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Blog Posts: Prop 37

May 14th, 2013

Monsanto and Other GM Firms are Winning in the U.S. – and Globally

By Wenonah Hauter

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

Originally posted at The Guardian’s Comment is Free

If you have a feeling that genetically modified (GM) foods are being forced upon the population by a handful of business interests and vociferously defended by the scientists that work in the ag industry or at the research institutions it funds, you might be onto something. The zeal with which GMO proponents evangelize transgenic seeds (and now, transgenic food animals) is so extreme that they are even pouring vast sums of money to defeat popular efforts to simply label GE foods—like the nearly $50 million spent to defeat the popular ballot measure to label GE foods in California, Prop 37. What’s more, it’s not just happening in the United States. A new report by Food & Water Watch shows the extent to which the U.S. State Department is working on behalf of the GM seed industry to make sure that biotech crops are served up abroad—whether the world wants them or not.

The report analyzes over 900 State Department diplomatic cables from 2005 to 2009 and reveals how far the U.S. government will go to help serve the seed industry’s agenda abroad, knowing that resistance to GMOs worldwide is high. It lobbies a vociferously pro-biotech agenda, operates a rigorous public relations campaign to improve the image of biotechnology and challenges commonsense safeguards and rules — including opposing popular GM food labeling laws.

Here are some of the tidbits gleaned from our comprehensive look at the cables:

  • Between 2007 and 2009, annual cables were distributed to “encourage the use of agricultural biotechnology,” directing U.S. embassies to ”pursue an active biotech agenda”.
  • There was a comprehensive communications campaign aimed to “promote understanding and acceptance of the technology” and “develop support for U.S. government trade and development policy positions on biotech” in light of the worldwide backlash against GM crops.
  • Where backlash was high, some embassies downplayed efforts. In Uruguay, the embassy has been “extremely cautious to keep [its] fingerprints off conferences” promoting biotechnology. In Peru and Romania, the U.S. government helped create new pro-biotech nongovernmental organizations.
  • The State Department urged embassies to generate positive media coverage about GE crops. Diplomatic posts also bypassed the media and took the message directly to the public; for example, the Hong Kong consulate sent DVDs of a pro-biotech presentation to every high school.
  • The State Department worked to diminish trade barriers to the benefit of seed companies, and encouraged the embassies to “publicize the benefits of agbiotech as a development tool.”

Click here to read the report, “Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda”.

Monsanto was a great beneficiary of the State Department’s taxpayer-funded diplomacy, helping pave the way for the cultivation of its seeds abroad: the company appeared in 6.1 percent of the biotech cables analyzed between 2005 and 2009 from 21 countries. The embassy in South Africa even informed Monsanto and Pioneer about two recently vacated positions in the agency that provided biotech oversight, suggesting that the companies advance “qualified applicants” to fill the position. Some embassies even attempted to facilitate favorable outcomes for intellectual property law and patent issues on behalf of the company.

The cables also show extensive lobbying against in-country efforts to require labeling of GM foods. In 2008, the Hong Kong consulate “played a key role” in convincing regulators to abandon a proposed mandatory labeling requirement. One in eight cables from 42 nations between 2005 and 2009 addressed biotech-labeling requirements.

What’s more, the U.S. government is now secretly negotiating major trade deals with Europe and the countries of the Pacific Rim that would force skeptical and unwilling countries to accept biotech imports, commercialize biotech crops and prevent the labeling of GM foods.

The vast influence that Monsanto and the biotech seed industry have on our foreign affairs is just one tentacle of a beast comprised by a handful of huge corporations who wield enormous power over most food policy in the United States. My new book, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (which is being launched in Europe this week) deals extensively with this corporate influence over our food system.

It’s no accident that we’re here: a farm policy of “get big or get out” that has been going on for decades has only benefited big companies that are becoming more and more consolidated. They wield unprecedented power over the market, putting small and midsized farmers out of business and favoring factory farms and the cultivation of GM commodities that fuel them—GM corn and soy, which are also the cornerstone of junk foods produced and sold worldwide (fueling an obesity epidemic in America and beyond.)

Thanks, Monsanto. And thanks, State Department. Not only are you selling seeds—you’re selling out democracy.

