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The California Ballot Initiative: Standing Up to Monsanto
"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it." - Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994
Monsanto and Food Inc.’s stranglehold over the nation’s food and farming system is about to be challenged in a food fight that will largely determine the future of American agriculture. A growing corps of organic food and health activists in California—supported by consumers and farmers across the nation—are boldly standing up to Monsanto and its minions, taking the first steps to expose the widespread contamination of non-organic grocery store foods with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and moving to implement mandatory GMO labeling through a grassroots-powered Citizens Ballot Initiative process.
This month, lawyers representing a broad and unprecedented health, environmental, and consumer coalition, including the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, Center for Food Safety, Mercola.com, Nature’s Path, Natural News.com, LabelGMOs.org, Food Democracy Now, and the Institute for Responsible Technology, are filing papers with the California Attorney General’s office to place a Citizens Initiative on the Ballot in November 2012 that would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients. If California voters pass this ballot initiative in 2012, it will likely be the beginning of the end for Monsanto and genetically engineered food in the U.S.
According to Zuri Starr, a Southern California field organizer for the Organic Consumers Association, “The California Ballot Initiative is perhaps our last chance to stop the Biotech Express, to overthrow Biotechnology’s dictatorial regime and build a safe and sustainable food and farming system based upon the ethical principles of consumer choice and BioDemocracy.”
Moving the Battleground
After twenty years of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically engineered (GE) foods to animals and humans—aided and abetted by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations— a critical mass of food and health activists have decided it’s time to move beyond small skirmishes and losing battles and go on the offensive. It’s time to move the food fight over labeling GE food from the unfavorable terrain of Washington D.C. and Capital Hill, where Monsanto and Food Inc. exercise near-dictatorial control, to California, the heartland of organic food and farming and anti-GMO sentiment, where 80-85% of the body politic, according to recent polls, support mandatory labeling.
The trillion-dollar biotech, supermarket, and food industry are acutely conscious of the fact that North American consumers, like their European counterparts, are wary and suspicious of genetically engineered food. Consumers understand you don't want your food safety or environmental sustainability decisions to be made by out-of-control chemical and biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, or DuPont--the same people who brought us toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals, Agent Orange, carcinogenic food additives, PCBs, and now global warming. Biotech, food, and grocery corporations are alarmed by the fact that every poll over the last 20 years has shown that 85-95% of American consumers want mandatory labels on genetically engineered foods.
Europe Shows Labels Drive GMOs off the Market
Why are there basically no genetically engineered foods or crops anywhere in Europe, while 75% of U.S. supermarket foods—including many so-called “natural” foods—are GE-tainted? The answer is simple. In Europe genetically engineered foods and ingredients have to be labeled. In the U.S. they do not. Up until now, in North America, Monsanto and the Biotechnocrats have enjoyed free reign to secretly lace non-organic foods with gene-spliced viruses, bacteria, antibiotic-resistant marker genes, and foreign DNA—mutant “Frankenfoods” shown to severely damage the health of animals, plants, and other living organisms in numerous scientific studies.
Monsanto and their allies understand the threat that truth-in-labeling poses for GMOs. As soon as genetically engineered foods start to be labeled in the U.S., millions of consumers will start to read these labels and react. They’ll complain to grocery store managers and companies, they’ll talk to their family and friends. They’ll start switching to foods that are organic or at least GMO-free. Once enough consumers start complaining about GE foods and food ingredients; stores will eventually stop selling them; and farmers will stop planting them.
Genetically engineered foods have absolutely no benefits for consumers or the environment, only hazards. This is why Monsanto and their friends in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have prevented consumer GMO truth-in-labeling laws from ever getting a public discussion, much less coming to a vote in Congress. And this is why activists are launching the California Ballot Initiative. By moving the battle from the federal level to the state level, by employing one of the last remaining tools of direct grassroots democracy in the USA, the ballot initiative, concerned consumers can bypass Washington and regain their fundamental right to know what they are eating.
Passing mandatory GMO labeling in just one large state, California, where there is tremendous opposition to GE foods as well as a multi-billion dollar organic food industry, will ultimately have the same impact as a national labeling law.
If California food and health activists succeed in putting a GMO labeling initiative on the ballot in 2012 and the voters pass it, the biotech and food industry will face an intractable dilemma. Will they dare put labels on their branded food products in just one state, California, admitting these products contain or may contain genetically engineered ingredients, while withholding this ingredient label information in the other states? Will they allow their organic and non-GMO competitors to drive down their GMO-tainted brand market share? The answer to both of these questions is likely no. What most of them will do is start to shift to organic and non-GMO ingredients, so as to avoid what the Monsanto executive 16 years ago aptly described as the “skull and crossbones” label.
California Label Laws Have National Impact: Proposition 65
A clear indication of the impact of warning labels on consumer products was established in California in 1986 when voters passed, over the strenuous opposition of industry, a ballot initiative called Proposition 65, which required consumer products with potential cancer-causing ingredients to bear warning labels. Rather than label their products sold in California as likely carcinogenic, most companies reformulated their product ingredients so as to avoid warning labels altogether, and they did this on a national scale, not just in California.
This same scenario will likely unfold again in California in 2012. Can you imagine Kellogg’s selling its Corn Flakes breakfast cereal in California with a label that admits it contains or may contain genetically engineered corn? This would be the kiss of death for their iconic brand. How about Kraft Boca Burgers admitting that their soybean ingredients are genetically modified? How about the entire non-organic food industry (including many so-called “natural” brands) admitting that a large proportion of their products are GE-tainted? Once food manufacturers and supermarkets are forced to come clean and label genetically engineered products, they will likely remove all GE ingredients, to avoid the “skull and crossbones” effect, just like the food industry in the EU has done. In the wake of this development American farmers will convert millions of acres of GE crops to non-GMO or organic varieties.
Finally consumers will be able to tell the difference between organic food (labeled as “organic” and thereby GMO-free); natural food (which will not have not have a GMO label), and bogus “natural” food (which will be required to display the label “contains or may contain GMOs”).
What Now? The Campaign Needs Volunteers and Money
Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are already gearing up to fight against the California Ballot Initiative. They will literally spend millions to spread lies and disinformation that GMO foods and crops are perfectly safe; and that we need more, not less GMO food and biofuel crops in this era of climate change and growing population, etc. As the campaign progresses, they will lie and say that GMO labels will be costly to the food industry and raise food prices. We’ll have to counter these lies of course, now and throughout the campaign, but first of all we must make sure that the 2012 GE Food Labeling Initiative actually gets on the ballot.
When corporations like Monsanto decide to launch a ballot initiative in California, or other states, one of the first things they do is hand over a couple of million dollars to a professional petition gathering business. Since we don’t have a couple of million dollars to spare however, like Monsanto does, we’re going to have to rely on an army of volunteers to gather signatures. These volunteers can be trained and coordinated by our small, but highly dedicated and experienced, paid campaign staff and consultants, but for the most part we must drive this campaign forward with volunteer labor.
In order to hit the ground running in December, gathering 500-700,000 petition signatures of registered voters to put this measure on the ballot, we need your help now. We need an army of thousands of volunteer petition gatherers to step forward in California. And we need money. OCA and our allied lobbying organization, the Organic Consumers Fund, estimate that we need to raise at least $60,000 over the next month in order to effectively play our part in the California Ballot Initiative Campaign, to pay our staff, consultants, and other campaign expenses.
If you want more information, or if you are willing to volunteer to collect petition signatures, or donate money to this campaign click here.
It’s time to take back control over our food and farming system. It’s time to stand up to Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies. Join us!