Michael Pollan: California’s Prop 37 Fight to Label GMOs Could Galvanize Growing U.S. Food Movement
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AMY GOODMAN: Michael Pollan, I want to ask you about President Obama’s record on reforming the U.S. food system. Less than two weeks before he won the 2008 presidential election, President Obama told Joe Klein at Time magazine, "I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the meantime, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs."
MICHAEL POLLAN: Ah, God, he really kind of got it, didn’t he? I mean, look, Obama understands the problems of the food system. He can connect the dots between the way we’re growing food in these huge monocultures to overuse of fossil fuels to grow those crops, and production of lots of unhealthy food that leads to the healthcare crisis. Environment, energy, health—they’re all linked to the food system. And you’re not going to really make progress on any of those three issues without addressing the way we’re growing food.
Obama understands this very well, but he also understands political reality. And to move against this system in any significant way will spark an enormous backlash. The food industry is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, industries in Washington. Witness, you know, the debate over the farm bill. Witness the debate over antibiotics in livestock. There are many very commonsense provisions that simply don’t stand a chance in Washington. And Obama made a calculation early on that he did not have enough support behind him to move against this system and try to reform it. And, in fact, he has said this to people.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s interesting. Let’s—let’s go to what he said in 2007 when he was running for president, promising to label GMO foods, if elected.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Here’s what I’ll do as president. I’ll immediately implement country-of-origin labeling, because Americans should know where their food comes from. We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified, because Americans should know what they’re buying.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama before he was president. Michael Pollan?
MICHAEL POLLAN: Yeah, so he kind of pre-endorsed Proposition 37. And—but, you know, since he’s come in, most of his decisions have taken the side of Monsanto. Most of his decisions have taken the side of industrial agriculture against people seeking, say, to break up the big monopolies in meat packing.
And the reason he’s done this is he’s a good student of politics: he understands there’s not yet enough political support, that this movement I’m describing is a very young movement. It is—you know, if you compare it to the environmental movement, it’s pre-Earth Day. It’s—it hasn’t yet had that galvanizing national political movement. People so far are voting with their forks, and we are, from the grassroots, creating an alternative food economy—very important, very powerful and incredibly exciting to watch. But this movement hasn’t yet exerted any muscle at the ballot box, in Congress, in the White House.
And that’s why this is such an important vote, because if this passes—and let us assume that Obama is re-elected—he will see there are votes in reforming the food supply. That’s why this is not just a California issue. This is a national issue. This is the first time for the food movement to pass from that moment of voting with your fork to voting with your votes for a different kind of food system. And that’s why I’ve devoted a lot of energy to writing about this and talking about it, because I think there is a lot at stake.