April 25th, 2013

Why Federal GE Food Labeling Matters

By Anna Ghosh

If we had to pick the most prevalent food issue of 2013 so far, the fight to get genetically engineered food labeled is probably it. Citizen-led campaigns have been successful getting legislation introduced in more than 20 states; inspired by California’s Prop 37, which suffered a narrow defeat in November after chemical and Big Food corporations poured millions into the campaign.

But consumer demand for GE labeling is not a new development. For years, polls have shown that the majority of Americans want GE food labeled, just as it is in more than 60 other countries including China, Japan and Russia.

Finally, it appears that Washington is beginning to listen. Yesterday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) have introduced a bill to order the Food and Drug Administration to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The bill has bipartisan support with 20 combined co-sponsors between the Senate and the House.

Clearly, the statewide campaigns have played an integral role in getting Congress to pay attention to the fact that their constituents want to know whether or not they’re eating and feeding GE food to their families. And statewide initiatives continue to be critically important to ensure that consumers have the right to make informed choices about the food they buy. This is why Monsanto and its agrochemical colleagues will likely dump millions into misinformation campaigns to defeat Initiative 522 being voted on in Washington in November.

But even if Washingtonians prevail and I-522 makes GE food labels the law in their state, there will still be 49 other states where consumers will continue to be in the dark. This is why in the long run we need strong, uncompromising federal legislation to give all Americans the basic information they want about how their food was produced. Tell your Members of Congress to co-sponsor Boxer/DeFazio’s legislation if they haven’t already.

November 7th, 2012

Organizing CAN Trump Special Interest Money in Elections

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Listen to Wenonah’s post-election town hall meeting

Last night, voters rejected a vision for our country that would have taken our economy, environmental regulations and consumer protections back decades. If there is one overarching lesson this election taught us, it’s that political organizing CAN overcome industry money in elections. But we can’t sit back and assume protections for our essential resources will improve; instead, we need to take lessons from the last four years and redouble our organizing efforts to press the Obama administration, Congress, and state legislatures across the country to keep our food and water safe and keep our essential resources in public hands. 



Two ballot measures Food & Water Watch worked on this cycle illustrate the need and power of organizing, even in the face of entrenched and powerful interests. 



One of the most exciting victories from election night was in Longmont, Colorado where voters passed an historic and precedent setting ballot initiative to ban fracking. We were up against incredible odds in Longmont, with the oil and gas industry spending over half-a-million dollars for TV commercials, full-page ads and multiple mailers to try to scare Longmont citizens. Governor Hickenlooper sued the citizens of Longmont to slow down our efforts and the Denver Post editorialized against this vote to ban fracking, but we were on the ground, knocking on doors, talking to voters and doing the hard work to support a citizen-led effort to protect our health, safety and property, and the citizens of Longmont spoke loud and clear. We won with nearly 60% of the vote!  

We also worked hard in California with many of our allies to pass Proposition 37, which would require labeling for all genetically engineered foods. This popular measure was only narrowly defeated at the polls, due in large part to the massive spending by large chemical and junk food companies (which outspent our side by over $40 million.) Despite this loss, support for GE food labels has never been stronger, and we will continue to build a robust national grassroots campaign to push for mandatory labeling across the country.



These measures prove what we already know: An educated and mobilized citizenry can fight back against the corporate control of our common resources, but our work is far from over. 


If you aren’t already on our mailing list, please join it now to remain informed on an ongoing basis about actions you can take to help build power to protect our food and water. We need your support to keep growing the movement! As the election demonstrated, together we can fight for the food and water protections we all want and deserve.

October 30th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: Fighting Money with New Media

Think you have the right to know what’s in your food? So do Danny DeVito, Bill Maher, Jillian Michaels and other celebrities who think GE food should be labeled

By Eric Anderson

The No on 37 campaign has been carpet-bombing the airwaves with misleading ads, hoping to pummel people with enough misinformation to defeat the measure. Their spending has increased to more than $40 million, more than all donations for and against Props 31, 33, 34, 35, 36 and 40 combined. This has definitely taken on a toll on the poll numbers, which show the Yes side down for the first time.

Since the campaign in support of Prop 37 is being primarily funded by average Californians who can’t compete with the $1 million-a-day that the pesticide and junk food companies are spending to mislead undecided voters, we’ve had to take a more creative approach. Using a combination of new media and on-the-ground organizing, a grassroots campaign has taken shape to fight for our right to know what’s in our food.

