Local Promotion of Transgenic Labeling
One Small Step to Help Save the Community, the Nation, and the World from Genetic Corruption, Public Health Disaster, and Environmental Abuse
Donald Wright Patterson, Jr., 83rd Co-Plaintiff in OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto
On May 25, 2013, as 436 Marches Against Monsanto were held in 52 nations, none was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and only 4 in the state of Virginia (although one more was in the tri-cities on the Tennessee border at the southwest corner of Virginia). Blacksburg was not on the list of planned events, but local media reported a rally there. This compared with 24 marches in California, 20 in Florida, seven in North Carolina, six in South Carolina, and five in Georgia according to a list posted on May 24.
Virginia was not up to the standard of civic activism on the issue Jefferson could have been proud to see in support of the natural biological heritage he worked at Monticello to celebrate, preserve, protect, catalogue, and honorably enhance through traditional plant breeding. Food cultivation was a primary interest of his, and it offset his dependency on the cultivation of tobacco as the cash crop he needed to pay off his creditors. As a farmer, he was on the same debt treadmill as many modern farmers. It limited his options and destroyed the soil; he hated the soil destruction caused by the mono-cropping of tobacco but saw no alternative. Many of the farmers now growing Monsanto’s crops are in a similar situation. They, too, face cost-price pressures, and they need to grow the crops best able to pay the bills.
Of course, Northern Virginians may have joined the march in Washington, DC, but the reports on that march (walking from Lafayette Square to Monsanto’s Washington headquarters) in the city’s media did not reveal an official estimate of the number of marchers or the places they came from. Major corporate media in the city did not send reporters to cover the story (they based their coverage on Associated Press reports), and neither did other city papers send reporters in most other cities where marches took place in the United States. Maybe more people participated in the marches abroad even though the United States registered the most marches, and if so the advance publicity might have been greater in places where the public is more alert on the issues being raised. The felt need for activism is greatest in the United States, according to advocates, because the United States is behind more than 60 other nations, including even war-torn Syria, on transgenic food labeling and the level of public concern about the issue.
For 15 years, public attention to perceived Monsanto health and legal abuses has been lower in the U.S. than in other developed nations, and that likely results from U.S. citizen dependence on corporate mainstream media. When Arpad Pusztai released the results of the study he coordinated in at the Rowett Institute in Scotland in 1998 and was then invited to testify before the parliament, over 700 stories appeared in the European media but very few were published in the United States. The historical record since then has shown nearly continuous support from transgenic agriculture in the mainstream, corporate U.S. media. A movie about the Pusztai experience and the results of it is “Arpad Pusztai and an Aphid-Killing Transgenic Potato.”
As a result of the many stories in the Europe in 1999, European opinion came to oppose transgenic food and major buyers rejected it, including the grocery chains, but U.S. opinion was not shaped similarly. Surveys are needed to know more about U.S. public opinion, but a video survey made in 2012 showed only about 10% of the urban and suburban sample had informed views about Monsanto. The rest either did not know anything about the company, or they knew nothing about its seed business. Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company having acquired more than 70 other seed companies, but very few people knew that, even though more than 90% have wanted to have food labeled when the issue is understood or made clear by the way pollsters ask the question. The results of the public survey can be watched online. It is in Part 2 of the film, “What Do You Know About Monsanto” starting at minute 52.
Limited knowledge about Monsanto does not conflict with the finding that more than 90% of the U.S. people want transgenic food labeled. That is a common sense position that does not depend on specific knowledge about Monsanto. It is like asking people if they want labeling to show how much salt and sugar are in the food they eat. When asked all three questions, people will say, “Yes.” If they were asked if the wanted to know the amount of pesticide and herbicide residue is in their food, they would likely say, “Yes,” to that, too.
Sadly, U.S. public awareness about Monsanto is even lower than awareness in many developing nations where more people are farmers with a closer connection to the land. They have a better appreciation of natural biological processes essential to growing food wisely, efficiently, and sustainably. That could be seen when Haitian farmers burned the seed given to them by Monsanto after the devastation of the earthquake in 2010. The seed was quickly rejected even if it was not transgenic. Farmers did not even want Monsanto’s hybrid seed, because they know, they will not be able to save it for use in future years. That would put them on the treadmill of needing to buy seed every year. Thus, the gift of the Monsanto seed became seen as a means of control, not as a useful and gratefully received gift.
The felt agonies associated with the use of Monsanto’s seeds can also be seen in India where about a quarter million farmers have reportedly committed suicide (over a 16-year period, according to Indian government statistics) when promised yields increases did not materialize. The farmers were unable to pay the debt incurred from purchasing Monsanto’s high-priced transgenic and hybrid seed, so their collateralized land was forfeited. When the farmers have lost their livelihood, they commit suicide, most often by drinking Monsanto’s herbicide, the same herbicide that some promoters in the United States have called “safe enough to drink.” (The situation in India is told in the film “Bitter Seeds.”
Illnesses, animal death, and allergies have also resulted from experience with Monsanto’s cottonseed in India. Yet, Monsanto dominates the cottonseed market through contracts with about 60 Indian seed companies all selling the same Monsanto seed. Similar health issues exist in the United States, but they are reported only anecdotally, because no one is systematically tracking the impacts. Reports tell of infertility, toxicity, allergenicity, new diseases, and even a new animal pathogen, but these issues have not been tracked officially or investigated by the corporate media, and no policy requires them to be tracked or publicly reported.
Biotech agribusiness companies have shown they would not want the information made available; it is against their interest in maintaining sales revenue, and that was revealed by the their opposition to Proposition 37 in California in 2012. Many farmers in California and elsewhere who like Monsanto’s technology are like those in Argentina and other Latin American nations who use it on a large scale to make farming easy without showing concern about the damage caused to either people or the environment. Several documentaries have been made on this subject, and some of them interview both the farmers and the victims of the technology.
In the United States and elsewhere the farmers least concerned about the protection of the land may be those who lease land and can walk away from it when becomes so damaged many years will be required to be restore its natural productive capacity. Because the technology makes farming easy, it favors large-scale industrialization of crop production, but it is myopic to the point of criminality when the environmental implications are fully understood. Documentaries made in Latin America illuminate the issues more starkly than films made in the United States and Europe. Some Examples are: “The True Costs Of Growing Soy in Southern America” (in Spanish with English subtitles and English narration);
“Indigenous Peoples Alto Xingu in Brazil” about a river poisoned by soy plantations despite complaints made to the owners;
“People and Power — Argentina: The Bad Seeds,” a 25-minute Al Jazeera film about the takeover of Argentina by transgenic Soy plantations (but it is no longer available for viewing in the United States);
The issue is also reported in the longer documentary “The World According to Monsanto.”
The implications of Monsanto’s system of agriculture will be presented in our lawsuit as evidence the Monsanto patents should never have been granted. We will argue that nothing damaging and destructive of the public health and the environment against the public interest should ever be granted a patent. That is part of the reason why our group of plaintiffs feel the Monsanto technology must be opposed. We are dedicated to sustainable practices in harmony with nature. We will show the reasons why Monsanto’s practices and technologies are not healthful for people, animals, or the environment. This is the purpose of the lawsuit, and this is part of the reason why a Declaratory Judgment from the court is needed.
The photographs on this page are frames from the movie: “A Brief Review of the Transgenic Food Regulatory and Labeling Mess”. Click on any of the photographs to watch the movie. The participants in the discussion are identified in the movie.
Cultural Attitudes Enabling the Perceived Monsanto Profligacy
Monsanto and their trade groups have demonstrated the political leverage to prevent government actions and policies adverse to their interests just as they use patent ownership to block research and control the release of unfavorable results from whatever research is permitted. In the United States, many people and companies pursue the domination of nature in the same way cowboys break the independent will of horses, and farmers have domesticated various breeds of animals.
