1.From Dolly to Dinner: Your Right to Know - Charles Margulis
2.Vote for the Dinner Party - Michael Pollan
3.German giants join GM food fight in California
NOTE: Go to the Generation Green link for the many embedded links in Margulis' original article.
1.From Dolly to Dinner: Your Right to Know
Generation Green, October 15 2012
In California, voters have a chance next month to take a stand for our right to know when our food has been genetically modified, whether in plants or animals, by voting YES on Prop 37, the Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. GMO foods are currently found in 70% of packaged foods in conventional supermarkets, primarily due to ingredients made from GMO soy, corn, canola and sugar beets. The health risks from these untested GMOs are potentially serious, including unexpected allergies, toxicity in foods, altered nutritional levels and other unpredictable side effects of the gene tinkering process. That's why voting to support Prop 37 is a vote to protect your family from GMOs.
In dozens of other countries GMO labeling is required, but here the FDA claims no authority to require GMO labels on these foods. Given the agency's failure, California has no choice but to protect its citizens by mandating truthful GMO labeling.
Companies that make GMO foods say they can create healthier food with genetic tinkering, although no such GMO foods are currently on the market. But they do have high hopes. Earlier this month, for example, genetic researchers boldly announced they had successfully created a GMO cow to produce "hypoallergenic" milk. Given that milk allergies are a serious problem, especially for young children, this achievement was hailed widely by the worldwide press as a milestone for human health.
There are just a few small details (completely missed or severely underemphasized by most press accounts) that sour the claims about the new GMO wonder milk. Like, the fact that it won't work and may cause even worse allergies than natural milk. And the fact that it relies on genetic technologies that are inherently cruel to animals and result in massive, unnecessary animal suffering.
Who says it won't work? Not me – that's the word from Dr. Hugh Sampson, Director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical School, who when asked about the GMO cow said bluntly, "(T)hat's not going to eliminate allergies." The reason is that the GMO cow milk eliminates one kind of allergy-causing protein but increases levels of casein, another milk protein that can cause even more severe allergies.
But don't take his word for it – ask his colleague Dr. Scott Sicherer, Chief of the Division of Allergy & Immunology in the Department of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai. He says the casein-enriched GMO milk "would seem problematic" given that scientists believe that casein "causes most of the severe milk allergies."
Or check in with Dr. Robert Wood, the Director of the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, who said the GMO milk is "probably the worst-case scenario for most of our patients."
Ironically, Dr. Woods' statement was buried in a Los Angeles Times story about proponents of GMO foods who complain that the government isn't approving foods from GMO animals fast enough. Because when you've got great products from GMO animals, like hyper-allergenic milk that could make even more kids sick and causes severe unnecessary animal suffering, why wouldn't you want to rush these products to the market – especially in a country that has no required safety tests or labeling for GMO foods?
Who says creating food from GMO animals is risky and cruel? Not me – that's what the world's leading animal cloning scientists say. To create a GMO cow, scientists must first create a clone with the desired trait. But cloning means mass animal suffering. One cloning scientist recently told the New York Times about her failures to create a cloned monkey, referring to the "grotesquely abnormal embryos" as her "gallery of horrors." But food animal clones like cows and pigs are different, right? Wrong. As Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal clone told the Times, "cloning appears to create serious abnormalities in almost all embryos." One review of the cloning literature listed just a few of the common problems found in cow clones:
"(L)large offspring syndrome [a condition often fatal or debilitating to the clone and the surrogate mother cow], diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, dilated cardiomyopathy, internal hemorrhaging umbilical artery, viral infection, dystocia, kidney problems, leg malformations, pneumonia, heart defects, liver fibrosis, osteoporosis, joint defects, anemia, and placental abnormalities."
In pigs, this study found problems including "abnormal teat numbers, cleft lips, and malformed limbs," and recently more pig cloning problems have come to light. In FDA's 2007 review promoting the "safety" of cloned food, the agency admitted that success rates in pig cloning "are low even when compared to reports of cloning in other species." But even for "successful" animal clones, life is nasty, poor, brutish and short. In one Franken-research project, 22 out of 35 "successfully" cloned pigs died within the first week of life (another five died at birth) after suffering numerous health problems, including cerebromeningitis, diarrhea, leg and face abnormalities, male pseudohermaphroditism, and others. The authors concluded blandly that their data showed that "the safety and long-term adverse biological effects of cloning must be further investigated."
