GMOs in the News: 2 Million Rally Against Monsanto

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More than 2 Million People Rally in 52 Countries to Protest GMO Giant Monsanto
From a single Facebook page started in February, the March Against Monsanto held on May 25 drew more than 2 million people in 52 countries and 436 cities to protest chemical giant Monsanto and the genetically engineered seeds it produces. "If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success," protest organizer Tami Canal told USA Today. "It was empowering and inspiring to see so many people, from different walks of life, put aside their differences and come together," she said. The group plans to harness the success of the event to continue its anti-GMO cause. "We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet," she said. "If we don't act, who's going to?" Protests were held in Los Angeles, Portland, OR, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and elsewhere around the globe. “As a single company, Monsanto is the tip of the iceberg representing the threat that unchecked corporate power has in corrupting our democratic institutions, driving family farmers off the land, threatening human health and contaminating our environment,” said Dave Murphy, executive director of Food Democracy Now, in a May 28 commentary in the Huffington Post.

Washington State Yes on 522 Launches GMO Labeling Campaign into Full Gear
With a new website, www.yeson522.com, the recent hiring of professional campaign management staff, and $1.1 million in contributions received, the Yes on 522 campaign to label GMO foods in Washington State is swinging into full gear and is appealing to natural and organic products business leaders to help fund what many experts say is the best opportunity to achieve mandatory GMO labeling in 2013. At a recent press conference, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), co-sponsor of the Boxer-DeFazio federal GMO labeling bill, said it is critically important to support the Washington State initiative to give greater weight to the Washington, DC, federal GMO labeling efforts, given biotech’s strong lobbying presence in the nation’s capitol. In a letter to donors, Yes on 522 finance chair David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s reported that the campaign has launched an ambitious grassroots outreach program called “Kitchen Conversations,” in which advocates can receive a kit containing information to host informal gatherings among voters, and is rolling out a “Dining Out for 522” chef’s fundraising campaign. The campaign scheduled its first stakeholder meeting for May 31 in Seattle. Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence is among the leading supporters of the Yes on 522 GMO labeling bill. Steven Hoffman of Compass Natural Marketing is helping lead fundraising efforts and outreach to natural and organic products industry leaders. For information and to contribute, visit www.yeson522.com.

Whole Foods Market Endorses Washington State’s Yes on 522 GMO Labeling Bill Joining a coalition of leading Washington State-based retailers including PCC Natural Markets and Marlene’s Natural Foods Market and Delis, among others, Whole Foods Market on April 25 announced its support for the Yes on 522 (www.yeson522.com) campaign to label genetically engineered, or GMO, foods. In support of Yes on 522, Whole Foods Market launched a grassroots effort, Will Vote for Food (www.willvoteforfood.com) to engage consumers and build support for the ballot initiative. “This issue is about transparency and the consumer’s right to make informed decisions,” said Joe Rogoff, president of Whole Foods Market’s Pacific Northwest region. “We believe that growers using genetically modified seed, and producers using the products grown from those seeds, have an obligation to share that information with their public. And the price paid by the food industry for relabeling is a pittance compared to the distrust that increasingly results from their concealment. We support Yes on 522. At Whole Foods Market, we will vote for food.”

New Leaf Markets Require GMO Labeling; Terra Organica Labeling GMO Products Following in the footsteps of Whole Foods Market, Santa Cruz, CA-based natural retailer New Leaf Community Markets announced it would require labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients in its seven stores by 2018. New Leaf was an early retail member of the Non-GMO Project and a strong supporter of California’s Prop 37 2012 GMO labeling measure, which was defeated by a narrow margin. New Leaf co-owner Scott Roseman commended Whole Foods for taking the lead on the labeling issue and said the five-year deadline gives manufacturers time to update packaging or research alternative ingredients. In related news, Stephen Trinkaus, owner of Terra Organica in Bellingham, WA, asked his customers what they wanted in terms of GMO labeling. The choices were: do nothing, label products that contain GMO ingredients, or get rid of the items altogether. Customers overwhelmingly chose labels, so Trinkaus began labeling products in the store that are likely to contain GMO ingredients. “I thought it would be simpler than it is,” Trinkaus told the Seattle Times. He wants customers to know if a manufacturer is working to replace GMO ingredients with non-GMO alternatives – many are after Whole Foods Market’s announcement to require GMO labeling in 2018, he said – and is revamping labels in his store to display more complex information.

Vermont, Maine Advance GMO Labeling Legislation
On May 14, despite concerns over lawsuit threats from the biotech industry, Maine's House Agriculture Committee passed a GMO labeling measure on an 8-3 vote. The bill, LD 718, offered by Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) wouldn’t go into full effect until 2018, and only after four of the nine northeastern states approve similar laws. However, they may be one step closer to realizing that goal: on May 10, the Vermont House passed a mandatory GMO labeling bill by an overwhelming 107-37 vote, again, despite massive lobbying efforts by the GMO biotech industry and threats to sue the state. If approved by the state Senate and signed by the governor, the bill, H 112, could make Vermont the first state in the nation to require labeling of genetically modified foods. But the measure likely wouldn’t go into effect for two years, and it would not affect meat, milk or eggs from animals that were fed or treated with genetically engineered substances, including GMO corn and the rBGH cattle hormone. While GMO labeling is not required in the U.S., according to the Center for Food Safety, 64 countries, including China, Russia and all EU nations currently have GMO labeling laws in place.