Nature is celebrated in the United States not so much for its gifts as for its subservience and tractability to human will. Cows are bred to double their milk production even when their udders drag on the ground; chickens are created with breasts so big the birds can’t stand up, and over a longer time, wolves have been transformed into poodles or some other impressive canine hybrid on the American Kennel Club list.
Hybrid and now transgenic food crops have been created similarly—as if profitable, short-sighted whimsy is all that matters. People with genuine respect for nature and nutritional wisdom would think differently. No one would raise beef and pork in feedlots, and no one would raise poultry in giant sheds with birds packed together like sardines in a can. Most importantly, no one would put poisons and pharmaceuticals on and in food before eating it.
No one would compromise the usefulness of medicines for important and necessary purposes just so they used to keep animals standing from the impact of an unhealthful diet long enough to get them to slaughter. These practices are the moral measure of the culture, and the entire culture should be accountable for them. They are a crime against nature and they show disrespect for nature. Both the practices and the underlying attitudes are promoted by Monsanto and others in the biotech agribusiness industry. Rapidly, the disrespect and the damage extends even to people.
In the United States, the short-term prosperity of many has depended on profitably dominating and exploiting nature, as if immediate jobs were more important than planetary survival. No company or group of people has been more imperilingly myopic than Monsanto. The evidence will show this. Their goal is to “improve” upon life forms through patented artifice, but they did not start the process of subverting and exploiting the natural environment for their own profit. For a separate example from another area of human activity, only among the arrogant would so much ugly, sprawling, resource, and land-consuming, energy-inefficient real estate development be called an “improvement.”
On average, every million urbanized people consume about 40,000 hectares of land (154 square miles) according to a researcher at Ohio State University speaking recently at a conference in Iceland, and if every person on Earth lived the average U.S. lifestyle, it would require 24 acres per person or a planet 10 times the size of the Earth to accommodate 6.8 billion people—according to course materials used at the University of Texas.
Monsanto argues the need for their technologies to feed the earth, but many others argue they are destroying the agricultural capacity to feed people through soil damage and genetic harm. In our lawsuit against Monsanto, we will show they have produced no enduring benefit: only a short-term cost saving for short-sighted farmers, not anything anyone should value. Their technology has been massively destructive, beyond anything they could ever rectify, so they need to stopped. The arguments on this issue will be asserted for the judge and the public to assess once we are able to win the right to a day in court in a nation where myopic, permissively self-serving, and money-driven corporate power seems to speak through the courts as much as through legislatures and executive offices of the government.
As a nation, the United States does not appreciate the gifts of nature so much as it takes them for granted and depletes them as if there were no tomorrow—and people would have no grandchildren. Fish, for another example, in some places have been polluted, afflicted with diseases, and possibly driven to extinction without even a plan for sustainable harvest. Worse for aquatic life, Monsanto’s Roundup could be so plentiful in waterways it is affecting fertility, but few studies of this have been made.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported in August 2011 an eight-fold increase in the use of Glyphosate herbicide (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) in the Mississippi basin over a 15-year period from 1992 to 2007 (from 11,000 tons to 88,000 tons), and tiny quantities of it are known to prevent sea urchin eggs from hatching. Birth defects and other damage are also caused to the embryos of frogs and birds. Tadpoles are killed. (Relyea, Rick A., “The Lethal Impact of Roundup on Aquatic and Terrestrial Amphibians,” Ecological Applications, Vol. 15.4: 1118–1124, August 2005),
Glyphosate is found to be lethal to 96-100% of North American tadpoles and 68-86% of juvenile frogs.
(See also, Robin, Marie-Monique, The World According to Monsanto [the book], page 125,
Because of the power of Monsanto’s patent ownership in the United States, much more study has been prevented even if it should not have been—and even if Monsanto’s products should never have been allowed on the market before the studies were made. The U.S.G.S. study also showed the presence of Glyphosate in rain and in breathed air within the region. Thus, people and animals are absorbing it into their bodies through the air.
A German study shows Glyphosate in the urine of urban people at 5 to 20 times higher levels than is allowed in drinking water, and the fertility impacts of this reality are not the only health impacts. Worse, the U.S. EPA has raised 30-fold the amount allowed in food. It is as if population control is the policy objective. Glyphosate is known to lower fertility and to cause birth defects among many other issues outlined in the following article.
Arpad Pusztai illuminated many years ago that Glyphosate is a hormone replacer, but detailed human health studies remain to be made, and Monsanto has claimed the chemical is harmless despite knowledge about some of its properties from the time it was developed fifty years ago.
Monsanto also said Agent Orange was safe, but close to 500,000 affected veterans of the war in Vietnam now know otherwise, and so do the severely affected people of Vietnam. The United States waged the largest chemical warfare campaign in history, and it has not been called to account the impacts resulting. The Veterans Administration has absorbed the costs quietly, and the total medical bill remains untallied. It should be the subject of a congressional investigation, but the Congress is not likely to conduct it. Meanwhile, the taxpayer pays the bill for the assurances given on behalf of Agent Orange.
This is before the genetic issues related to transgenic food and its associated chemicals, including adjutants, are brought to the table for examination, but now corn varieties are being offered that resist the use of 2,4-D, one of the two herbicides in Agent Orange. This is happening because weeds have developed resistance to Glyphosate. The additional health costs related to its use can only be projected, but they should be, before the new crops are allowed on the market.
Arrogance and virtual hostility against nature allows health-damaging, profligate, wasteful, short-sighted, expedient use and abuse of life-essential resources on every side. The exploitation of those resources burned as fuel is bad enough, but the same myopic attitudes has extended to other resources. The fuel resources are utilized for their lowest potential economic value instead of the highest. It is like burning the house down to stay warm for one night, but in the U.S., Alfred E. Newman is patron saint, so few worry or march in the street yet to demand action.
Despite the alarm over greenhouse gases, global warming, and climate chaos, flagrant abuse of fuel resource may not be as myopic as the disrespectful, oblivious, ignorant, dishonorable, agricultural abuse, exploitation, destruction, and neglect of the soil, but both are interrelated and governed by the same cultural attitudes. The soil is the second most important place where carbon can be sequestered, but that capacity has been destroyed by Monsanto’s system of agriculture and other soil-destructive farming practices, including particularly the use of chemicals.
At the previously mentioned conference in Iceland where carbon sequestration in the soil was the focus, another speaker reported 30% of the world’s agricultural soils had been rendered unproductive over the past 40 years. The ability of people to feed themselves cannot persist unless this destruction is reversed.
In the face of these facts, the U.S. remains obliviously proud of its agricultural technologies and it continues to promote them around the world, but few would be proud if they understood the health and environmental costs.
In advising people not to eat transgenic food, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine points to: “immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen, and gastrointestinal system” in addition to the infertility issue.
In both health and soil destruction, Monsanto makes the abusers of fossil fuel resources, even BP and Halliburton, look like boy scouts and girl scouts, but those allowing Monsanto’s abuses are more to blame than Monsanto. All the biotech agribusiness companies, much as other amoral, genetically libertine corporations, are like legally authorized aboriginal tribes or herds of wild animals pursuing their own economic survival at high public cost. Yet, even wild animals are more naturally respectful of future collective needs than the modern, legalized, self-serving, predatory corporate behavior of Monsanto and its allies.
Corporations do what they are entitled by law to do and also what they can get away with in exchange for whatever economic contribution they make, so the fault lies with those chartering them and writing the laws and the court precedents governing them—or leaving them ungoverned as is more often the case. Only the people can address this situation, and to do that people must become more informed than they are. After that, a massive collective effort will be required.
Under the law, corporations cannot be blamed for what they do anymore than rattlesnakes can be blamed or prosecuted for striking or possessing venom. Snakes do as they have evolved to do in the interest of self-preservation, and large corporations have evolved no differently. People should have the same attitude toward Monsanto they would have about a nest of rattlesnakes or maybe the squid who defend themselves by spreading a cloud of ink, and we should blame ourselves for not doing what we have needed to do to prevent their tyranny and the allowed political dominance overruling politicians with the organized power of money.
