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Blog Posts: Monsanto

August 3rd, 2015

You’ve Got Questions About GMO Labeling; We’ve Got Answers

By Sarah Alexander

BlogThumb_GMOkidsWe get a lot of questions about why we need labeling for GMOs, even from staff of members of Congress. Our answers are below. We hope you’ll contact your Senators today, and give them the information below, so they can vote the right way and protect your right to know what’s in your food.

1: What is a genetically engineered food or GMO?

A genetically engineered food is a plant or animal that has been changed by taking genes from one species and inserting them into the DNA of another species or altering the DNA in a way that could never happen through traditional cross-breeding or in nature.

2: Aren’t genetically engineered foods safe?

The approval process for new GMO crops in the U.S. is extremely weak and relies solely on the safety tests done by the corporations that are creating these crops. Right now, most crops are approved by federal regulators under the “generally recognized as safe” provision, which means that if a GMO corn variety looks and “acts” like the non-GMO version of corn, it is approved.

Currently, biotechnology seed companies and their advocates are oversimplifying the hundreds of factors involved in the GMO production process to broadcast the myth of a “scientific consensus” that GMO foods are safe. To the contrary, most scientific bodies weighing in on the subject openly acknowledge unaddressed safety considerations and gaps in knowledge.

3: But don’t farmers need genetically engineered foods to feed the growing world population?

Most of the GMO crops planted today are engineered to withstand strong chemical applications, or to produce their own pesticides. Often, the chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont that create GMO crops also create the chemicals that have to be used with the crops, so the main benefit of these patented crops is for the companies and their profits. Additionally, most of these GMO crops — like corn, soybeans, canola and cotton — are not grown as food for direct human consumption, but rather for animal feed, or to create ingredients in processed foods.

4: If over 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs, why hasn’t Congress or the Food and Drug Administration done anything?

 What we eat and feed our families has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing, and we have a right to know if the food we’re eating has been altered in a way that could never happen in nature. Unfortunately, the big food industries spend millions lobbying Congress and federal agencies to keep labels off of GMO foods. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the biggest food and chemical companies, has spent over $50 million to defeat labeling initiatives in multiple states.

5: Won’t labeling GMO ingredients cost companies a lot of money and raise the price of our food?

 This is one of the biggest industry myths. Consumers Union did a study last year that shows the requirement of labeling genetically engineered food ingredients will cost consumers less than a penny per day or $2.30/person annually.

6: Why should I take action and ask my Senators to oppose this legislation?

Genetically engineered crops are in most processed foods but are unlabeled, so many people who wish to avoid foods with GMO ingredients don’t know where they are lurking. GMOs are untested, and it’s unknown how these engineered foods may be impacting our health and the environment. At the very least, shouldn’t we have a choice to avoid them if we want to? The legislation that Congress is considering will prohibit any states from labeling GMOs and will make federal labeling voluntary, which is what we have already, and not a single product is labeled as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Ask your Senators to support labeling of genetically engineered foods and to oppose any attempt to take away states’ rights to require labels.

May 15th, 2015

Why The Food Movement Must Build Power

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.Profile

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed on the faults of the food movement provides a great opportunity to discuss how we should be engaging politically to demand a better food system; unfortunately, it misses the mark on why we are making limited progress on food policy issues. While it‘s refreshing to hear a food luminary acknowledge the importance of organizing, as a long time organizer, it’s frustrating to me that he never addresses the fact that winning means building political power. His piece also criticizes the large segment of the movement that has begun to build that political power on labeling GMO foods. This is not a recipe for success.

First off, Bittman questions if there is a food movement. But from the large number of national, state and local organizations and tens of thousands of individuals who are interested in a range of food related issues, it’s clear there is a movement. The real challenge has been translating that movement into building political power. For the most part, food activism has been focused on cultural changes and buying habits, not on building power to hold elected officials accountable for how their votes affect food policy. The emphasis has been on using dollars to vote for better food or corporate campaigns focused on making junk food a little less bad for you.

Granted, people are so disgusted with our political system that embracing a rallying cry about “shopping our way out” of the problem seems easier in the fast-paced environment that most people operate in. But I would argue that if we just focus on making corporations behave a little better, we have missed the chance to push for the systemic change we need. A democracy is based on holding elected officials accountable so that they vote in the public interest. The root cause of the sick food system (and most other economic and social problems) is our weakened democracy.

