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'At the same time we organize to change public policies through grassroots lobbying and ballot initiatives, we must continue to educate and mobilize consumers in the marketplace to pressure stores and brands to label and or remove GMO and factory farmed foods from the marketplace.' (Image: Common Dreams)

All Out for November 4th: Frankenfoods Fight at the Crossroads

Ronnie Cummins

On November 4, final votes will be tallied in two hard-fought and highly publicized state mandatory GMO food labeling ballot initiatives: Measure 92 in Oregon and Initiative 105 in Colorado.

It is no exaggeration to say that these two crucial ballot initiatives will quite likely determine the future of chemical-intensive, genetically engineered agriculture in North America. Despite the fact that the Gene Giants (Monsanto Dupont, Dow, Syngenta, BASF, and Bayer), backed by the world's largest junk food manufactures (Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg's), have spent over $30 million to mislead and confuse voters in these two states, latest indications are that voters in at least one state, Oregon, will vote for mandatory labeling, while voters in Colorado (where the Yes on GMO labeling forces have been outspent 25-to-1) are waging a valiant struggle against overwhelming odds.

What is important to understand is that a victory in either of these two front line states will be decisive. A David versus Goliath victory in either Oregon or Colorado, coupled with the previous strategic victory for GMO labeling in Vermont in May (2104), further amplified by Chipotle and Whole Foods Markets pledging that all GMO-tainted foods (including meat, eggs and dairy) will soon be labeled in their restaurants and stores, will mark the beginning of the end for Monsanto and its allies.  

Since genetically engineered (GE) crops and foods were forced onto the market in the 1990s by Monsanto and the FDA, with no pre-market safety testing and no labels required, consumers have mobilized to either ban or to require mandatory labeling of these "Frankenfoods." Survey after survey has shown that Americans, especially mothers and parents of small children, are either suspicious of, or alarmed by, unlabeled GMO foods. This is understandable given the toxic track records of the chemical companies pushing this technology, as well as the mounting scientific evidence that these controversial foods and crops-and the toxic herbicides and insecticides sprayed on them or laced into their cells-severely damage or kill birds, bees, butterflies, lab rats, farm animals and no doubt, humans.

Most polls indicate that 90 percent of Americans want to know whether their food has been genetically engineered or not, even though massive advertising by the Frankenfood lobby has brainwashed millions of consumers into believing that state-mandated GMO labels will raise grocery store costs or hurt small producers. In Europe where GMO labeling is mandatory, GMO foods and crops have been nearly driven from the marketplace.

Fear and anger against Frankenfoods have spawned an unprecedented national grassroots Movement that has persevered for over two decades, despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the GMO and junk food industries to buy off federal and state lawmakers and regulatory agencies.

The GE lobby in recent years has waged vicious anti-labeling propaganda campaigns against grassroots-powered ballot initiatives in California (2012), Washington State (2013), Oregon (2014) and Colorado (2014). Despite massive lobbying and a lawsuit filed against the state by Big Food and GMO companies, Vermont passed the nation's first mandatory GMO food labeling law in May 2014. Vermont's law also prohibits labeling GMO-tainted foods as "natural."

Despite the fact that the Vermont law (which goes into effect in 2016) is legally enforceable only inside the state's borders, this law (along with others such as Oregon) will have an enormous national impact. Large food and beverage and supermarket brands (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kraft, Nestle, Unilever, Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Conagra) whose products contain GMO ingredients will not be able, in terms of public relations, to just label their products as containing GMOs in Vermont, while denying consumers in the other 49 states this information. If forced to label (or to reformulate their products to get rid of GMOs, as they've done in Europe) in Vermont, Big Food will have to do the same in all 50 states, and Canada as well. This is why the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the International Dairy Foods Association have sued Vermont in federal court to try to get the labeling law reversed. Unfortunately for Monsanto and big food interests, most legal analysts predict that Vermont's carefully written law will stand up in court. But once Oregon (and perhaps) Colorado pass similar laws to the one in Vermont, it will be "game over" for large food corporations and supermarket chains hell-bent on keeping consumers in the dark about hidden GMOs in their foods.