Under operating laws, often written under the dominating power of corporations, we should never have expected them to behave morally; the only way to make corporations behave morally is to write the laws requiring it and spelling out the demands in great detail. From the beginnings of the nation and continuing with the subversion of the Fourteenth Amendment through Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886, corporate abuses have flowed from political myopia, corruption, chicanery, and sophistry, but profligate corporations are smarter than snakes, so they can distribute their poisons more widely and destructively. Because of that we should be more vigilant, and we should listen better for the noise of their rattle. Instead, with the aid of the corporate media, we have allowed ourselves to be anesthetized and put passively to sleep. We have trusted and wanted to trust both the biotech corporations and the media corporations, but we had no justification for that behavior. We should have known better. They are only pursuing their own interests. As a result, the public interest has been neglected.
We have permitted the pro-corporate government to facilitate the corporate tyrannies at public expense and often with taxpayer funds used to peddle Monsanto’s corporate expediency in other nations,
but this is only one example of the amorality we have enabled and become known for around the world. Even much supposedly humanitarian legislation in the United States would not be passed if it did not advantage corporations ahead of everyone else.
Obamacare and the Bush Medicare prescription drug program are examples, but there are many more. Obamacare enriches insurance companies first, and Medicare Part D massively enriches drug companies. The law was drafted by them with the intention of doing that. Regardless of whatever value these programs may have, both are wealth transfer schemes sucking money from the people as consumers and taxpayers to enrich the corporate overlords, and they would not have passed the Congress if they did not do that. That is the impact of corporations have on the legislative process under a government where corporations have become the virtual collective king. Transgenic farming is another part of the same wealth-transfer scheme with farmers, consumers, and nature as the victims.
By law, corporations must serve shareholders more than customers or the public, and the U.S. governing system has accepted corporations as its super-citizens with rights and entitlements exceeding those of unincorporated people. Corporate amorality has been enshrined as the new morality much as cynicism has become an immobilizing, opiating national religion. Even many individual, non-incorporated people now accept corporate-style amorality as the established norm. Little else is fostered when corporations dominate politics through division, conquest, and other diversionary strategy.
This is only part of the anti-democratic myopia, chicanery, and sophistry advanced as the result of Citizens United, Buckley v. Valeo, Diamond v. Chakrabarty (the court decision allowing patents on transgenic organisms), and J.E.M. Ag Supply v. Pioneer International (the decision allowing utility patents on transgenic seeds) among other corporately subservient decisions delivered at high public cost. All of these decisions are cut from the same cloth; they steal from the Commons and destroy democracy to empower an increasingly entitled oligarchy. The next time there is a march against Monsanto, it needs to focus less on Monsanto and more on those who have enabled and allowed Monsanto to do as it does. No branch of the government has been left with the interest or the motivation to defend democracy and the people.
In the face of this governing reality and the failure of elected officials to protect the public interest ahead of the corporate interests, the people need to organize to protect themselves, and the first step in that is learning the facts from wherever they can be found. The people need to understand the issues and make up their own minds where truth lies. That is the only remaining hope when elected leaders have neglected the public interest to serve the corporate interest. To help with that task, we have launched this public outreach Web site with information to help with the essential work of public education. (http://www.EndTransgenicTrespass.org)
Addressing the Public Information Deficit and Fixing It
To make up for the absence of a local march against the documented, destructive, health damaging abuses of Monsanto on May 25, 2013 and to help stimulate greater interest in the need to study the issues being raised, two local, independent, organic food stores invited me to spend four hours at each of them, speaking with interested people, showing movies, and handing out information. The hope was that people would want to expand the outreach by sharing information with a wider circle.
Just because people shop at natural and organic food stores does not mean they are as informed as they need to be about dangers associated with transgenic food. The issue is especially important because the patent owners in the United States have prevented research from being conducted and publicized. Because more than a dozen studies abroad (including Canada and Latin America) and some in the U.S. have not been well publicized, the U.S. people are still largely ignorant. Even consumers of organic food are not informed about the possibility of transgenic contamination in the organic food they buy, and no change in policy will be possible unless the people require and demand it—after they have become more informed. More information needs to be shared with those not attending marches because more people need to be informed and activated before wise, prudent, safe, and healthful policies can be enacted. Organic food outlets could be the dedicated agents of this effort, but most have not been, yet. Their future depends on the success of the effort, but that knowledge still has not provided the needed motivation.
Even court decisions are affected by how much the nation’s people know. Judge Buchwald in New York City could not have dismissed our lawsuit if more people had understood the issues being raised. We were supported by a group of New Yorkers from Occupy Wall Street and their constituent groups as well as others who conducted a rally and a vigil on two sides of the courthouse on the day of the oral arguments on the dismissal motion, January 31, 2012, but the streets would have needed to be filled with tens of thousands of people before the New York media would have given the story enough attention to change the attitude of the judge. Unfortunately, judges do not commonly investigate all the facts surrounding the complaints they adjudicate. They rely mainly on what the lawyers tell them, and in a complex case like ours, the lawyers may not be able to tell them enough, especially during arguments over a dismissal motion where attention to the precedents is most important.
Providing full information would require presenting a large bibliography (perhaps like the one provided on this Web site), and even if it is annotated (like the one provided), the judge would need to read much more than federal judges in the current litigious environment may have time to read. In our case, we felt the judge did not even comprehend the uncontroverted facts stated in our filed complaint or all the precedents pertinent to a case like ours. Either they were not understood, or they were ignored intentionally. Patent law is a complex discipline and even Supreme court justices can be gun-shy about getting into it. Justice Scalia has admitted as much, and some district court judges push cases off onto the Appeals Court of the Federal Circuit (the court that hears all patent related appeals) just to let the decision be rendered by judges who hear over 300 patent cases a year. That becomes a way of escaping the need to study the complexities personally. No amount of public concern about the issues is going to make patent law a less arcane legal specialty, but public attention can change observed prejudices.
Even with that, marches and rallies are only a way to spread the message when no better ways can be found. In a nation where the corporate mainstream media ignore more essential news than they cover and abuse the public interest more than they protect it, the people are left with limited recourse, but they have more options now than they had in the post before the Internet. In the past when more media outlets were owned by their own crusading editors, the news was better covered than it is when the interests of corporate shareholders have become more important than the interests of readers, but shame on us more for allowing, enabling, and supporting the change. In response to this reality, rallies and marches are a blunt instrument, and on May 25, the nation’s leading newspapers and television networks did not cover the marches against Monsanto much less the issues underlying them, but some local affiliates did, and the Associated Press ran a story that was used widely in the absence of any other reporting apart from a story on Alternet. Here is a database of the known coverage compiled by Occupy Monsanto:
Other U.S. news aggregators apart from Alternet were left with only the story from the AP. The Washington Post modified it slightly, the same as they might a press release. The New York Times put no reporter on the story even though it would have been possible to walk to Union Square at 1 p.m. to cover the news starting right there. By not being there, they undermined their own credibility with citizens and their own attention to important news stories in the city. Maybe they were preoccupied, as has been reported, with plans to enhance their revenues by allowing advertisers to plant more “advertorials.” That turns them into a house organ of the Chamber of Commerce. Fortunately, for the public interest, YouTube and other Internet coverage made up for what the news-ignoring media did not provide. Citizen journalism filled the void as it has increasingly needed to do.
CNN covered the news about the marches after the fact, but they did not have a well-informed reporter to assign to it, so reportorial ignorance was evident in the way the story was handled. The coverage showed they were running to catch up with a story that had blind-sided them even though promotional advertising about the events had been available for months and the location of the marches was posted ahead of time on the Internet. The problem of fully informing reporters and editors is as big as the problem of bringing judges up to speed on all the related issues. Many of them have been bamboozled for years by op-ed columns planted by Monsanto’s flacks. The number of scientists co-opted by Monsanto’s research funding is astonishing, and that was seen when a group or researchers at Purdue responded to a letter from emeritus Purdue professor Don Huber to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack before the unregulated release of transgenic alfalfa.