Changing this means organizing politically at the local and state level, and eventually translating this to electoral work and holding Congress accountable. One of the weaknesses of the food movement and all non-profit issue causes is that there are thousands of groups competing for funds to work on many critical issues. But, unlike right wing forces that have taken over the political system by draping themselves in the legitimacy of religion and the flag while carrying out the political program of the Koch brothers and multinational corporations, progressive forces are fragmented. The food movement suffers from this problem and many of the funding sources for food work are bent on addressing problems in the marketplace, not building political power.

The best way to build this political power is to organize around issues that resonate with people, engage those folks, and begin to develop long term change. Some issues like GMOs and bad labor practices easily resonate with people and lend themselves to political action. These represent exciting and important parts of the food movement, and ones that will win real and meaningful changes that they can see, but also will politicize large numbers of people who will learn more about systemic problems with our food system and democracy, and engage in other issues in the future.

We have seen this happen at the state and local level already. For example, a few years ago we launched a campaign to get arsenic out of chicken feed in Maryland. It took three years and lots of hard on-the-ground work, but, with our allies, we were ultimately successful in passing legislation that was signed by the governor. Now we are building on that to take on larger systemic problems with factory farmed poultry in the state, with legislation we hope to pass and then model across the country. Eventually, after being shamed by grassroots activists for exposing the population to arsenic in food products, the Food & Drug Administration took arsenical drugs off the market nationwide.

This is all hard work that takes education, time and significant resources. Bittman cites the Sierra Club’s work to close coal plants as a model for organizing, yet this is an atypical campaign because of the amount of money they have, which has paid for dozens of organizers and many expensive tactics like advertising and videos. Since 2005, they have received $38.7 million and donors have pledged $60 million more. As insightful and influential as Bittman may be, he cannot dictate the issues that excite people or write a check for the tens of millions of dollars the Sierra Club has had to close coal plants.

Organizing in most cases is about taking an issue that people care deeply about and helping to bring large numbers of people together to give them a collective voice. If it is not an issue that people feel strongly about at the grassroots, it is difficult to move it up the ladder of priorities for people.

Bittman may not think GMO labeling is an important issue, but millions of Americans do. They believe they have a right to know what is in their food and they are skeptical of the process by which GMOs come to market. They know that labeling is a step on the path to more protective measures around GMOs. They know that the GMO companion herbicide has been proven to have a range of health effects and that it should be regulated. Rather than chiding the work being done on GMO labeling, which effectively constitutes running interference for giant corporations like Monsanto, Bittman should be celebrating and supporting their efforts. Corporate and economic consolidation, after all, is at the root of the problems with our food system and the GMO labeling movement takes on one of the strongest and most consolidated industries – seeds. Already a consolidated industry, now Monsanto is pursuing a merger with the giant Swiss agricultural chemical company Syngenta, which will mean even more corporate control of seeds and the chemicals used to grow crops. If any movement to change the food system should be supported it is the movement to take on Monsanto and GMOs.

When activists get involved in organizing around issues, and they win, they get a sense of their own power to make change. They realize that their voice can – even in our broken democracy – make a difference. People who experience wins go on to stay involved. This is how movements are built: one victory at a time. There are many aspects of the food system that must be changed, but a list of issues is not really a program for social change. We need a broader vision for how we are going to build political power.

This blog was updated on May 15 to correct a factual inaccuracy.

May 7th, 2015

Five Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You To Know About GMOs

GMOs aren't going to solve nutrition problems or feed the world - they're about corporate control and profitYou’ve heard the controversy about genetically engineered foods (GMOs) and whether they’re safe to eat (and the question of safety is nowhere near settled, despite what the companies that create GMOs would like you to think). But the rest of the story about GMOs is far more complex: for biotech companies, the real purpose of GMOs is power and control over the food supply, and ultimately it’s about profits. The undeniable fact is that GMOs are bad for our environment, our food system, and the people in it.