 

Prop 37’s for luddites? WRONG

One of the arguments Prop 37’s opponents use is that the people fighting for their right to know what’s in their food hate technology. Really? Then how to you explain tech entrepreneur Ali Partovi who launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo driven by an irreverent video about GE foods. His strategy primarily consists of using Facebook ads to draw in more supporters and spread the word about Prop 37. Partovi says that enacting Prop 37 would “return us to a baseline of basic transparency from which a free market can thrive.”  

Or how to you explain this poignant op-ed by the molecular geneticist who helped commercialize the world’s first GE whole food?

 

Prop 37’s bad for business? Don’t tell these chefs for successful restaurants

With California being the premiere “foodie” state, it’s not surprising that an army of renown celebrity chefs – 1,200 so far – have joined godmother of California cuisine Alice Waters in pledging their support for Prop 37. So far, it has received over 1,200 signatures. Overall, more than 2,000 businesses have spoken out in support of Prop 37.

 

Prop 37 will cause family farmers to go out of business? Fact check please!

Over 2,000 farmers have endorsed Prop 37, undermining the narrative that the initiative will hurt farmers. The No on 37 campaign has used cotton farmer Ted Sheely in their advertisements. Sheely is a longtime ally of big agribusinesses having previously served on the board of the Westlands Water District, one of the most powerful water districts in the state. He hardly represents that average farmer.

Here at Food & Water Watch, we’ve released several videos featuring Danny DeVito, Bill Maher, Dave Matthews and Jillian Michaels as well as adorable kids. The overwhelming positive response led to a generous outpouring of individual donors, helping us catapult these ads on the airwaves.

Illustrating the power of on-the-ground grassroots organizing, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Prop 37. “It’s not often that the LA City Council votes unanimously to support a measure, but Prop 37 was a no-brainer. We have the right to know what’s in the food we’re eating and feeding our families,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz, the resolution’s author. “I’m proud to be a part of this true grassroots campaign in our struggle against the biggest pesticide and junk food companies in the world.” The LA City Council joins countless other local governments and politicians including the City of Long Beach and Senator Barbara Boxer in supporting Prop 37.

There’s no doubt that the odds and the money are stacked against Prop 37, but we have truth and people power on our side. That said, for the next 6 days, everyone who believes in their basic right to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered needs to be working to counteract the opposition’s expensive disinformation campaign. The California Right to Know campaign has set up an easy phone banking system so that anyone can help get out the vote for Prop 37 from their own couches – even people from out of state. So make a call and take on Big Food head on by helping Prop 37 to pass.

Eric is the California Communications and Outreach Assistant in Food & Water Watch’s San Francisco office.

October 18th, 2012

Of Course Monsanto Says It’s Safe

By Tim Schwab

If you’ve been paying attention to the news about food lately, you’ve probably read about the now infamous “Seralini study,” in which University of Caen (France) molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini demonstrated major health issues associated with eating Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) corn and the herbicide used in conjunction with it, RoundUp.

Widely covered by the media, most reports have tried to portray Seralini as a strident, ideologically driven researcher who willfully designed a study to produce a result showing that GE food is bad. Many science journalists criticized Seralini for having an anti-GE bias, for taking research money from a foundation that is anti-GE, and for not disclosing every piece of data to the public.

But this attack coverage seems grossly disproportionate given the realities around funding and bias in agricultural research. Science journalists seldom, if ever, cover the opposite angle: that industry has funded much of the scientific literature we have about the safety of GE foods. These industry-funded studies aren’t science as much as they are public relations, always concluding that GE is safe and good. And in our broken regulatory system for these controversial new foods, these industry studies are also what regulators use to approve new genetically engineered crops for our food supply. Read the full article…

October 12th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: In the News – Money vs. Truth

By Anna Ghosh

By Khalil Bendib, courtesy of OtherWords. Shared under Creative Commons

For the past 10 days or so, the anti-Prop 37 henchmen funded by Monsanto, Dow and their agribusiness cronies have been blanketing California with advertisements full of confusion and outright lies. So, it’s not terribly surprising that a Pepperdine Poll released yesterday shows that support for Prop 37 has taken a hit.