Allergy-free milk is hardly the first false promise from genetic food manipulators. Proponents of GMO animal foods include Canadian scientists who spent more than a decade to bring the phony "Enviropig" to market and the GMO salmon company Aqua Bounty, which has been promising unlabeled, untested GMO salmon for about as long. Other creepy researchers are attempting to bring GMO food from just about every food-animal species on the planet to market, whether consumers want this Frankenfood or not.
Labeling the current crop of GMO foods is important enough, but when we consider the potential GMO animal foods that industry wants to bring to our dinner tables, untested and unlabeled, Prop37 is even more important. If you want the right to choose safe, natural, non-GMO food, vote YES on Prop 37!
2.Vote for the Dinner Party
Is this the year that the food movement finally enters politics?
New York Times, October 10 2012
One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a “food movement” in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system. People like me throw the term around loosely, partly because we sense the gathering of such a force, and partly (to be honest) to help wish it into being by sheer dint of repetition. Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement — something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.
California’s Proposition 37, which would require that genetically modified (G.M.) foods carry a label, has the potential to do just that — to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too. Now, there is much that’s wrong with California’s notorious initiative process: it is an awkward, usually sloppy way to make law. Yet for better or worse, it has served as a last- or first-ditch way for issues that politicians aren’t yet ready to touch — whether the tax rebellion of the 1970s (Prop 13) or medical marijuana in the 1990s (Prop 215) — to win a hearing and a vote and then go on to change the political conversation across the country.
What is at stake this time around is not just the fate of genetically modified crops but the public’s confidence in the industrial food chain. That system is being challenged on a great many fronts — indeed, seemingly everywhere but in Washington. Around the country, dozens of proposals to tax and regulate soda have put the beverage industry on the defensive, forcing it to play a very expensive (and thus far successful) game of Whac-A-Mole. The meat industry is getting it from all sides: animal rights advocates seeking to expose its brutality, public-health advocates campaigning against antibiotics in animal feed, environmentalists highlighting factory farming’s contribution to climate change.
Big Food is also feeling beleaguered by its increasingly skeptical and skittish consumers. Earlier this year the industry was rocked when a blogger in Houston started an online petition to ban the use of “pink slime” in the hamburger served in the federal school-lunch program. Pink slime — so-called by a U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist — is a kind of industrial-strength hamburger helper made from a purée of slaughterhouse scraps treated with ammonia. We have apparently been ingesting this material for years in hamburger patties, but when word got out, the eating public went ballistic. Within days, the U.S.D.A. allowed schools to drop the product, and several supermarket chains stopped carrying it, shuttering several of the plants that produce it. Shortly after this episode, I received a panicky phone call from someone in the food industry, a buyer for one of the big food-service companies. After venting about the “irrationality” of the American consumer, he then demanded to know: “Who’s going to be hit next? It could be any of us.”
So it appears the loss of confidence is mutual: the food industry no longer trusts us, either, which is one reason a label on genetically modified food is so terrifying: we might react “irrationally” and decline to buy it. To win back this restive public, Big Food recently began a multimillion-dollar public-relations campaign, featuring public “food dialogues,” aimed at restoring our faith in the production methods on which industrial agriculture depends, including pharmaceuticals used to keep animals healthy and speed their growth; pesticides and genetically modified seeds; and concentrated animal feeding operations. The industry has never liked to talk about these practices — which is to say, about how the food we eat is actually produced — but it apparently came to the conclusion that it is better off telling the story itself rather than letting its critics do it.
This new transparency goes only so far, however. The industry is happy to boast about genetically engineered crops in the elite precincts of the op-ed and business pages — as a technology needed to feed the world, combat climate change, solve Africa’s problems, etc. — but still would rather not mention it to the consumers who actually eat the stuff. Presumably that silence owes to the fact that, to date, genetically modified foods don’t offer the eater any benefits whatsoever — only a potential, as yet undetermined risk. So how irrational would it be, really, to avoid them?
Surely this explains why Monsanto and its allies have fought the labeling of genetically modified food so vigorously since 1992, when the industry managed to persuade the Food and Drug Administration — over the objection of its own scientists — that the new crops were “substantially equivalent” to the old and so did not need to be labeled, much less regulated. This represented a breathtaking exercise of both political power (the F.D.A. policy was co-written by a lawyer whose former firm worked for Monsanto) and product positioning: these new crops were revolutionary enough (a “new agricultural paradigm,” Monsanto said) to deserve patent protection and government support, yet at the same time the food made from them was no different than it ever was, so did not need to be labeled. It’s worth noting that ours was one of only a very few governments ever sold on this convenient reasoning: more than 60 other countries have seen fit to label genetically modified food, including those in the European Union, Japan, Russia and China.