Here are five reasons why everyone should be concerned about genetically engineered foods:

1. GMOs increase the corporate control of our food

Increasingly, the food industry is dominated by a handful of powerful corporations that control nearly every aspect of how our food is produced. Monsanto, for example, now owns a staggering number of seed companies that were once its competitors. For people who buy groceries, it’s distressing to realize that the dozens of brands in the grocery store are mostly owned by a few parent companies. When a company has a virtual monopoly on a whole aisle of the grocery store or a set of agricultural products, they make decisions based on what’s best for their profits, not what’s best for their customers or the planet.

This consolidation of control is easy to see in the corporations that create GMOs. Biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta create not only GMO seeds, but an entire system of food production. If there’s profit to be made in selling one product farmers need to buy, there’s far more profit to be made from creating a system of products designed to work together; for example, linking seeds with specific chemicals that these companies also sell, like Monsanto soybeans that are engineered to withstand Roundup, the weed killer produced by Monsanto. If a farmer plants those soybeans, they’re going to buy Roundup, too.

Nor is it easy for farmers to avoid planting GMOs. In our increasingly consolidated food industry, farmers have fewer and fewer options, and the advice they hear at every turn is “go GMO.” This happens not just in the United States, but increasingly around the world as well. Read the full article…

January 15th, 2015

Citizens United 101

By Briana Kerensky and Mitch Jones

supreme_court_blogTHUMB

Take action: Tell your members of Congress to overturn Citizens United!

Next week marks the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. Since 2010, corporations have been legally able to use their deep pockets to influence politics, to a destructive degree. According to the Supreme Court, corporations have the same First Amendment right to free speech as people, and as such are allowed to give as much money to political campaigns as they want. But whereas the average Joe or Jane might donate up to a few hundred dollars, corporations have the ability and resources to put millions of dollars into a campaign and change the course of an election.

What does this terrifying concept mean for our work to protect the food you eat and the water you drink? Read on for Citizens United 101, where we break down the landmark case, how it’s changed the electoral process and what it means for the safety of your food and water.

What is Citizens United?

In a nutshell, Citizens United is a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows for unlimited campaign contributions in the U.S. electoral system. Corporate donations to elections are now supposed to be protected as free speech. There are three big takeaways from the ruling:

  1. Citizens United established that free speech rights are solely about speech, and not the speaker.
  2. Citizens United didn’t create corporate personhood (the idea that businesses have the same rights and protections as humans), but it claims that corporate personhood extends to the First Amendment.
  3. Since political speech is a fundamental First Amendment right, any constraint on it has to be limited. For a long time the U.S. didn’t allow corporations to spend money on political campaigns, in order to avoid political corruption. What Citizens United ruled, though, is that avoiding corruption puts a damper on free speech rights.

What does Citizens United mean for corporate control?

Citizens United opens up the ability of corporations to spend money on political campaigns. So in terms of control of our political system, it allows corporations the ability to take much more overt control of funding of campaigns and pushing through their agenda. It helps corporations make sure that legislative bodies, whether at the federal level or state level, governorships, attorney generals, and even in some instances judges, are aligned with their interests.

What does Citizens United have to do with Food & Water Watch’s work?

Citizens United allows corporations to have yet another avenue for gaming the political system. Corporations have more money to spend than the average citizen or most non-profits, making it more difficult for organizations like Food & Water Watch (which doesn’t accept donations from corporations or the government) and our allies to advocate for legislation that protects our food, that stops damaging trade deals and that bans fracking. Citizens United allows corporations to use their political influence to essentially buy themselves a government that is willing to implement their agenda.

What’s the relationship between Citizens United and the DARK Act, which would allow corporations like Monsanto to keep GMO ingredients off food labels?

The free spending on political campaigns that Citizens United allows certainly makes bills like the DARK Act harder for Food & Water Watch and our allies to defeat. “Thanks” to the 2010 ruling, there is now a large amount of money (think billions) being spent in support of political candidates who support the DARK Act, as well as other Big Ag, Big Oil and Gas, and free trade agendas. As long as Citizens United remains in place, it makes it more likely that pro-corporate candidates will get elected, then introduce and vote for legislation like the DARK Act.

What is Food & Water Watch doing about Citizens United?