Huber pointed to issues needing more research before the crop would be released, but the responding group contradicted Huber. He had to wait until he retired before he could speak out about concerns he had about research he had conducted with funding from Monsanto. Before he retired, he was gagged by contract with the university, and those contradicting him were likely to be acting to protect their own access to research funding or maybe Monsanto had asked the university to release a statement just because Huber had been a faculty member there. Perhaps they obliged members of their faculty to repudiate Huber as the university’s way of protecting its access to research funding. Similar behavior has been seen, often routinely, at other agricultural research institutions.
The power of corporate money has a long reach, and academic freedom has not been able to stand up against it. Many, including Professor Elaine Ingham formerly of Oregon State University have had their work impacted by it. Few are the U.S. agricultural research institutions where Monsanto’s research funding and the funding from other biotech companies do not have impact over the research done and the findings released. Dr. Joseph Mercola interviewed Ingham on May 19, 2013, and the interview is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrYcH-Z7IOk
She is now the head research scientist at the Rodale Institute. (Rodale released in 2013 a 30-year-long study comparing the result of organic agriculture with the results from chemical agriculture: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/farming-systems-trial-30-year-report/ )
Monsanto’s financial reach also impacts politics, and the political climate of the nation was unquestionably clear only days before the marches around the world when the U.S. Senate voted 71-23 against a farm bill amendment by Senator Sanders of Vermont seeking to clarify and affirm the right of states to pass laws to label transgenic food. The right of states to protect the public safety and serve the interests of their citizens should be beyond question, but it is not in a nation where corporate interests come ahead of citizen interests, and the federal government has become in all of its branches little more than a corporate shill in too much of the work it does. Even though the Internet has given political contributions from citizens a larger role, the people are not as well organized with vigilant lobbyists as the corporations are, and that keeps corporate political power preeminent. The Organic Consumers Association has focused on ten Senators who voted to support the corporate interests. The votes of all of them were surprising, but the lobbying and financial power of biotech agribusiness should not have been a surprise:
The Senate vote on the Sanders Amendment followed robust votes on transgenic food labeling in Connecticut and the Vermont House. The Vermont state Senate is not scheduled to take up the matter until next year. Meanwhile, Vermont’s governor has shown fear about a possible Monsanto lawsuit against the state. The state’s leaders are gun-shy now because of prominent losses in federal court on as a state law requiring the labeling of rBST (bovine growth hormone) and over nuclear energy. Both were pro-corporate court decisions. A similar Monsanto suit was threatened against Vermont a year earlier, and that prevented the legislature from voting on labeling before the session ended in May 2012.
If a bill had passed in Vermont in 2012, that could have been enough to motivate the pro-labeling voters in California to carry Proposition 37 to success in November 2012. The result could have been like the story of the horse shoe nail; if the nail had not been lost in Vermont, the battle might not have been lost in California. With the losses, the campaign became more costly, and it had to be fought in more places with a greater expenditure of time and resources. Monsanto and others expected their success in California even by a narrow margin, would discourage efforts in other states, but so far it only caused efforts to be redoubled.
In response to the state actions, including a ballot initiative (I-522) advancing in Washington state toward a vote in November 2013, comes the corporately-subservient King Amendment to the U.S. House version of the Farm Bill. It serves corporate interests by asserting federal power to regulate Interstate Commerce to stop any state action on transgenic food labeling. Call it Gibbons v. Ogden in reverse. That 1824 decision by the Marshall court protected free competition against the over-reach of a state-sponsored monopoly, but now the federal government and the Supreme Court facilitate monopoly power at the expense of the people and the right to ensure their informed safety through state legislation.
The King Amendment is a federal tyranny over the right of the people and the states to protect their own local health and welfare, but it passed out of the House Agriculture Committee by a 3-1 margin, and the farm bill incorporating it was passed by the committee by a similar margin. The touted triumph of the House version of the farm bill lies in its delivery of bi-partisan action to cut the food stamp budget and reduce the federal deficit by $40 billion (over ten years). It shows the European lessons about the clear failure of austerity policy have not penetrated yet in the U.S. among either Republicans or many Democrats in the House of Representatives. (Subsequently, the farm bill was voted down in the House, but it passed later by a partisan vote with food stamps (SNAP) stripped out of it.
With a large number of people still dependent on food stamps because of the economic downturn, the House chose to punitively cut the budget for their needs maybe because food stamp recipients are not constituents of the members of the Agriculture Committee or the Republican majority, and they do not aggregate campaign contributions like agribusiness and the Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau is a major insurance company, and they are only a farm organization because they require their rural insurance customers to buy a membership. The size of their customer list gives them political leverage, and that could be the reason the food stamp budget has been shifted in the House version of the bill to subsidize insurance companies selling crop insurance. This is yet another agricultural wealth-transfer program preferred over crop disaster relief because it enriches corporations that then use some of their earnings for campaign funding.
Both the Senate vote on the Sanders Amendment and the House Committee vote on the King Amendment left no doubt where political power lies in the United States. Meanwhile, the Maine legislature voted a labeling bill out of committee, 8 votes to 4. (With a supportive coalition of liberal Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, and 90% voter support shown in polling, the Maine House voted 141-4 for labeling and the Senate voted 35-0.) Almost two dozen other states have labeling bills in the hopper, but because of the power in state government of agribusiness corporations and their allies, including their astroturf organizations and the pro-corporate Farm Bureau, most of them will never get out of committee. That is the reality in a nation where lobbying and campaign contributions put corporations in the driver’s seat—at least until the people get visibly mad and finally blow the whistle. The marches on May 25 helped advance that—if activity everywhere is now ramped up.
The Connecticut bill passed with only three opposing votes in both houses. Citizen activism cannot be a flash in the pan if the labeling campaign is to be won. In both Connecticut and Maine is was strong and loud. Move-on has joined the labeling campaign, bringing the power of its list into the game. They see the issue clearly, and they plan to run ads about it if money can be raised to pay for them. Until change can come from the bottom up, the people and the organizations supporting their interests need to pressure President Obama to fulfill his 2007 Iowa commitment on transgenic food labeling. Until then, he has been shilling for biotech agribusiness at high public cost, and that could only follow the importance of their money in the political system. The 2008 Obama promise of change meant nothing against the power of corporate money. The Obama talk of change proved to be political rhetoric, not a robust commitment, but no Democratic President could get much done in the current climate without the strong backing of the people, and President Obama has said before the vote on Proposition 37 he thought the people were not strongly concerned about transgenic labeling. He has also praised Secretary Vilsack for his commitment to biotech agriculture, and through that, he revealed his own bias.
At a minimum, President Obama would need to answer the petitioners who have sent both the FDA and the White House now over a million signatures on transgenic food labeling, more than enough to deserve a response under the established White House rules. The response needed is a new federal law requiring independent investigation and regulation of transgenic food. The powers available under existing law are too minimal. They enable the pro-corporate status quo. Even if they could be interpreted to do more, that will not happen as long as the officials administering them do not want to find more legal teeth within the existing legal framework. As long as the “Doctrine of Substantial Equivalence” allows officials to argue that transgenic food is the same as non-transgenic food, the inaction by the FDA and the USDA will not change—apart from a strong public manifestation on the issues.