The good news is, Prop 37 is still leading in the polls with nearly 50 percent of respondents planning to vote yes, and we still have a few weeks to reach Californians who may not even know what genetically engineered food is or how pervasive it already is in our food supply. In addition to the truth and the power of information, we also have some pretty great celebrities on our side. And, while we’ll never match our opponents’ campaign coffers, Food & Water Watch and our allies have been busy getting the word out and we wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

Here’s an op-ed by our Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, syndicated by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords Project: Consumer Choice: As American as Apple Pie

And another great OtherWords op-ed by Jill Richardson: Big Food Fight

Wenonah’s Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Tribune was published on Oct. 10:

Genetically modified

Your Sept. 29 editorial “Corny scare tactics; New study attacking genetically modified crops falls flat” sings the praises of genetically modified corn, calling Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready corn a “boon” and questioning the validity of a study that recently linked consumption of genetically engineered corn to cancer in lab rats.

If the Chicago Tribune editorial board is so excited by the “contributions” of biotechnology to the food system and so sure that the research showing it’s unsafe is bunk, wouldn’t you advocate for making sure people could choose such a wonderful product in the supermarket? If GE foods are so great, why is the food industry fighting tooth and nail to stop labeling efforts around the country, like the more than $30 million being spent to stop a GE labeling ballot measure in California, Prop 37?

Let’s not let the food industry or editorial boards decide whether or not GE foods are desirable. Let’s let consumers decide. Let’s make GE labels the law.

And don’t miss Michael Pollan’s piece in this weekend’s upcoming New York Times Magazine or Dan Imhoff and Michael Dimock in the LA Times.

Good stuff! But we’re not out of the woods yet. Much more needs to be done to make sure California voters understand that a vote for Prop 37 is a vote for our health, our environment, consumer choice and information. The best way to chip away at the confusion and misinformation being strewn across California’s airwaves is to hit the airwaves ourselves. Are you with us? Please donate what you can to help us air a version of this excellent public service announcement featuring Danny DeVito, Bill Maher, Jillian Michaels and several other stars. With your help, we just might make history by making GE labeling the law in California.

October 10th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: What do Danny DeVito, Bill Maher, Dave Matthews and Jillian Michaels have in common?

They all support California Prop 37, and they made a video about it. Click below to watch it now.

If you’ve been following this blog, you already know that GE ingredients are already in the majority of food sold in grocery stores across the country and, because there are no labels required, we have no idea when we’re eating them. Nutrition labeling tells us the amount of calories, fat and sugar we’re consuming, shouldn’t we also know if we’re eating GE food? Read the full article…

October 5th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: The Other Debate This Week

Food & Water Watch Volunteer Adam Hofbauer, in San Francisco

Breaking News:The No on 37 Campaign, financed by Monsanto, Dow, Coke, and the like, was forced to yank their TV ad that featured their “top scientist” who misrepresented himself as being affiliated with Stanford University. Click here to learn more.

By Adam Hofbauer

This past Wednesday, while most of America was focused on the scuffle taking place between the presidential candidates, there was another debate raging in San Francisco. This debate focused on California Proposition 37, which would require California to label all of its genetically engineered food products. Hosted by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), the debate featured Stacey Malkan of the California Right to Know Campaign arguing for the proposition against “No on 37” spokesperson Brandon Castillo.  The event demonstrated how multinational corporations have been able to take sound legislation with majority support and engineer around it an artificial debate based on junk science and disinformation.     Read the full article…

September 29th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: How Much Confusion Can $32 Million Buy?

By Eric Anderson

If there’s one David and Goliath fight coming up this election season, it’s California’s Prop 37. As you’ve probably heard by now, this initiative would require that foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients be labeled as such in California, something that nearly 50 other nations have already done. Right now in the U.S., there are no requirements that GE foods be labeled, leaving consumers in the dark about what they are eating.

The fight over Prop 37 has created a sharp divide between consumers and corporations. On the one hand, polling shows that over 90 percent of people nationwide favor mandatory GE labeling. In California, support for Prop 37 hovers around 61 percent compared to 25 percent against. These high levels of support demonstrate that most consumers, regardless of political persuasion, agree that mandatory GE labeling in no way limits consumer choice and in fact helps consumers make more informed decisions about what they purchase. Read the full article…

September 20th, 2012

Who’s Deceiving Whom?

By Anna Ghosh

Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Pepsi and Coke are scared. They’re afraid that California’s proposition 37 to make labeling of genetically engineered foods mandatory will end their unchecked, unquestioned power to hide GE ingredients in the majority processed foods without their customers’ knowledge. Which is why they’ve poured millions into an anti-Prop 37 propaganda campaign they’re calling “Stop the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.” But who’s deceiving whom? Read the full article…

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