The Organic Consumers Association is a non-profit public interest oganization, which campaigns for health, justice, sustainability, peace and democracy.
IMAGE: ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION
On February 19th, the Sacramento Bee ran an opinion piece by Dan Morain full of lies about the California ballot initiative campaign to label GMOs. We asked our members to set the record straight by reading our rebuttal and posting comments to the article on the Sacramento Bee website (see below).
A flood of comments ensued, prompting the Bee to shut down the comment function. Then, on Saturday, Stuart Leavenworth, the Bee's editorial page editor, published a piece attacking the OCA that, like Morain's editorial, parrots Monsanto's talking points with no regard for the truth.
Again, we ask you to read Leavenworth's article and our point-by-point rebuttal, then post a comment defending freedom of speech and our right to know what's in our food. Please be polite and professional!
1. "Dan has his own personal views on this topic, which aren't necessarily those of the editorial board. Starting in 2004, the editorial board opined that foods that include genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be labeled. As The Bee stated in an editorial that year, 'In the long run it should help, not hurt, the food industry by building consumer confidence, which is why food companies should embrace independent study and labeling.'"
The Bee knows they aren't going to get very far contradicting the opinion of 93% of the public who support of our right to know what's in our food. Instead of attacking the CA ballot initiative to label genetically engineered food, they attack the initiative's supporters and spin lies about what might happen if the initiative passes...
2. "Last Sunday, columnist Dan Morain published a column about an Illinois osteopath and entrepreneur, Joe Mercola, who has put $500,000 into a proposed California initiative to require labeling of genetically modified foods. Dan's main beef was that an out-of-state activist was once again using the California initiative system for a pet proposal..."
Mercola.com is a natural health daily news service with 400,000 California subscribers. They have more readers in California than the Sacramento Bee - hardly an out-of-state operation.
3. "Morain's biggest issue, however, is the actual wording of the California Right to Know Genetically Modified Food Act, which could potentially bar companies from calling any product 'natural if it has been subject to 'canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.' As Morain noted, such wording could prevent olive oil manufacturers or rice companies from labeling their products as natural, since olives are pressed and rice is milled."
When Morain did this, we chalked it up to him parroting Monsanto's talking points without really understanding them, but, since we know that Leavenworth has received hundreds of letters trying to correct Morain and set the record straight, we can only assume now that Morain and Leavenworth actually intend to spread lies and misinformation. The initiative, which is available for all to read at sos.ca.gov, prevents processed foods from being labeled natural "if it is or may have been entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering." Morain and Leavenworth have made up a crazy lie that it would prevent all processed foods, genetically engineered or not, from being labeled natural. Nothing could be farther from the truth and it takes only a quick read through the initiative language to understand that.
4. "How did Mercola and his allies respond? The Organic Consumers Association - a Minnesota-based group whose political arm has given $95,000 to the initiative - put Morain's photo on its website and labeled him as a 'minion of Monsanto,' a leading manufacturer of GMOs. The Web page then urged followers to inundate The Bee with responses, which they did.
Some of the messages were reasoned and impassioned rebuttals to Morain's column, which we welcome. Many others simply echoed the talking points of the OCA - that Morain had been bought off by the biotech industry and should be fired or silenced.
Our original response to Morain's article is below. We never suggested that Morain "should be fired or silenced." As for having "been bought off by the biotech industry," we have no reason to believe that he personally is benefiting financially from siding with Monsanto, but it's clear the Sacramento Bee has chosen to side with big business on this one. Is it because they were contacted by PR flacks paid by the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition? Is it because the Bee is courting Monsanto to place ads in the paper? Monsanto's marketing budget was $934 million in 2009 and $839 million in 2010. One can only speculate as to why the Bee would lie about the language of the initiative or OCA's response in the opinion pieces they publish.
5. "Others were even worse. 'I hope you get cancer you corporate sellout scumbag,' wrote one Mercola supporter, named Dan.
'You will be punished in many ways, by eating, writing, and lack of knowledge of the Bilderberg Group who wants to kill all of us including you,' wrote another person, named Carol. (FYI, the Bilderberg Group is a secretive, annual gathering of business elites that has been a robust source of conspiracy theories by the far left and far right over the years.)
The well-wishes for Morain continued with online comments, which The Bee took down Thursday "because of personal attacks, hate speech and other inappropriate comments.'"
It's interesting that the Bee isn't quoting any of the online comments that prompted them to remove the comment function altogether. Given the lies and misinformation they have printed, we wouldn't put it past them to have fabricated the quotes they did publish. Of course, they didn't need to remove the comment function to delete comments that were offensive.
Please read Leavenworth's article in its entirety and add your comments.
Here's our response to the original article:
You can't argue with consumers' right to know what's in our food. That's why 9 out of 10 people support labels for genetically engineered food.