President Obama would also need to replace both Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former chief lobbyist as the Food Safety Czar at the FDA and transgenic agricultural pharmaceutical advocate Tom Vilsack at the USDA as well as many others representing corporate interests above the public interest. These would be steps needed in taking the government back from the corporations and delivering the change promised in 2008. Instead, the government has been anti-democratically and destructively subverted in pursuit of corporate campaign funding that goes mostly to Republicans regardless of whatever the Democrats may do. But as President Clinton showed, Democrats can get into the corporate funding game if they do what the corporations want, so they do that. They do not want to be left dependent on only citizen contributions because that has not been enough to keep them in the game or even ahead in fund-raising, as they were in 2008. The Citizens United decision certainly resulted because the Republicans needed to find a way to keep up with Democratic contributions from individual voters; because of that overturning it will be difficult, unless there is a big change in the congressional balance of power, which is unlikely.
The President still needs to prove he has the leadership motivation and interest to get out in front of the most important issues strongly enough to shape, organize, and inspire public opinion. He has not done that yet because it is not easy—as the fight over gun legislation has shown, but a valuable legacy is not created by going with the flow. Obamacare counts as a half-measure delivering limited, partial change much like Dodd-Frank that has been subverted, delayed, and deferred in service to Wall Street. The First Lady has not helped to move the people’s agenda on food despite her uncertified organic garden on the White House lawn and her own commitment to the obesity campaign, as long as it can remain non-controversial. She has worked hard to avoid controversy and remain as a non-partisan fashion ornament speaking out mostly only on issues that are safe. Driving passion for the truth is yet to be seen from this White House, and it that, they show their political colors. On many issues, they have caved in to pro-corporate expediency as much as any Republican. Political capital is amplified through use, and it atrophies when it is not used or when it proves to be a flash in the pan against rising opposition as has been the case so far on gun legislation. It cannot be deployed briefly and deliver results; pressure needs to persist visibly and continuously through the presentation of rational arguments. That is what leadership is, but this President is not Lyndon Johnson with his legendary persuasive ability and close-up nostril examination.
Leadership was the goal of the Sanders Farm Bill amendment was to prevent Monsanto and others from suing states for passing labeling bills. If states were federally authorized to require transgenic food labeling, then the companies could make no legal claim that labeling is a federal prerogative under the power granted to regulate interstate commerce. The vote against the Sanders amendment was as bipartisan as the House Agriculture Committee’s vote on the King Amendment, and both can be seen as a defensive act by the Congress to protect centralized federal power in support of their corporate sponsors. Members must be accountable for that behavior, and on that Move-on has the right idea. The tail needs to be pinned on the local donkey in each state and district. Petition drives are clearly not enough to get the job done. They are ignored.
Meanwhile, in a display of party-line partisanship, Senate Republicans blocked a bill by Senator Merkley of Oregon intended to repeal the “Monsanto Protection Act” (MPA), also called the Farmer Assurance Provision by its proponents). That measure provides unprecedented right to override court decisions stopping the planting of transgenic crops because of government failure to follow the law and protect the environment. The fundamental constitutional principle of judicial review in place since Jefferson’s Presidency is profligately repealed by the provision, especially if it moves to a new host before the continuing budget resolution expires in September 2013. The MPA does not just provide authority to the Secretary of Agriculture; it tells him he must allow the planting of a court-blocked transgenic crop whenever a farmer files a request. All deliberate prudence is removed in the aggressive interest of allowing no delays caused by the assertion of the public need for safety and prudence. The presumed meddling of courts is treated as if it was only a nuisance needing to be quickly batted out of the way.
The Federalist Chief Justice John Marshall in 1803 robustly established the power of the Supreme Court to exercise a form of parental oversight over the other two branches of the government. With that basically uncontested (or ineffectively contested) act, manifested cleverly in Marbury v. Madison, the Court established itself as the dominant governmental branch with its power reinforced by lifetime tenure of the justices and the asserted intellectual superiority of lawyers in pre-eminently performing the nation’s reasoning. Chief Justice Marshall served for 34 years overseeing the work of five Presidents. He created the Supreme Court as we know it. Before he was appointed by President Adams as a final act before departing for home, the Supreme Court was made up of circuit riding judges who had no clear vision informing them what the Supreme Court’s role in the system should be.
Now it would be interesting to see what the justices would say about impact of the “Monsanto Protection Act” on their role in the governing system. Inclusion of the provision in the budget resolution was a sweeping clandestine maneuver by one Senator, but he was subsequently supported by his party when they denied the opportunity to bring the repeal measure to the floor. The action on the MPA was taken in the interest of biotech agribusiness by biotech lobbyists working behind the scenes with Monsanto’s senatorial butler, Roy Blunt, a Republican from their home state of Missouri. The result was the opposite of democratic transparency. As reported in video 500 marchers outside Monsanto’s Missouri headquarters on May 25 demanded Monsanto show them the transgenic food label, but Senator Blunt had shown how one man (with a little help from collaborators) could subvert two centuries of established governing principle in the interest of an anti-democratic, virtually totalitarian pro-corporate tyranny and win party support in the process. A report about the marchers at Monsanto corporate headquarters in St. Louis is here:
The overturning of judicial review would seem unlikely to pass a court test if tradition would be the guide, but courts interpret law; they should not enact it, and by September we will know if the law is enacted permanently through some new and clever artifice. Senators have put their foot in the door before in service to their corporate patrons, but the blatancy of Blunt’s personal action strains the credibility of the United States around the world. World opinion on the matter does not register in the United States because people in the U.S. are in the habit of not listening to opinions from abroad, but foreign attitudes toward U.S. democratic dysfunction does have consequences in the perception of U.S. stature. That seemed to rise briefly in 2009 when President Obama came into office, but it has not been sustained.
Until September, protection of Monsanto’s interest in the MPA is attached to the continuing budget resolution, but once a rodent is in the house, it can find many places to hide, and the Congress can repeal judicial review if they want to. They have not touched it for over 200 years, but that does not mean they would not. Apparently, the Republicans want to do it. Otherwise, a party-line vote for Blunt in deflecting Merkley would not have resulted. Blunt-force trauma was visited on well-established and respected governing principle, and in a weak, chagrined, and tardy response to the Blunt maneuver, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland apologized publicly for allowing the pro-Monsanto provision into the budget resolution. Unanimous consent was needed to get Merkley’s repeal bill before the Senate for a vote, and Senate Republicans denied him that. They stood in stiff, pro-corporate support of Senator Blunt as he took canary-eating, Cheshire cat credit for slipping the provisions into the budget resolution while others were not paying attention. Some Senators may feel they were currying favor with farmers in their states, but the consumer backlash could overwhelm any gratitude from the quarter million farmers Monsanto touts as customers.
Meanwhile, consumers have not been waiting for politicians to get the needed work done. They have been voting with their wallets for food containing no transgenic content, and that speaks louder than letters to legislators or cast ballots on Election Day. Whole Foods has reported an increase between 15% and 30% in the sale of foods carrying the Non-GMO Project label, and that is the reason they gave for announcing their decision to require transgenic labeling by 2018 for all the brands in their stores. Following that announcement, 300 brands applied in March 2013 for certification by the Non-GMO Project, and additional new certifiers have also stepped up to provide non-GMO certification.
Changing Market Attitudes and the Corporate Response
The Whole Foods decision to require transgenic labeling by 2018 was a less than robust move by a company seeing organic sales growing at the “conventionally chemical-dependent” chain groceries, including Wal-Mart, now the nation’s largest seller of organic food with about a third of the certified organic market, but Wal-Mart’s sales are in decline for the first quarter of 2013, while overall sales at Whole Foods increased by double digits: 13.6%. As the nation’s second largest seller of organic food, Whole Foods has needed to do something to differentiate themselves from other grocery sellers and to live up to their status as the first and only organically-certified grocery chain; the announcement of their labeling commitment served that purpose whether or not it was timidly subservient to all the large companies that make up a major portion of the Whole Foods revenue.