Of perhaps equal importance to Vermont's law, consumer pressure has prompted the nation's largest retailer of organic and natural foods, Whole Foods Market, to announce that all 40,000 or so food items in its stores will have to be labeled by 2018 if they contain GMOs. The labeling policy includes meat, eggs, dairy and all deli or take-out items. Again, although this policy will only affect the 40,000 or so food products sold in WFM stores, brands selling to Whole Foods will suffer a public relations disaster if they are forced to label their items in WFM as GMO-tainted, but then refuse to do so in other stores. Many of the thousands of suppliers to Whole Foods are now racing to get GMOs out of their products so they won't have to put the proverbial GMO "skull and crossbones" on their products in 2018.

On the restaurant front, consumer pressure has forced the highly profitable Chipotle restaurant chain to make a similar promise. Other grocery brands and restaurant chains (most of whom are watching their profits decrease, while WFM's and Chipotle's rise) will shortly be facing enormous pressures from their customers to do the same.

Beyond November 4, additional states are likely to pass ballot initiatives or state legislation over the next year. Given the cumulative impact of these victories for consumer power, Monsanto and Big Food's minions in the federal government face a difficult dilemma. Do they allow these state labeling laws to stand, thereby drastically reducing the presence of GMO foods in the marketplace and set what to them appears to be a dangerous precedent for consumer power? Or will they move to thwart the people's will and stomp on state's rights by passing a federal GMO labeling bill that is industry-friendly, voluntary, and patently dishonest?

And of course with the 2016 Presidential campaign fast approaching, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and others aspiring to be President will be facing the same dilemma. Are you with us or against us? So far only one national leader likely running for President, Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, has come out for states rights' to require mandatory GMO labeling.

There is indeed currently an industry-sponsored bill languishing in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Pompeo bill, that will (a) take away the right of states to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws; (b) take junk food companies off the hook by making GMO labeling voluntary; and (c) make it legal to continue the fraudulent industry practice of labeling or marketing GMO-tainted foods as "natural" or "all natural."

The Pompeo "Monsanto Bill" is so blatantly anti-consumer and unpopular that it has so far managed to attract very few co-sponsors in the House, and has generated no corresponding bill in the Senate. Still, we should not underestimate the power of the Gene Giants and Big Food-not to mention the treachery of indentured elected public officials and the White House. Recent moves by Monsanto's Minions in Washington (including approving Agent Orange crops and negotiating secret international trade deals) make it clear that many of them are quite willing to abolish democracy, if necessary, in order to protect the massive profits of their paymasters, the big corporations.

Notwithstanding future battles with the Washington Establishment, November 4 will likely prove decisive, setting the stage for future, even more comprehensive consumer right-to-know campaigns. These future campaigns, now percolating behind the scenes, will include the demand for labels on meat and animal products coming from factory farms, where the animals are routinely fed GMOs, antibiotics, growth hormones and slaughterhouse waste (including manure and blood). This forthcoming factory farm right-to-know campaign, will expose the horrors of the entire U.S. food and farming system, and hopefully over time move the country away from an out-of-control food and farming system that is destroying not only public health, and the health of billions of farm animals, but the fundamental health of the environment and the climate that are necessary for human survival.

At the same time we organize to change public policies through grassroots lobbying and ballot initiatives, we must continue to educate and mobilize consumers in the marketplace to pressure stores and brands to label and or remove GMO and factory farmed foods from the marketplace. Part of this campaign will be to spread the "Traitor Brands" boycott whereby consumers have begun boycotting the products of food companies who are members of the Grocery Manufactures Association, the industry front group opposed to consumers right-to-know.

The key to driving GMOs into the margins, and moving away from the "Fatal Harvest" of industrial agriculture, is public education and grassroots mobilization, both online and on the ground. Likewise the key to stopping the federal government from preempting state GMO labeling laws is to create so much public awareness that politicians will be afraid to thwart the people's will.

America's contemporary food fight is not just a battle for health and sustainability, but a fundamental struggle over whether we and our children will live in a Democracy or a Corporatocracy. All out for November 4. Please make a donation  or volunteer  to get out the vote.     

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ronnie Cummins

Ronnie Cummins

Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.

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