An Open Letter to the Organic Community: The California Ballot Initiative to Label GMOs

Big Food has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the country's first mandatory GMO labeling laws. It's time for us to step up and fight back.

| August 3, 2012

Help Us Label GMOs sign

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Organic Consumers Association

The following article is posted with permission from the Organic Consumers Association.

After 45 years of hard work and grassroots struggle, the organic community has built up a $30-billion organic food and farming industry and community. This consumer and small farmer-driven movement, under steady attack by biotech and Big Food lobbyists, with little or no help from the federal government, has managed to create a healthy and sustainable alternative to America’s disastrous, chemical and energy-intensive system of industrial agriculture. Consumer demand is behind strong organic sales. Conscious of the health hazards of genetic engineering and chemical agriculture, and the mortal threat of global warming and climate change, millions of Americans are demanding food and other products that are certified organic.

It’s a hopeful sign that, in spite of economic recession, organic foods now make up 4.2 percent of all grocery store sales. However given the magnitude of the country’s public health, environmental, and climate crisis, 10 percent annual growth in the organic sector is simply not enough to reach the proverbial 'tipping point” before our current crisis metastasizes into what can only be described as a catastrophe.

In the food sector, we cannot continue to hand over 90 percent of our consumer dollars to out-of-control, biotech, chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, greenhouse gas polluting corporations and "profit at any cost" retail chains. The growth of the Organic Alternative is literally a matter of survival. After two decades of biotech bullying and force-feeding unlabeled and hazardous genetically engineered foods to animals and humans, it's time to move beyond defensive measures - such as petitioning the FDA - and go on the offensive. With organic farming, climate stability, and public health under the gun of the gene engineers and their partners in crime, it's time to do more than complain. With more than 1/3 of U.S. cropland already contaminated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), with mounting scientific evidence that GMOs cause cancer, birth defects, and serious food allergies, and with new biotech mutants like alfalfa, lawn grass, ethanol-ready corn, 2,4 D-resistant crops, and genetically engineered trees and animals being fast-tracked for approval by the government, with absolutely no pre-market safety-testing required, time is running out.

The burning question for us all then becomes how — and how quickly — can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?

The first step is to change our labeling laws. Nearly 80 percent of non-organic processed foods, including so-called “natural” foods, contain genetically engineered bacteria, viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes, and foreign DNA. Yet none of these foods are labeled. No wonder only 30 percent of Americans realize they’re probably eating GMOs on a regular basis. Health-minded and environmentally conscious consumers actually buy more products marketed or labeled as “natural” ($50 billion a year) than they do organic ($30 billion), either because they don’t understand the difference between organic and “natural”, and/or because so-called “natural” foods are typically cheaper than certified organic. For instance, two-thirds of the foods sold in Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s are not organic, but rather “natural.” Polls indicate that consumers are confused about the qualitative difference between organic and natural products, with a near-majority believing that “natural” means “almost organic.”

It’s time to put an end to this massive fraud, and take back our right to know what’s in our food. Since the federal government and the White House seem to listen more to Monsanto and Big Ag than the 90 percent of Americans who support mandatory labeling of GMOs, OCA and allied activists have decided to bypass Washington politicians and take matters into our own hands.

What is likely the most important food fight in a generation is unfolding in California. The grassroots-powered Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37) to require labels on genetically engineered foods and to ban the routine industry practice of marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural” is approaching a decisive moment. The outcome of this ballot initiative will determine whether GMO foods are labeled, not only in California but across the entire United States and Canada as well. It’s time for all of us who care about an organic and sustainable future to close ranks and support the Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative (Proposition 37). Over 650 organizations, organic companies and retail stores have already endorsed the campaign. But we need thousands more.

We need volunteers to help out — in California and nationwide. Please sign up (see the link at the bottom of this story) if you are willing to approach the managers of the retail stores, CSA, restaurants, or farmers market where you regularly buy your organic food and ask them to join the more than 100 retail stores that have already publicly endorsed Prop 37. Once your neighborhood health food store or co-op has endorsed the campaign, you can get them further involved in distributing campaign information and raising money. CA and our allies in this campaign to pass Prop 37 have raised almost $4 million dollars so far, but Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers, and the Farm Bureau will spend $20-40 million to defeat Prop 37. Thank you to the 15,000 people who have already made donations to OCA or the OCF for this campaign, but we need to raise even more.