To do more than the minimum necessary to show it was getting the market message, Whole Foods needed to prove itself as an admirable industry leader and not just another self-serving corporation myopically and cautiously protecting itself for its own convenience and in service to the corporate fraternity, but if public sentiment on the issue continues to steam ahead as the marches against Monsanto suggest, Whole Foods could find itself behind the curve, whistling Dixie and running to catch up. The door is now open for others to do better than Whole Foods has done. Other grocery chains could decide to require labeling before 2018, or maybe a coalition of independent natural and organic grocery stores and co-ops could announce a sooner deadline. They could have larger total sales volume than Whole Foods with its 339 stores.
Room exists for stores making up the remaining share of the organic market to organize and outflank the two largest sellers by meeting the growing demand of their customers for non-transgenic food they can trust to be safe, healthful, nutritious, and free from harmful transgenic content. The search for non-transgenic ingredients by food processors has reached page one of the New York Times Business Section, and that is only a step from the front page of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, but the Wall Street Journal has pursued another Monsanto story: they report the failure of Monsanto’s Bt Corn to live up to its billings against the ability of insects to evolve, adapt, and resist the inbred Bt toxin. It is one thing for the story to play in the farm press or on the Internet in places that investors do not see and another for the coverage to reach the financial press and the business pages of major newspapers. This is a progressing story, so stay tuned for new developments depending on Election Day results in Washington state and legislative action in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, and maybe more.
The trouble is the story has two sides and the flip side is: the failure of Bt crops to work anymore delivers increased pesticide revenue to Monsanto and the other chemical companies. Some think that could have been part of the Monsanto business plan from the moment they introduced Bt crops. They suggest an intentional strategy to destroy the natural competitor (long-used without adverse impacts even by organic farmers) and open the door wider for chemical sales. Meanwhile, the danger and damage from Bt crops could have been learned from Arpad Pusztai and his team in Scotland in 1998 if people in the United States wanted to listen. They could have learned then that the Bt crops killed beneficial insects along with the predatory. For 15 years, the corporate, mainstream U.S. media helped to preserve public ignorance in service to the biotech corporate interest, but that project is now starting to crack. CNN did a follow up story on the marches around the world on May 25, and when one major news outlet covers a story others cannot afford to be far behind. They showed their lack of knowledge about the issues being raised in the way they cover the story, but that will improve over time. To the great surprise of many, Fox News did a better story. The marches on July 4 in 169 U.S. locations did not general more than minimal local coverage, but they were intended as local events, not a major national or international event. The next marching will be on October 12, and that will need to step up to a new level if it is to help to provide an impetus for events during the ensuing months.
At the heart of the matter is a question about whether the U.S. people want to take back control over their nation and the food supply from the power of the wealthy corporations like Monsanto. If the damage is identified and quantified in one way or another, the next question will be: who is prosecuted. Action might require turning the Washington Mall into Tahrir Square to topple the U.S. Mubarak and his cronies. That could only happen if the U.S. people have not become corporate serfs too immersed in their own myopic amorality to any longer want to take the needed public action. If they have forgotten how to work together to build an honorable, wise, and healthful community with the food needed to protect brain function and muscle power in the common interest, corporate dominance will continue.
Evidence to support the reigning corporate confidence in citizen passivity and civic disconnection was seen at the two local stores on the day of the May 25 marches, but maybe someone younger and prettier than I was needed to attract interest in the arguments being presented. Maybe I was seen as a gray-haired vagrant people needed to step around like the droppings of a dog or a sour-note street musician. People could see I was not panhandling or selling a commercial product, but they mostly had to ask to find out what was going on. They could pick up the hand-outs and read them, but no big posters announced the event and invited the public in. Many did ask questions, especially at one of the stores, but many did not, and that raised questions about the public state of civic connection at two places where people should be most naturally interested and concerned about the issues being raised.
If the consumers at organic grocery stores prefer to be oblivious, living in their own bubble, that would suggest other citizens buying their food in other places are even more likely to live in their own uninformed bubble. When a poll was conducted in nine locations in 2012 only about 10% of the people knew about Monsanto’s seed business or had even heard of the company. Most stores probably would not want to sponsor the kind of consumer information sharing conducted at the two stores on May 25, and that would likely include Whole Foods. Many of the makers and sellers of products at Whole Foods own transgenic product lines that are likely to be more important to their corporate profitability than their organic divisions. Whole Foods probably would not want to alienate major companies in the food industry by stirring the pot on transgenics any more than they did in announcing the recent policy change on labeling.
With many organic brands now largely owned up by the food industry giants, Whole Foods would seem ill-inclined to rock the industry boat just to better serve their own customers. If public service had been their primary goal, they would not have given the industry giants five generous years to adjust the content of their products to non-transgenic options. Clearly, they wanted to make the process easy for their suppliers. These companies provide an important share of their revenue stream, so their convenience would seem to be more important than customer welfare.
Already Whole Foods is behind the market curve, because they have spent most of a decade expediently pursuing the chimera of local chemically-dependent suppliers that other chains could exploit just as well as they could. They need to serve both suppliers and customers, and move the market slowly and incrementally. Instead of leading the industry by cultivating, developing, and locking in a market for quality organic suppliers and leading the market toward an organic future, they chose the path of easy expediency and even talked about themselves as if people should see them as the uptown, more prestigious, customer schmoozing, and prestige-hungry version of any other grocery chain serving the upper income buyer. That has been their niche, and to be more aggressive, they would need be able to rely on more independent organic suppliers, but that moves toward the farmer’s market sellers, and most of them are not big enough to serve a chain that still feels the need to be price conscious and competitive with the more conventional chains that now often have organic products Whole Foods does not have (at least in Virginia where I buy).
For over a decade, the management of Whole Foods showed they had no market vision, and no more robust, impassioned leadership capacity than President Obama. Both sat trapped by myopic circumstances like 97-pound weaklings inside a wet paper bag. Both wanted to be followers of the herd more than the leaders they could have been—if they were not too timid and too interested in following the corporate money. Now, Whole Foods is faced with larger chemically-conventional chains using their greater leverage with suppliers to increase their own sales of organic products. Its to the point where their customers need to go to the chemically-reliant food chains to get organic items Whole Foods does not have available because they have lost the competitive leverage in the supplier marketplace needed to get it, but they have brought this situation on themselves. With more smarts, they could have foreseen the future better and set a strategy to get ahead of it.
Even two years before Whole Foods stopped telling customers they offered no foods with transgenic content in their stores, they established fish farming rules without requiring avoidance of transgenic feed, and instead of being a strong leader in the selling of grass-fed meat, they stayed mostly with the conventional market selling product from the feedlots. Yet, when Canadian researchers in 2011 found 9 in 10 women of child-bearing age had Monsanto’s Bt toxin in their blood and 8 in 10 of their babies also carried the Bt toxin, the researchers suggested the source of it would have been the meat of animals fed Monsanto’s Bt corn, Bt brewers’ grain, and maybe also Bt cottonseed. The sad fact is that Arpad Pusztai and his team could have informed everyone about this danger 13 years earlier in 1998 if they had been interested to hear the message.
Against the view that the errant Bt genes in humans are coming from animals, Jeffrey Smith, the author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, has a different idea. He thinks the Bt transgenes have now migrated from the 75% of processed foods with transgenic content into the gut bacteria of people, effectively turning the human gut into contaminated bacterial Bt factories producing their own Bt toxins and causing the health effects resulting from it. Most of these Bt impacts were also identified by Arpad Pusztai and his multi-center team of European researchers 15 years ago in 1998. Pusztai found the Bt toxin goes directly through the gut walls in the same way it kills insects. From there in addition to promoting leaky gut, they go into the blood stream and directly to the pancreas where they affect the production of insulin and digestive enzymes. He could see the impact as well on other organs, (including the liver, the kidneys, and the testes) and on the immune system as well as the inability of his lab animals to thrive and grow normally. The feed used in his study was from a Bt potato (he could not get a Monsanto crop to study without giving them control over the investigation and the release of the subsequent findings).