Food & Water Watch is working with a group of partner organizations from the environmental community, the faith community and organized labor to push for a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the amount of money in federal and state elections – reversing some of the problems with Citizens United.

What can I do to help?

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court gave corporations massive power over our democracy, treating them just like people… except that, in the case of corporations, protecting their supposed “freedom of speech” means allowing them to make unlimited political donations and effectively buy campaigns.

That’s no way for democracy to function. Corporations shouldn’t control our food supply or our political process. Tell your members of Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to take back democracy for the people and overturn Citizens United!

August 12th, 2014

A “Science-based” Look at GMOs

By Tim Schwab

As the National Research Council (NRC) sets out on an 18-month, “science-based” study into the safety, benefits and drawbacks of GMOs, it will be interesting to see which science—and which scientists—the NRC will be consulting. 

The initial indications aren’t great. While the NRC boasts that it is aiming to “provide an independent, objective assessment of what has been learned since GE crops were introduced,” several of the scientific experts it has selected to direct the new report have substantial ties to industry—and are clearly in a position to advocate on behalf of biotech companies. 

The reason this matters is because the biotech industry has long had an outsized role in shaping the science surrounding GMOs, with tactics including funding and authoring countless studies, censoring or restricting independent research and attacking unfavorable findings. The result of this influence is a body of scientific literature with substantial industry bias and major gaps—especially in safety research. Industry also uses its unparalleled financial resources to bulldoze the public debate on GMOs, including spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress. Do biotech companies really need another platform to advocate their pro-GMO stance? Read the full article…

January 28th, 2014

The Risky Business of Being a Monsanto Shareholder

Monsanto Super FundBy Anna Meyer

When readers of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch opened their papers yesterday morning, they saw a full-page ad welcoming Monsanto shareholders into town and asking them to vote for full disclosure of the true costs of genetically modified foods (GMOs). The ad depicts the quintessential American farm (red barn and all), and is very similar to many of the ads that Monsanto released implying that the chemical giant has a rosy relationship with farmers. But the veneer of Monsanto’s advertising has worn thin and shareholders are questioning that very relationship and looking for honest answers as to the impacts that GMOs are having on farmers.

Monsanto is generally seen as the most nefarious and targeted corporation in the food movement. The past few years have seen multiple states fight for the right to know what is in their food, international bans on GMOs and increasingly visible negative environmental impacts. Now, even Monsanto’s own shareholders are demanding answers about their controversial products and practices. Read the full article…

November 4th, 2013

The Ongoing Farm Bill Saga

By Jo Miles and Anna Ghosh

Of all the spectacular ways Congress has failed lately, the current Farm Bill is one of the biggest and longest running sagas (we’ve been reporting on this particular farm bill mess since 2011). It’s also the most critical for the people who grow our food, families who struggle to keep food on the table, and of us who care about where our food comes from.

The Farm Bill is a massive law that makes the rules not only for farmers, but for almost all aspects of our food, affecting everything from the price of milk, to subsidies on factory farms, to food stamps for families in need. Congress was supposed to renew this bill back in 2012, but the House and Senate can’t agree on what the new bill should look like, so they’ve just let is expire. Twice. But this tortured process may finally be coming to a close. Like Slate, we’re hopeful that the silver lining to Congress’s dysfunction is that it’s running out of ways to fail.   

The House and Senate both managed to pass a Farm Bill this summer but their versions of the bill are light-years apart. Now a special committee is reconciling those bills but all of Congress needs to feel pressure from concerned citizens to keep the essential protections for farmers, organic standards and everyday people who need access to safe, healthy, affordable food in tact. That’s what the Farm Bill is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to level the playing field for family farmers, so they can compete with Big Agriculture and provide the fresh, local food that’s needed. It’s supposed to protect the safety of our food and the environment from abusive practices by big corporations. And it should make sure that all American families, regardless of their income level, never have to go hungry.

The biggest risk is that the new Farm Bill might gut the food stamp program that millions of low-income Americans rely on to feed their families. But lots of other areas that we care about are at stake, too. It could damage our hard-won victories like Country of Origin Labeling, weaken food safety standards, remove vital rules that protect small farmers from abusive corporations, and more. You can be sure that corporations like Monsanto are pressuring Congress to pass a Farm Bill that’s friendlier to them at the expense of folks trying to know what’s in the food they’re feeding their families. That’s why your voice is so important. Let your Members of Congress know that you want a Farm Bill that protects ordinary Americans, not big corporations.