Monsanto CEO Blames Social Media for “Elitist” Anti-GMO Sentiments
Citizens who are against genetically modified foods or are calling for mandatory labeling of GMO foods are guilty of “elitism” that is fanned by social media, and they fail to consider the needs of the rest of the world, said Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant in a May 15 interview with Bloomberg Press. “This place is getting busier and more crowded,” Grant said. “As long as you’ve got money in your back pocket and you drive your station wagon to the supermarket on weekends, then it’s out of sight, out of mind, so far.” The advent of social media helps explain why many people in the U.S. have come to oppose genetically engineered crops in recent years, Grant told Bloomberg. Grant feels that GMOs are the answer to feeding the world’s growing population, while opponents point to increased use of toxic synthetic pesticides associated with GMO agriculture, the fact the farmers can no longer save seed if they are practicing GMO farming, the potential contribution of GMO farming to global climate change, and peer-reviewed studies that warn of risks to human, animal and environmental health. In related news, executives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical – among the world’s largest producers of GMO crops and pesticides, and owners of a significant majority of the world’s seed companies – told Reuters that they are developing a national promotional campaign aimed at turning the tide on growing public sentiment against GMO crops. With GMO labeling measures before the federal government and more than 20 states, the biotech firms seek to limit the spread of such initiatives, which the companies say would only confuse consumers and upset the food manufacturing industry, according to Reuters. The biotech industry is still working out details of their marketing campaign, but it will likely have a large social media component, the company executives said.

Supreme Court Rules for Monsanto in Seed Case Rejecting an Indiana farmer’s argument that his planting of seeds he had bought second-hand did not violate Monsanto’s GMO seed patent, the U.S. Supreme Court on May 12 ruled unanimously that farmers must pay Monsanto each time they plant the company’s genetically engineered soybeans. Farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman asserted that because the company’s herbicide-resistant, Roundup Ready soybeans replicate themselves, he was not violating the company’s patent by planting progeny seeds he had purchased elsewhere. However, the justices unanimously rejected that claim, with Justice Elena Kagan writing there is no such “seeds-are-special” exception to the law. But Kagan warned that the Monsanto decision was a limited one and did not address every issue involving a self-replicating product. The court ordered Bowman, a conventional farmer, to pay nearly $85,000 in damages to Monsanto. The Supreme Court's decision implies that Monsanto has the legal right to stop farmers from saving seeds from patented genetically modified crops one season, and plant them the next season.

UNPA Hosts GMO Symposium for Supplement Manufacturers Despite what happens on a legislative and regulatory front, what is certain is that consumers want GMO labeling, and Whole Foods Market is requiring GMO transparency from all of its vendors by 2018, said Loren Israelsen, Executive Director of the United Natural Products Association (UNPA), a Salt Lake-based trade association serving the natural and nutritional products industry. To help companies understand the challenges and implications of GMOs in nutritional supplements and food products and to prepare for GMO labeling, UNPA hosted on May 23 a day-long symposium, “The Non-GMO Future: How to Source, Test, Label and Market Food and Supplement Ingredients.” “If you sell into Whole Foods [Market] or aspire to sell to them, you need to understand the GMO supply chain,” said Israelsen in a recent interview with Nutra-Ingredients. “We sense that the issue is substantially more significant than dietary supplements companies think,” he said. Speakers at the symposium included Courtney Pineau, assistant director of Non-GMO Project; Robert Craven, CEO, FoodState/Megafood; John Fagan, Ph.D., founder of Global ID; Sandy Kepler, CEO of Foodchain Global Advisors; Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED; Steven Hoffman, managing director of Compass Natural Marketing; and Ken Roseboro, editor and publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report. For info visit www.unpa.com.

After Being Rejected by Consumers, Will GMO Spuds Make a Comeback? While the FDA weighs approval of GMO salmon, a dozen years after Monsanto ditched its GMO potato after disappointing sales, an Idaho company, J.R. Simplot, asked FDA in mid-May to approve five varieties of GMO potatoes. The varieties have been genetically engineered to avoid black spots and designed to have less acrylamide, a naturally occurring but potentially toxic chemical. Simplot, according to MSN News, sells potatoes to McDonald’s for its French fries, and McDonald’s rejects potatoes with black spots. The FDA is also reviewing the “Arctic” apple, genetically engineered by Canada-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits to resist turning brown when cut. While Simplot said 20 field trials demonstrate that GMO potatoes are virtually identical to their unmodified cousins, Bill Freese, senior policy analyst with Washington, DC-based Center for Food Safety, said that genetic engineering is a “noisy, unpredictable process,” where the best-intentioned genome tinkering could be accompanied by unforeseen effects on human health and the environment. "The biotech approach is to change the food on a genetic level in quite frankly risky ways with inadequate regulation to adapt a crop to an industrial food system that's really unhealthy in so many ways," he said.