To prevent the United States from following suit, Monsanto and DuPont, the two leading merchants of genetically modified seed, have invested more than $12 million to defeat Prop 37. They’ve been joined in this effort by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose president declared at a meeting last July that defeating Prop 37 would be the group’s top priority for 2012. Answering the call, many of America’s biggest food and beverage makers — including PepsiCo, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and General Mills — have together ponied up tens of millions of dollars to, in effect, fight transparency about their products.
Americans have been eating genetically engineered food for 18 years, and as supporters of the technology are quick to point out, we don’t seem to be dropping like flies. But they miss the point. The fight over labeling G.M. food is not foremost about food safety or environmental harm, legitimate though these questions are. The fight is about the power of Big Food. Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process, lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers), an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures, and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends.
These are precisely the issues that have given rise to the so-called food movement. Yet that movement has so far had more success in building an alternative food chain than it has in winning substantive changes from Big Food or Washington. In the last couple of decades, a new economy of farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture (also known as farm shares) and sustainable farming has changed the way millions of Americans eat and think about food. From this perspective, the food movement is an economic and a social movement, and as such has made important gains. People by the millions have begun, as the slogan goes, to vote with their forks in favor of more sustainably and humanely produced food, and against agribusiness. But does that kind of vote constitute a genuine politics? Yes and no.
It’s easy to dismiss voting with your fork as merely a lifestyle choice, and an elite one at that. Yet there is a hopeful kind of soft politics at work here, as an afternoon at any of America’s 7,800-plus farmers’ markets will attest. Money-for-food is not the only transaction going on at the farmers’ markets; indeed, it may be the least of it. Neighbors are talking to neighbors. Consumers meet producers. (Confirming the obvious, one social scientist found that people have 10 times as many conversations at the farmers’ market as they do at the supermarket.) City meets country. Kids discover what food is. Activists circulate petitions. The farmers’ market has become the country’s liveliest new public square, an outlet for our communitarian impulses and a means of escaping, or at least complicating, the narrow role that capitalism usually assigns to us as “consumers.” At the farmers’ market, we are consumers, yes, but at the same time also citizens, neighbors, parents and cooks. In voting with our food dollars, we enlarge our sense of our “interests” from the usual concern with a good value to, well, a concern with values.
This is no small thing; it has revitalized local farming and urban communities and at the same time raised the bar on the food industry, which now must pay attention (or at least lip service) to things like sustainable farming and the humane treatment of animals. Yet this sort of soft politics, useful as it may be in building new markets and even new forms of civil society, has its limits. Not everyone can afford to participate in the new food economy. If the food movement doesn’t move to democratize the benefits of good food, it will be — and will deserve to be — branded as elitist.
That’s why, sooner or later, the food movement will have to engage in the hard politics of Washington — of voting with votes, not just forks. This is an arena in which it has thus far been much less successful. It has won little more than crumbs in the most recent battle over the farm bill (which every five years sets federal policy for agriculture and nutrition programs), a few improvements in school lunch and food safety and the symbol of an organic garden at the White House. The modesty of these achievements shouldn’t surprise us: the food movement is young and does not yet have its Sierra Club or National Rifle Association, large membership organizations with the clout to reward and punish legislators. Thus while Big Food may live in fear of its restive consumers, its grip on Washington has not been challenged.
Yet. Next month in California, a few million people will vote with their votes on a food issue. Already, Prop 37 has ignited precisely the kind of debate — about the risks and benefits of genetically modified food; about transparency and the consumer’s right to know — that Monsanto and its allies have managed to stifle in Washington for nearly two decades. If Prop 37 passes, and the polls suggest its chances are good, then that debate will most likely go national and a new political dynamic will be set in motion.