October 11th, 2013

March Against Monsanto

March Against Monsanto in NYC

By Anna Ghosh

Last May, more than two million people in over 400 cities spanning six continents marched in opposition to the chemical and agribusiness giant Monsanto – read our recap of the event here. Tomorrow, Oct. 12, activists will once again March Against Monsanto, calling for the boycott of genetically engineered (GE) foods and other harmful agro-chemicals.

Food & Water Watch organizers are proud to support activists’ efforts in Manhattan; Hartford, CT; Princeton, NJ; Des Moines, IA; and Albuquerque, NM.  In Florida, we’re supporting marches in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tallahassee, West Palm Beach and across the state – 19 in all.

In Ohio, we are supporting the Cincinnati march and working with our allies on a call-in day to ask Senator Sherrod Brown to co-sponsor federal GE labeling legislation. 

And a related global movement is also underway – Vandana Shiva’s Fortnight of Action for Seed Freedom. Dr. Shiva calls on people around the world to stand up against unjust seed laws through creative, peaceful actions in the spirit of Gandhi. Find out how to get involved here.

Can’t get to a march? March where you are. But whether or not you’re planning to March Against Monsanto this weekend, arm yourself with the facts. Food & Water Watch reports, fact sheets, blogs, press releases and sharable images can all be found here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/genetically-engineered-foods/monsanto/, and more information on GE foods here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/genetically-engineered-foods/.

September 21st, 2013

Farm Bill Update: Insulting the Poor While Complimenting Monsanto

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to cut almost $40 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the main food assistance program that used to be called food stamps. The bill passed 217-210, largely along party lines, although 15 Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it. The New York Times editorial board captured what the vote means pretty well with the headline “Another Insult to the Poor,” since the cuts passed by the House would kick an estimated 3.8 million people out of the program next year. 

Thursday’s vote completed the House’s work on its version of the Farm Bill – mostly. They still need to finish some procedural steps to combine yesterday’s nutrition cut bill with the farm policy portions of the bill passed earlier in the summer. After that is figured out, the Senate and House can start the conference committee process to reconcile their different versions of the Farm Bill.

And there is a lot for the conference committee to figure out. The biggest is the SNAP program. The Senate bill cut $4 billion from SNAP, while the House bill cut almost $40 billion. This is a huge sticking point and Senate Democrats have vowed not to accept a cut that large and the President has threatened to veto any bill with such a cut. This issue alone will make it hard for the conference process to be completed.

The clock is ticking – the current farm bill (which was passed as quickie extension at the end of last year’s drama over the “fiscal cliff”) expires at the end of the month. And between now and then, Congress also has to deal with the small matter of keeping the federal government running past October 1, when the federal budget expires. Read the full article…

September 14th, 2013

Yes on 522: I’ll have the non-genetically engineered apple pie, please

By Katherine Cirullo

One thing I associate fall with is food. When I was eight years old, my favorite fall treat was probably Halloween candy. Now, it might just be my grandmother’s Thanksgiving cornbread stuffing. Or, maybe her apple pie, made with freshly picked Braeburn apples from the small orchard in her backyard just outside of Seattle. Lucky for me, I know for a fact that her apples were not grown using genetic engineering, but not everyone in Washington has a grandmother with an orchard.

 And it’s not just apples – no one knows if the candy corn or Thanksgiving cornbread they will eat this fall was produced using (GE) corn, soy or sugar beets. This is because the United States, including Washington, does not yet require producers to label their products if they contain genetically engineered foods.

However, things could soon change in the Evergreen State. This coming November, Washington state will vote on I-522: a ballot measure that would require most raw and processed foods in Washington to be labeled if they were produced using genetic engineering. This initiative is monumental. If passed, Washington would be the first state to implement GE food labeling, as Connecticut and Maine are currently relying on additional states to pass a bill in order for their legislation to be implemented. Its passage would hopefully inspire other states to implement similar initiatives so that all U.S. consumers have a right to decide. Read the full article…

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