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5 Things We Can Learn from the Battle Against GMOs

Here are five strategic lessons from the ongoing battle against GMOs that are applicable to a broad range of political issues.

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3. Marketplace pressure and political action must go hand-in-hand

Anti-GMO campaigners have now learned that marketplace pressure and political action go hand-in-hand. It’s not enough to just vote with your pocketbook for organic and non-GMO foods and products, to reward good companies and brands and punish the bad ones. We must get political, and vote for a healthy, climate-friendly food and farming system in the voting booth as well. If we want to drive GMO foods off the market, we must not only walk our talk in the marketplace and in our everyday lives, but also “get political” and mobilize our base to get involved in legislative battles and political campaigns.

One important consequence of marketplace pressure and boycotts is their potential to gradually divide our opponents. In the case of the anti-GMO movement, we’ve begun to drive a wedge between the biotech/industrial agriculture corporations, and their erstwhile allies, food manufacturers and supermarket chains. In the wake of the California GMO labeling ballot initiative (Proposition 37), the Organic Consumers Association and our allies launched a nationwide boycott of Traitor Brands, the organic and natural brands whose parent corporations spent $20 million (along with the biotech industry’s $30 million) to defeat Prop 37. We sabotaged several dozen corporate Facebook pages, tarnishing brand names such as Kashi, Cascadian Farm, Honest Tea, Naked Juice, Silk, Horizon, and Ben and Jerry’s, to depress sales. This caused several large multinationals, including Unilever, parent company of Ben and Jerry’s, and Mars, parent company of Seeds of Change, to back off from anti-labeling activities. Other retail and food giants, including Wal-Mart, fearing an escalation in consumer activism, have begun lobbying http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_26982.cfm the FDA to implement federal GMO food labels.

4. Sophisticated online list-building, mobilization and fundraising are key

Anti-GMO campaigners are rapidly becoming more sophisticated in terms of building broad coalitions, using online petitions to build large email lists, pooling national email lists, segmenting national lists in order to target state and local constituencies, using Facebook, Twitter and other social media for network-building and mobilization, setting up c4 lobbying organizations to complement c3 non-profit groups, and raising funds online.

In the recent GMO ballot initiative campaigns in California and Washington, as well as state legislative campaigns for labeling in several dozen other states, right-to-know supporters have been able to send coordinated or complementary email messages to over 10 million people at once. Over the past 12 months groups like the Organic Consumers Association, Mercola.com, Food Democracy Now, Natural News, Alliance for Natural Health, Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, Environmental Working Group, Cornucopia, Friends of the Earth, CREDO, and MoveOn have been able to send out anti-GMO or pro-labeling messages to literally millions of consumers and voters on a regular basis, generating thousands of grassroots volunteers, organizing thousands of local events and protests, and raising over $20 million, mainly in small donations. The anti-GMO movement may not have the deep pockets or the advertising and PR clout of the biotech and Big Food lobby when it comes to the corporate media, but we are rapidly developing our own mass media on the Internet and Facebook.

5. Local and state political action is more effective than campaigns that target federal laws and lawmakers 

The anti-GMO movement, like other social change movements, has learned the hard way that corporations and the wealthy elite control not only the mass media, but the federal government, Supreme Court, and regulatory agencies such as the FDA, USDA, and EPA. After decades of sending petitions and lobbying the White House, Congress and the FDA, to no avail, it has become clear that the political elite, including President Obama, care more about their wealthy campaign contributors than they do about their constituents, including the 93 percent who, according to a recent New York Times poll, support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

 
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