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Monsanto's Next Target: Democracy

The battle for food sovereignty is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

Photo Credit: pogonici/


Big Food’s greatest fear is materializing. A critical mass of educated consumers, food and natural health activists are organizing a powerful movement that could well overthrow North America’s trillion-dollar junk food empire. Savvy and more determined than ever, activists are zeroing in on the Achilles heel of Food Inc. -- labeling. 

But as consumers demand truth and greater transparency in labeling, it isn’t just Big Food whose empire is vulnerable. The biotech industry, which makes billions supplying junk food manufacturers with cheap, genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, has even more to lose. Monsanto knows that if food producers are forced to label the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food products, they’ll reformulate those products to meet consumer demand for GMO-free alternatives. That’s why companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow, along with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, last year spent more than $46 million to defeat Proposition 37, California’s GMO labeling initiative.

The junk food and biotech industries narrowly (48.5% - 51.5%) prevailed in California, but they know it’s only a matter of time before one or more states pass a mandatory GMO labeling law. More than 30 state legislatures are now debating GMO labeling bills. And consumers have broadened the fight beyond just labeling. Five counties and two cities in California and Washington have banned the growing of GE crops. In addition, given the near total absence of FDA regulation, 19 states have passed laws restricting GMOs

How is the biotech industry fighting back? By attacking democracy.  Experts say the laws are on the side of consumers. But consumers will no doubt still have to defend democracy against an increasingly desperate, and aggressive, industry bent on protecting the highly profitable business of genetically engineered food.

The battle lines have been drawn. Will we cede our food sovereignty rights to a profit-at-all costs corporatocracy?

Monsanto’s lobbyists are out in force in Washington, Vermont, Connecticut, and several dozen other states. They’re lobbying politicians behind the scenes and planting misleading articles in the press. Attacking pro-labeling anti-GMO proponents as anti-technology Luddites.  They’re repeating ad nauseum their propaganda claims that GE foods and crops are perfectly safe and therefore need no labeling, that transgenics are environment- and climate-friendly, and that genetically modified crops are necessary to feed the world.

One of Monsanto’s major propaganda points, designed to discourage state officials from passing GMO labeling laws, is that state GMO labeling is unconstitutional. Monsanto has repeatedly stated that it will sue any state that dares to label. This threat of a lawsuit was enough to convince lawmakers in Vermont and Connecticut in 2012 to back off from labeling, even though there were sufficient votes, and overwhelming public sentiment, to pass these bills.

The same scenario is unfolding again in Vermont, where the Governor is refusing to endorse a popular labeling bill that could easily pass through both houses of the legislature. 

Biotech industry lawyers claim that Federal courts will strike down mandatory state GMO labeling for three reasons: 1)because Federal law, in this case FDA regulations, preempts state law; 2) because commercial free speech allows corporations to remain silent on whether or not their products are genetically engineered and; 3) because GMO labeling would interfere with interstate commerce.

These claims simply don’t hold up. State GMO labeling, and other food safety and food labeling laws, are constitutional. Federal law, upheld for decades by federal court legal decisions, allows states to pass laws relating food safety or food labels when the FDA has no prior regulations or prohibitions in place. There is currently no federal law or FDA regulation on GMO labeling, except for a guidance statement on voluntary labeling, nor is there any federal prohibition on state GMO or other food safety labeling laws. In fact there are over 200 state food labeling laws in effect right now in the U.S., including a GMO fish labeling law in Alaska, laws on labeling wild rice, maple syrup, dairy quality, kosher products, and laws on labeling dairy products as rBGH-free. It is very unlikely that any federal court will want to make a sweeping ruling that would nullify 200 preexisting state laws.

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