But, money talks, and companies like Monsanto that have gotten rich hiding GMOs in our food are already on the attack in California, where a movement to label GMOs is working to get the issue on the November 2012 ballot.
Monsanto found an ally in Dan Morain at the Sacramento Bee who tried to find fault with the CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition.
Here are Morain's points, along with our rebuttal. Please go to the editorial, scroll down and add your comments. [Note: Apparently too many critical comments inspired the Sacramento Bee to remove the comments feature from the article in question. Please contact them and let them know your opinion on this issue.]
#1 "Although there's no proof that genetically modified food has caused anyone's nose to fall off, labeling is not a terribly bad idea. People like to know what they're eating."
Guided by common sense, Dan Morain can't help but to agree with us.
But, then he lets Monsanto's spin distract him from the simple fact that GMO labels protect our right-to-know...
#2 The California Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition consists of "[r]ich people with a cause [who] cannot seem to resist inflicting their world views on California politics."
The CA Right to Know/Label GMOs coalition consists primarily of non-profit sustainable agriculture organizations, as well as natural, organic and non-GMO businesses, many of whom are based in CA, and all of whom have a large base of members and customers in California.
#3 Voters should decide whether or not to support the Label GMOs initiative based on what they think of $500,000 donor Dr. Joseph Mercola, "an osteopath who lives in suburban Chicago and runs a website, Mercola.com, which promotes his alternative, though generally unproven, health-related products and ideas."
We're very proud to have the financial and educational support of Dr. Mercola, and we encourage everyone interested in learning more about natural health and the potential health impacts of consuming genetically engineered food to visit Mercola.com. But, that's not what this initiative is about. It's about the right to know. All we want are labels.
#4 The initiative would open farmers and food producers to litigation.
This isn't about farmers. It's about packers and processors. Packers and processors have to follow labeling laws.
It isn't about litigation, either. Consumers already have the right to sue to enforce California's food labeling laws. This initiative can't change that one way or the other. All it can change is what gets labeled. Again, 9 out of 10 people think GMOs should be labeled.
#5 "The initiative wording is ambiguous and could be interpreted to bar companies from calling any product "natural" if it has been subject to 'processing such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling.'"
Morain thought he had a clever way to undermine support for the initiative proposition that GMO foods should not be marketed as "natural." He took a talking point straight from Monsanto's playbook - only he didn't get the point.
What spokespersons for Monsanto and the agricultural biotech industry usually say is, to require labels on virtually all processed foods as possibly containing GMOs, because of widespread use of genetically modified soy, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beet and alfalfa seed, amounts to meaningless disclosure. Morain must not understand what genetic engineering is. He heard that "virtually all processed foods" would have to be labeled and somehow he figured this was because of the way they were processed. Morain doesn't get that almost all processed foods contain ingredients that are genetically engineered.
If everyone knew that all the processed food they were eating contains GMOs, labels would be meaningless, but in the United States, a country where virtually everyone is eating GMOs, only about one quarter of the population is aware of it. In this context GMO labels are anything but meaningless.
#6 "[H]umans have been modifying crops for 10,000 years. Durham wheat, Asian pears, domesticated cattle and many other commodities would not exist without some sort of engineering. Of course, genetic engineering and irradiation are different from cross-breeding of days past. But in very real ways, [professor Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of Life & Health Sciences Research Development in the UC Davis Office of Research] said, new techniques are much more controlled. 'This is tested so thoroughly,' Newell-McGloughlin said.
Again, the CA Right to Know/Label GMOs initiative isn't about the merits of GMOs. If genetic engineering is so great, its proponents should agree that food labels are a good idea. Of course, the fact is that Monsanto and the other agricultural biotech companies don't want you to know about GMOs in your food because they don't want you to wonder whether it's safe.
Newell-McGloughlin's statement that "[t]his is tested so thoroughly," would lead the reader to believe that independent scientists who work for public research institutions are carefully safety testing each new GMO before it enters our food. On the contrary, the government's policy that there is "no material difference" between GMOs and normal foods obviated the need for review. Companys that want to market new GMOs don't have to prove that they're safe, only that they are similar to normal foods - and they get to do their own research.
In the case of GMO salmon, for instance, the applicant, AquaBounty, submitted data to the FDA that showed their genetically engineered salmon was less nutritious, more likely to trigger allergies and had higher levels of a hormone linked to human cancers than normal salmon. The FDA noted this, but concluded that it wasn't different enough from normal salmon to be blocked or even labeled.
But, that discussion isn't even relevant to this issue of GMO labels. Safety tested or not, genetically engineered food should be labeled.
For more information and to volunteer to help collect signatures for the California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs go to Organic Consumers Fund.