Pusztai found that natural Bt from soil bacteria did not have the same impact on the lab animals as the transgenic version of the Bt toxins. From this, he learned the damage was caused by the transgenic Bt through the transgenic engineering employed to create it. The process changed the behavior of the genes making them dangerously toxic in a way natural Bt was not. This is discussed in a 40-minute film about the Pusztai story is here:
Meanwhile, the Whole Foods management was still deep enough in the weeds of long-cultivated misunderstanding of the facts twelve years later to join Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s coexistence charade back in 2010 and early 2011. If they had been paying attention to the science as they should have been, if they were committed to the organic ideal and not just exploiting it, they would have known better than others that coexistence was a trap only fools would walk into, but they did not seem to know that and neither did some other. Some have said they fell into the trap because they were personal friends with Tom Vilsack, and the other alternative he offered them at the time was worse. They said the picked the best of two bad options, but they should have rejected both of them. The bottom line: they were snookered like ordinary suckers at a Barnum and Bailey circus.
The Whole Foods coexistence decision was like peeing into an empty gas tank and hoping it would turn into enough gasoline to drive the car home. This was at the time when transgenic alfalfa was being publicly released and knowledgeable professionals were projecting the possible or even likely contamination of all the alfalfa in the nation in as little as five years. That showed what coexistence would mean, especially for organic dairy farmers and the consumers of their products.
Of course, Whole Foods was not the only company that fell into the Vilsack trap like Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby, but they should have been the industry leader on behalf of their consumers instead of selling them out. They had closer direct contact with consumers than the other two prominently confused companies with even greater ignorance about the reality and more to lose from their error than Whole Foods. All of them should have been defenders of the consumer interest even if they had no competence to understand their own interest. If they were as loyal to their customers as many customers have been to them, they would have done better, but they did not. They were blindly and pathetically willing to go along with Secretary Vilsack’s pro-biotech coexistence scam even at the expense of their own companies.
Now Secretary Vilsack (and a commission, called AC-21, he rigged to deliver the pro-coexistence answer he wanted to promote in service to Monsanto and other biotech companies) aims to create an insurance program to help advance coexistence by selling tax-payer subsidized insurance to organic farmers to protect them from transgenic contamination. This should be seen as a devious strategy to co-opt organic and other non-transgenic farmers the same way health insurance co-opts healthcare consumers to enrich insurance companies and healthcare providers at their own long-term expense. Crop insurance does the same, and the new program is just a new version of subsidized crop insurance.
This new insurance program is also another wealth-transfer pilferage like all the others spawned by the Washington plutocracy in recent years, and it depends on both farmers and taxpayers being dumb enough to accept it against their own long-term interests. If they pooled their own money or if crop disaster relief were recognized a cost taxpayers need to pay in exchange for low managed commodity prices enabled through federal government policy, the insurance company role could be eliminated. The new insurance program will milk both farmers and taxpayers and also raise costs to consumers because it pushes the real issues under the rug to be dealt with in the future when civic virtue might one day be restored.
People need to start going to jail for inventing programs like this one to continue milking the commons for private gain, but instead they rely on the public remaining obliviously ignorant about the reality of their artifice. If they do not get prosecuted and sentenced, an angry mob might one day want to stand them naked in the pillory until they die like some of the trusting victims of their stewardship failures, particularly the livestock victims. Some think the real goal is population control, but no solid evidence can prove that, so the idea remains a conspiracy theory despite the efforts to link the Gates Foundation through their commitment to population control strategies as part of their healthcare agenda. They say everyone should be entitled to “live healthy productive lives,” but they do not say how long those lives should be or what should be done to people’s ability to reproduce.
Whatever the unknown thinking going on behind the scenes and whatever the importance of population control despite its long-standing ineffectiveness, corrupting the food supply is not the way to fix the over-population issue. If charges about that were ever made against U.S. companies, foundations, and collaborating governing officials by the people of other nations, the trial might occur in the court of public opinion long before it could be heard in a court of law.
For years before they embraced the full-throated expediency and amorality of the coexistence ideal, Whole Foods promised they would sell no products with transgenic content, and even now many of their employees think that is still the company policy even though they caved in three years ago in 2010, saying transgenic content could not be avoided anymore, because it was too ubiquitous. Unfortunately, they did not find it important to make sure the word got down to the lowest level team members. At around that same time, the Cornucopia Institute found a house-brand natural cereal at Whole Foods with 50% transgenic content. Thereafter, that cereal was redesigned as an organic product, but the same diligence has not been applied yet to other products sold at Whole Foods.
Canola oil is another ubiquitous ingredient at Whole Foods, and it would be made from transgenic canola. If it was not, that would be made clear. Nonetheless, Whole Foods associates remain confused on the point, and they continue to spin the issue when they are asked about it. They sometimes claim the oil they use is not created from transgenic canola (rapeseed), but unless it is labeled as organic or non-transgenic, no one can know it is not made from transgenic canola. Farmers in canola growing areas explain it is virtually impossible to grow anything else anywhere in the United States anymore. That is because transgenic contamination has now been spread so widely, growing freely in the wild and spread by birds the same as any weed. Against this reality, Whole Foods does not explain the acquisition of their canola from another nation, and store employee have not reported that it is.
Whole Foods clearly cuts corners on cost, and maybe they think consumers are too dumb or price conscious to care, but they would not know about that until they offered truly superior options with organic ingredients for side by side sale to see how the market responds to them. With certainty, some ingredients, like canola oil, are used because they are cheap, and maybe Whole Foods employees are saying their oil is not transgenic because they think the high heat used in its processing denatures the transgenes, but if so, that reasoning has not been prominently or publicly clarified in the stores. Maybe they do not want to open the nutritional Pandora’s Box raised by the use of high heat to fundamentally denature the oil and damage nutrient value. They still could not label the oil as non-transgenic on the basis of the denaturing by heat, and even if they could, canola oil is at best a bag of nutritional and health question marks. It was originally used as a lamp fuel and as a machinery lubricant, not as a food, and it is made non-toxic through the processing, which requires the use of chemicals such as hexane.
Many issues could be addressed by Whole Foods and others long before 2018, and they need to be if management wants to show leadership to protect the public health and not just finesse their relationship with General Mills, Smuckers, and the other big players in the food industry. Meat, farmed fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy are among the foods needing to be addressed if the Canadian researchers are correct in the finding that Monsanto’s Bt transgenes are getting into people through the poultry, meat, and dairy animals being fed transgenic feed. Otherwise, store managers will be guilty of milking the public instead serving them just like all the other corporate executives getting ever larger salaries for their service to shareholders but at the expense of the people.
The truth is Whole Foods is far better than the other large grocery chains. They have made themselves a target because of the image they set for themselves without living up to it, but all the others are more guilty than Whole Foods of milking the public obliviously, ignorantly, amorally and irresponsibly to serve their own interest at high public cost. If they had their own doubts about the healthfulness of transgenic food, they could have joined the effort to get government action, or they could have taken action themselves to require their suppliers to label transgenic food. That happened in Europe, and it could have happened in the United States at the same time if U.S. public discussion of the issues had been promoted. Instead, the U.S. officials acted and have continued to act to protect the biotech corporate interest, and the chains in the U.S .also stood silently in a “see-no-evil” posture.
No publicly announced change has yet been made in the Whole Food fish farming rules or in those governing meat production since the announcement of the plan to have all transgenic content labeled by 2018. They could have been a leader in making heart-healthy, pastured meat available to consumers and developing suppliers, but they have not done that. Pastured and organic meats remain both scarce and expensive in Whole Foods stores even though Allan Savory of Holistic Range Management has made clear the need for more grazing herds as an important answer to desertification and global climate change.
Whole Foods could have helped increase public awareness on these issues if they had wanted to be a leader. The service could have increased customer loyalty, but they evaded it. Below are two articles discussing the health issues related to grass-fed meat, both addressing the issue cautiously. The first is undated and the second is from 2010:
A longer discussion of the issues between grain and grass feeding of meat animals is here:
These discussions do not even get into the feeding of transgenic grain. They are just about the difference between grain and grass.