Restoring consumers' right to know, banning the industry practice of marketing GMO-tainted foods as “natural,” and starting to drive genetically engineered foods off supermarket shelves will not solve all of the life and death issues that are currently staring us in the face: the climate crisis, endless wars, economic depression, corporate control over government, and the health crisis. But cutting Monsanto and the biotechnocrats down to size and restoring consumer choice are good first steps toward sustainability and a healthy food and farming system. Just as important, in political terms, by defeating the Biotech Bullies and indentured politicians, we can begin to restore the tattered self-confidence of the American body politic. A resounding victory by the organic community in the California Prop 37 campaign will prove to ourselves and the currently demoralized body politic that we can indeed take back control over the institutions and public policies that determine our daily lives. Now is the time to move forward. Support Prop 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Foods Act. This is the food fight of our lives. Please join and support us in this historic struggle.

Ronnie Cummins is a veteran activist, author, and organizer. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica.
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t brandt
9/27/2012 10:37:40 PM

This suggestions makes very good sense, but it's the organic producers themselves who are pushing for the mandatory GMO labeling as a marketing ploy. Demanded labeling is perceived by naive consummers as an implied danger. There has NEVER been any medical evidence that GMO food causes any health problem... On the other side of the coin, govt regulations make it very difficult and expensive to prove you don't use some particular item in your product. Most organic producers don't find it profitable to get "official" certification for their product. Another example of excessive govt regulation hurting small business.

eileen atkinson
9/13/2012 2:46:26 AM

I wrote to many of the companies that signed against the labeling requirement and expressed my desire to have knowledge of what I was eating - sorry, they are all in with Big Chemical [Monsanto]. Anyway, we lost this round, it was defeated from what I read.

richard carlson
9/12/2012 6:11:51 PM

How about starting an alternative movement to petition food makers to label their products if they DO NOT contain GMO products. Monsanto will never give in. And clean food makers will readily agree to this. Good marketing move for the green consumers.

steve w
9/7/2012 11:22:54 PM

Regardless of GMO health findings, why should there be any resistance to labelling? Like ingredients, EVERY aspect of a food product has to be revealed. Let the consumer decide what he wants to ingest. When things are hidden, there is usually a reason.

9/7/2012 11:10:11 PM

There must be a higher power in control of this planet watching over some of these poor WISE people that just knows everything about population control, because if there wasn't I'm sure there would have already been a disaster that would have annihalated all flesh anyway thru their WISDOM.

t brandt
9/7/2012 9:15:23 PM

That's the real purpose of the "Death Tax"-- to take farms away from families and put them in the hands of a few major players easily controlled.

t brandt
9/7/2012 9:11:52 PM

Simply false: they are no more allergenic or toxic than conventional plants. There are simply no medical data suggesting they are bad for us. While they do not increase yield, they give consistency to the yield (ie- "food security") . "Superweeds" are not in fact super, just resistant to the techniology. This is a constant problem in evolution. They have no effect on soil quality.Your other points are not even pertinent ..Your point about world hunger should be considered: increased yield means increased population, which means increased need for increased yield. Over-population, the biggest problem facing the environment is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

todd ellis
9/7/2012 6:26:44 PM

7 New Toxic Genetically Modified Crops Up For Government Approval.........

kim moore
9/7/2012 4:33:57 PM

Here's some reference material Max. quote... " However, a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops: Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety Do not increase yield potential Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds�, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops Have mixed economic effects Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity Do not offer effective solutions to climate change Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on. Based on the evidence presented in this report, there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist. Conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs." source;

robert lacoe
9/7/2012 3:23:26 PM

If the UN Agenda 21 is put in place it will not matter if all. some, or none of our food comes from GMO farms or not because there will be no private property, gardens, small farms, ETC. Study what Agenda 21 has in store for our country. You can read about it at This is the third name change to try to keep the people from learning how their freedoms will be removed. Look at their list of members, then global members to see if your city has signed on to this theft of your freedoms.

max kennedy
8/17/2012 6:28:22 PM

Love to see some actual references for the phrase "mounting scientific evidence that GMOs cause cancer, birth defects, and serious food allergies".Please don't make claims like this then leave us hanging regarding sources!

tim nelin
8/16/2012 1:01:40 PM

As usual, the bottom line is the bottom line. If we can either convince people that paying the premium for organic food or growing it and charging the same price as GMO products is the way to go we will not win a war that, in the end, is going to be about the bottom line and not what is good for us. We are an excessively greedy species and nothing can change that!

t brandt
8/14/2012 10:03:59 PM

if Comrad Cummins' contentions about deletory effects of GMO food could be substantiated by sound scientific data, perhaps his efforts would be supported by more people. Any regulations imposed on the producers to label their products more completely would have no real effect on the big guys like Monsanto, but could do serious harm to the small producers. What would it do to my sales of beef produced from cattle always pastured on naturally grown grass, never given antibiotics or hormones, but occassionally given corn (no doubt GMO) bought from the local farmers? Requiring a label of "GMO" implies there's something wrong with GMO, and that can't be shown.

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