It’s hard to predict exactly how things will play out if Prop 37 is approved. Expect the industry to first try to stomp out the political brush fire by taking the new California law to court on the grounds that a state cannot pre-empt a federal regulation. One problem with that argument is that, thanks to the bio-tech industry’s own lobbying prowess, there is no federal regulation on labeling, only an informal ruling, and therefore nothing to pre-empt. (I believe this is what is meant by being hoist with your own petard.) To avoid having to slap the dread letters on their products, many food companies will presumably reformulate their products with non-G.M. ingredients, creating a new market for farmers and for companies selling non-G.M. seed. The solidarity of Monsanto and companies like Coca-Cola — which reaps no benefit from using G.M. corn in its corn syrup — might then quickly crumble. Rather than deal with different labeling laws in different states, food makers would probably prefer to negotiate a single national label on G.M. foods. Consumer groups like the Just Label It campaign, which has collected 1.2 million signatures on a petition to force the F.D.A. to label G.M. foods, thus far to no avail, would suddenly find themselves with a seat at the table and a strong political hand.
One person in Washington who would surely take note of the California vote is President Obama. During the 2008 campaign, he voiced support for many of the goals of the food movement, including the labeling of G.M. food. (“We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified,” he declared in an Iowa speech in 2007, “because Americans should know what they’re buying.”) As president he has failed to keep that promise, but he has taken some positive steps: his U.S.D.A. has done much to nurture the local-food economy, for example. Perhaps most important, Michelle Obama began a national conversation about food and health — soft politics, yes, but these often help prepare the soil for the other kind. Yet on the hard issues, the ones that challenge agribusiness-as-usual, President Obama has so far declined to spend his political capital and on more than one occasion has taken Monsanto’s side. He has treated the food movement as a sentiment rather than a power, and who can blame him?
Until now. Over the last four years I’ve had occasion to speak to several people who have personally lobbied the President on various food issues, including G.M. labeling, and from what I can gather, Obama’s attitude toward the food movement has always been: What movement? I don’t see it. Show me. On Nov. 6, the voters of California will have the opportunity to do just that.
Michael Pollan is the author of ‘‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,’’ which will be published in April by Penguin Press.”
Editor: Ilena Silverman
3.German giants join GM food fight in California
Deutsche Welle, 16 October 2012
On November 6, California will vote whether genetically modified food should be labeled - a long-standing practice in Europe. The move has drawn fierce opposition from US corporate interests - and two German firms.
The often-used biblical account of David vs. Goliath doesn't always work when it's applied to modern-day battles between two unequal adversaries, but in the fight over labeling genetically engineered foods in California it does.
The battle pits the combined resources of a vast coalition of agribusiness, food industry and grocery manufacturers against a small group of organic farmers and stores and committed individuals.
At the center of the fight is Proposition 37, an initiative that will be on the California ballot on election day and would make it mandatory to label genetically modified food. In the US there is no national law requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled.
And since an estimated 80 percent of food products sold in the US contain genetically modified ingredients, a labeling law in California would force the food industry to set up two entirely separated product streams.
Even worse for the industry is Europe's record ever since the EU made GM food labels mandatory in 1997: Even though GM foods are allowed, the law has de facto kept genetically engineered foods off the shelves in Europe because consumers are simply not buying them.
In the US there have been many failed attempts to require labels for GM foods in various states. But what makes Proposition 37 so significant is not just that California would be the first state to institute GM labels, its California's unique position and history among US states.
With its 37 million residents California is not just the most populous state in the union, but as a stand-alone economy it would be the ninth-biggest country in the world by gross domestic product.
Combine that with California's record as a national and international trendsetter on health and environmental regulation - for example as the first state to ban lead from gasoline, pass anti-smoking legislation, cap green houses gas emissions from businesses - and you can imagine why the food and agribusiness community is worried.
So it's no surprise then that the industry is pulling out all the stops to prevent Proposition 37 from becoming law in California.
Monsanto is biggest donor
Under the leadership of Monsanto, the world's biggest seed producer, the campaign against GM labels has so far raised $35 million (27 million euros), according to public records.
With $7 million Monsanto alone has spent more than the supporters of Proposition 37 have raised collectively so far with $4 million.
While the anti-label donor list with households names like Pepsico, Coca Cola, Kellogg and Mars reads like the Who-is-Who of the American food industry, two German companies stand out and have spent more to defeat Proposition 37 than all of the companies mentioned above.
German firms oppose Proposition 37
BASF and Bayer have each invested $2 million so far in the campaign to block GM labels in California. Only Monsanto and Dupont, the US chemical firm, spent more.
BASF, the world's biggest chemical company, and Bayer, Germany's biggest pharmaceutical company, both have large business units focused on genetic engineering. BASF earlier this year even moved the headquarters of its GM business to the US citing a lack of support in Europe.