With transgenic wheat now found in eastern Oregon eight years after field trials ended and in a field where field trials were never conducted, the situation with canola might be more understandable. Whole Foods would certainly want to label their canola oil as non-transgenic if they could do it. The only reason they would not do it has to be because they cannot. Maybe their customers do not care, but if so, they are counting on and even promoting consumer ignorance the same as Monsanto does and other grocery chains do. That is not an honorable way to do business if health, informed customers, and public service is the goal. Either the products Whole Foods sells are as nutritious as they know how to make them, or they cut corners to compete with companies whose practices are worse and more dangerous to health than their own.
Conclusion: Ignorance is Dangerous and Not Bliss
In the face of these realities, maybe people do not expect to learn anything important to their self-preservation when they go to the grocery store; maybe they expect to be bamboozled, or maybe most people are in a hurry these days in everything they do, but more people might have been curious enough to ask a question or take a handout at the two independent organic stores on May 25 if democracy was healthy in the United States and in Jefferson’s home town. If evasion, disinterest, and lack of concern is the dominant attitude in many places among both citizens and companies, consumers may be locked into the same health damaging, corner-cutting traps as the management at Whole Foods, Monsanto, the government, and even now most U.S. farms.
The United States is in a shameful place when farmers are found unwilling to eat the crops they grow for others to eat. Some of them do say they feed their own families only organic food just because they understand the health issues associated with transgenic food. Farmers feel they have to grow it, because it is cheaper and easier to grow, but that does not protect the public interest in food safety and optimal health. Willingness to cut corners on family farms is a mark of corporate amorality growing among individual people.
If that is the end of the story, the prospect for democratically-driven change is neck-deep in quicksand. Monsanto has advanced its objectives since transgenic food was first introduced in 1996 on the basis of the need to keep the public ignorant. They reveal a faith suggesting most people want to remain obliviously passive and uninformed about whatever they are given to eat. Similarly, if people treat themselves or their customers as if they were cattle, hogs, chickens, or turkeys at a feeding trough, then they only need to look in the mirror to know whom to blame. They will have become just like Monsanto. Monsanto’s $13.5 billion 2012 revenue stream continues to depend on consumer ignorance about the risks and dangers of their products (even though some of their crops go to make biofuel), and on May 25, too many of the Charlottesville store customers in seemed to fulfill that requirement. Many farmers growing transgenic crops have gone along with the program.
After the day at the two stores, a message was sent to one store manager: “When people come into the store to discuss and provide samples of the their products, I take time to listen to them, and I am interested to hear them talk about their methods and goals—and to give them feedback. I am grateful that they took time to talk to customers and potential customers about the service they are trying to render. I am also grateful to the store for giving them space to answer questions and provide information about their products. I want to know the people who make the products I buy or might buy, and through that the quality of local food is improved. Corner cutting by companies is overcome through feedback, increased direct consumer contact, increased accountability, and better competition through a diverse range of offerings and suppliers.
“Both health and a high quality of community is built through mutual public service. The issue should be no different when the mission is to offer a public service with information explaining why the labeling of transgenic food is important to people’s health and why that work needs the efforts of everyone to demand it, but many did not seem to support the importance of that understanding about the need for attentiveness and vigilance to enable our planetary survival and the functionality of our democracy. Based on what was seen, maybe people prefer a state of ignorance the same as if they were the victimized cows, hogs, chickens, or frogs being so slowly warmed in a kettle they do not react. Better must be hoped for if it is still possible to bring change.”
As a bottom line, two things are clear: First, the past has shown the corporate media cannot be relied upon to provide everything people need to know, and second, most people do not yet know everything they should know about the food they eat or might eat—if health is important to them. If they did know more, they could not be passive any longer; they would be outraged—and hopefully mostly with themselves and their fellow citizens for what they have permitted, allowed, and enabled.
2014 Update: The same two food stores were visited on the same day in May when the marches against Monsanto were being held against Monsanto in many places around the world. This time the stores were visited in reverse order. The one that had been visited in the morning in 2013 was visited in the afternoon in 2014 and vice versa. Surprisingly, the experience was the same as it had been in 2013, so it turns out that Saturday morning shoppers are in a bigger hurry and more preoccupied with less time while Saturday afternoon shoppers are more laid back with more time to talk no matter which store they go to. The store visited in the morning in 2013 without many people showing interest was completely the opposite in 2014 in the afternoon. Conversations were conducted with about 70 people, and handout information was accepted by almost all of them. Many read the handout on the spot and most were supportive.
(As in 2013, no march against Monsanto was held in Charlottesville, and the nearest ones were in Richmond and Front Royal. People did come from other places expecting to find a march in Charlottesville, and some of them came to shop in the stores when they could not find one. The reason that no march was conducted in Charlottesville is not known, but it might be because the university community is divided over the issue with some professors supporting transgenic agriculture. It also could be the result of general apathy on the issue. Little interest has been shown within the university about our lawsuit even though both the PubPat attorneys graduated from UVa Law School, but a university forum was conducted on the GMO issue on April 23, 2013. Ira Wallace, Co-Manager of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a co-plaintiff in our lawsuit participated in the forum as a substitute for a faculty member who was not able to attend at the last minute. A video of the entire forum was promised by the university Food Collaborative, but it has not been posted as of July 2014. A short 24 minute edited video from the event is here. The video is also listed among the Longer Videos on this Web site. It is the lead listing, and a pdf of the message-amplifying screen text is provided.)
2015 Update: The two stores were visited on “March Against Monsanto” Day, May 23, 2015, the first one from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the other from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. About one hundred handouts were given out at each of the locations and most people were receptive and interested, but one large man said he thought Monsanto was “a great company,” and one woman said her daughter was a biology student who thought transgenic crops were a great thing “needed to help feed the world.” She said she agreed with her daughter. Nonetheless, she and her husband were in favor of transgenic food labeling, so they took the handout. Here is the text of the one page flyer:
May 23, 2015:
Marches Against Monsanto Are Happening in 438 Places around the world (over 30 in CA, over 20 in Florida, and 240 total in the United States, but only 2 in VA). Four issues need attention:
1. The DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know) is before the Congress.
Introduced by Congressman Pompeo, Republican of Kansas and Congressman Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina and called by them “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” the bill would preempt all state labeling of transgenic food by creating a voluntary federal program, but voluntary labeling is already possible, and no company has used it. Meanwhile, those participating in the Non-GMO Project labeling have benefited from a 15-30% sales increase according to Whole Foods. Members of Congress need to be urged to vote against the DARK Act because Monsanto and their allies in the Grocery Manufacturing Association and other trade associations want them to vote for it.
2. Fast Track Trade Authority Threatens to Give Companies the Right to Overrule National, State, and Local Laws, including Transgenic Food Labeling Laws, Because They Could Be Seen as Restraining Trade.
This is the reason careful examination of the trans-oceanic trade agreements is important. National, state, and local sovereignty is at stake.
3. More State Food Labeling Bills Are Needed.
So far only Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut have passed laws even though they have been introduced in over half of the states. Industry’s lobbying power has blocked them from moving.
4. The Federal District Court Decision Supporting the Vermont Food Labeling Law Has Been Appealed.
The Federal District Court ruled the law constitutional, so now Monsanto and their allies have appealed the decision. The Appeals Court judges and the Supreme Court justices heed to know the people want transgenic food to be labeled.
Patterson is the organizing co-plaintiff of the lawsuit OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto. He spent a voluntary year working with attorney Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation talking to and bringing together the lawsuit’s 83 co-plaintiffs. When they finished, they invited the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) to be the lead plaintiff. They were willing to take on the job, and their name was considered helpful, because the word “organic” is the first word in their name. They are dedicated to the protection of organic seed, and they were helpful in bringing together some of the final members of the co-plaintiff group.