their sex organs," he says.
Raul Horacio LuceroDr Raul Horacio Lucero has charted birth defects among infants in Chaco
"I didn't see any alteration at a chromosomal level, so then I began questioning the mothers. What they all had in common was they had been exposed to agrochemicals."
But none of these observations amount to scientific proof.
Seveso's report, based on questionnaires and anecdotal evidence from local people like Carlos, is a long way from establishing a causal relationship between agrochemicals and cancer. And it isn't clear which pesticides women were exposed to.
There could be other possible reasons for the apparent rise in cases of eclampsia and birth deformities - perhaps more women with problematic pregnancies were being seen at the hospitals, or more sick babies were surviving. Health problems could also be explained, it's been suggested by scientists, by household chemicals, arsenic in the water, or heavy metals in the soil. No one knows.
Meanwhile, producers of agrochemicals say they are scientifically proven not to be carcinogenic, or to adversely affect reproduction or development.
But this has not halted the debate in Argentina.
The most commonly used herbicide in the country is glyphosate. It is the world's top-selling weed killer, and was developed in the 1970s by the multinational giant, Monsanto. Now it is produced by many companies, and approved as safe by regulatory agencies around the world, including in the US and Europe.
GM soya is resistant to glyphosate, so when it is applied to crops, it kills only the weeds and not the soya plants.
Weeds growing among soya plants
One of Argentina's most eminent scientists, Dr Andres Carrasco, from the University of Buenos Aires, exposed chicken and frog embryos to Monsanto's commercial formulation of glyphosate, called Roundup.
"We diluted the formulation 5,000 times, and some of the embryos died and some of them became malformed. I decided to inject pure glyphosate into embryos and we got the same result."

Start Quote

Luiz Beling
We have a very robust data set that shows the product is very safe”
Luiz Beling, Monsanto
The malformations affected the regions of the heart and the head. They were similar, says Dr Carrasco, to some of the defects that have shown up in children in the GM agricultural belt.
This was experimental, laboratory evidence:
"You cannot connect both things together because in order to know the cause of these malformations in children, you have to do an experiment with children and that's not possible", he continues. "But it's a red light to say we should look at the health problems in the territory where we are using these toxics."
Dr Carrasco's findings, published in 2010, remain controversial. Monsanto rejects them.
"Dr Carrasco's study is refuted by a lot of other scientists as well as by us," says Luiz Beling, Monsanto's President for the southern Latin American region.
"We weren't surprised by the results given the methodology used. Embryos are not the best way to test the effectiveness of the products and the impact on human health. The best way to do it is to use live animals. We have a very robust data set that shows the product is very safe. There is no evidence that if properly used, glyphosate causes any harm to the health of a human being.
"I think the opportunity we have as an industry is - how do we make sure the regulation is in place and enforced so growers use the products the right way?"
Across the GM belt people complain that laws governing how close to communities crop spraying is allowed, are not respected. There are also reports of families using empty agrochemical containers to store water in the home.
Near Leones, deep in the soya country of the Province of Cordoba, Alejandro Ferrero's farm of 1,200 hectares has been in the family since 1921. Some 700 hectares are soya - a sea of golden beige, ready for harvest. Ferrero embraced GM technology right at the start of the biotech revolution, and for soya alone it has brought him a 40-50% rise in yield. He doesn't believe the claims of a connection between agrochemicals and ill-health.
Alejandro Ferrero in his fieldAlejandro Ferrero has embraced GM technology on his farm in Cordoba
"I think there just aren't the serious scientific studies to prove it. There's a tendency to blame soya and GM crops for many bad things - it's political. But until I see serious scientific studies, I'll continue to use these chemicals. On the other hand, I'm conscious these are chemicals and we have to use them responsibly."
Ferrero says he has reduced the amount of agrochemicals he applies to his crops over the last 20 years. But across Argentina, their use has increased eight-fold since the early 1990s to more than 300 million litres a year.
What has happened is that weeds have become resistant, so chemicals are mixed, or they are used in higher concentrations. Or, farmers simply don't understand or follow the instructions properly.
One of the original arguments used to promote the introduction of genetically modified agriculture was that the burden of agrochemical use would fall. So given the levels of herbicides and pesticides being used in Argentina, is GM technology failing? Not according to Monsanto's Luiz Beling.
"Thirty-five million tons of grain were produced in Argentina in 1990, compared to about 100 million now. That's a huge growth - triple the amount of grain produced. Yes, the amount of chemicals used has gone up. But what nobody talks about is the level of toxicity. Prior to 1995 the level of toxicity of products was much higher. And with the advent of Roundup and glyphosate - a very safe product of low toxicity, the level of toxicity has gone down."
Map showing location of Chaco
So what is the government's view on the debate in Argentina? The Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Technology all declined requests for an interview.
In Avia Terai, Viviana Perez hears the buzz of a light plane going over, on its way to fumigate the fields.
Sitting in her wheelchair next to Viviana in their small front garden, is her 14 year old daughter, Nadia.
"There is no medicine for my daughter. The doctors told me the cause of her illness was partly genetic, but also that agrochemicals were a big influence," says Viviana.
Nadia's illness is progressive.
Soya crop
"I would love my daughter to have the same ability as she did before - to be able to walk around and to talk to me."
There is no evidence to prove Nadia's illness developed as a result of her mother's exposure to crop spraying. In Chaco, the local Minister of Public Health, Antonio Morante, a medical doctor who was born in Avia Terai, is responding to the worries of locals like Viviana. He wants to commission an independent health study in the province.
"We want someone to come in from outside and carry out an exhaustive analysis of all these cases. As a doctor, as a minister and as a Chaqueno, I'm concerned young women are having recurrent miscarriages, that children are born with deformities, that there are many examples of cancer. But we also have many cases in areas where they don't use agrochemicals. So we must treat this with scientific rigour - that's what we're doing this year."
(Dr Andres Carrasco spoke to the BBC in Buenos Aires - his death was announced in Argentina on Saturday 10 May 2014).
Argentina: GMs' New Frontline is presented by Linda Pressly for Assignment on BBC World Service - you can listen to it on BBC iPlayer

Sunday, May 11, 2014