This explains why they our outspending most other American and international companies to stop labels for GM foods, says Michael Hansen, the senior scientist at Consumers Union, the independent consumers organization which publishes Consumer Reports magazine:
"These German firms are doing the genetic engineering. So it's their stake in the fight because it's their ultimate ingredient that would be labeled."
Fight against rules resembling EU law
What makes the behavior of BASF and Bayer especially intriguing is the fact that they are investing millions to oppose the very rules that have been in place in their home markets of Germany and Europe for years.
"It's outrageous that German companies are spending so much money to defeat our right to know in California," Stacy Malkin, spokeswoman for the California Right to Know 2012 ballot initiative, told DW per e-mail.
Hansen calls this behavior "situational ethics." He says the firms simply do whatever the laws of the country they do business in allow them to do.
"I think it is really a shame that Bayer and BASF finance a counter-campaign against labeling," notes Heike Moldenhauer, the GM expert at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) in Berlin. "Both wouldn't dare such propaganda here in Europe."
"I find it actually a little outrageous that particularly German companies meddle so massively in domestic US policy," says Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesman for the Greens in the European Parliament.
He adds that they certainly have the legal right to do so, but that the European and German public should know about their behavior. "I am not sure if this will help the public image of these companies."
Companies say Proposition 37 is misleading
In a statement to DW, Bayer CropScience, the company's GM unit, didn't address questions about its $2 million donation to the anti-Proposition 37 campaign and whether it plans to invest more money to defeat the initiative. The company also didn't respond to questions about whether it has a different perception of European vs. Californian consumers.
"Bayer CropScience principally supports that consumers should be comprehensively and transparently informed," spokesman Utz Klages said via e-mail. But California's Proposition 37 "doesn't create full transparency for consumers," he added. "Instead it creates uncertainty because it creates the wrong impression that there are differences in the safety and nutritional characteristics, when in fact none exist."
BASF also didn't address questions about its $2 million dollar to the anti-Proposition 37 campaign and whether it plans to invest more money to defeat the initiative.
"In order to provide higher transparency for customers and consumers, we welcome any sort of labeling as long as it is not misleading or discriminatory,” BASF spokeswoman Jennifer Moore-Braun told DW via e-mail. "However, we do not believe this is the case with Proposition 37," she added. BASF believes "the intention of the ballot initiative is not to inform consumers, but rather to discriminate against agricultural biotechnology."
Asked about differences between Europe and the US, Moore-Braun said, that "in Europe, we support the existing EU labeling thresholds in food and feed of 0.9 percent for all GM plants approved in the EU." But, she added, "the current legislation in Europe is misleading since there are for example too many exemptions from the labeling requirements."
In the US, said Moore-Braun, national policy doesn't requiring labelling of GM foods since it "would be misleading to consumers because it falsely implies that there are differences in safety and nutritional characteristics, when in fact none exist."
Despite the fact that GM labels are required in the EU and not in the US, Europeans and Americans generally have similar views on the issue. When polled, both routinely state they want labels on genetically modified foods.
According to an ABC News survey from June, 93 percent of Americans said the government should mandate labels for GM foods. More than half of respondents stated they would be less likely to buy food bearing such a label.
Americans and Europeans are pretty much on the same page when it comes to GM foods, argues Häusling. "The more consumers know about genetic engineering the more likely is their resistance to buying such products, instead of the other way around."
The reason there are no GM-labeling laws in the US is therefore not because the American public trusts GM foods, but because corporations in the US have more influence and can spend large amounts of money to get the outcome they want, say the experts.
Until recently, polls in California showed large majorities in favor of Proposition 37. But since the No-campaign has begun spending the millions it raised from industry to blanket California's airwaves with ads against GM labels, support for the measure is crumbling. After the beginning of the ad campaign the latest poll last week showed 48 percent in support of labels and 40 percent against it.
"This is a massive fight pitting the people against the corporations, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure the people win, but it is going to be a tough fight," says Malkin. "The pesticide and junk food companies are spending one million dollars a day to bombard California with deceptive ads designed to confuse people about a simple label."
With three weeks to go and millions of dollars to be spent by the No-campaign - practically uncontested by supporters of labels - Proposition 37 could end up like so many other attempts to introduce labels for genetically modified foods in the US: As a fight ultimately won by the deep pockets of Goliath.