As opponents and advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to battle it out, the debate over the agreement has largely focused on the issue of trade – whether jobs will be lost or gained, what the agreement will do to our trade deficit, and other related matters. It’s worth pointing out that the United States already trades heavily with the other 11 nations included in the TPP talks. As Paul Krugman says, “this is not a trade agreement. It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been particularly critical of the so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions, which would empower corporations to use international courts to sue the U.S. government and others who are enacting regulations and protections that harm their profits.
The decision of the Chipotle restaurant chain to make its product lines GMO-free is not most people’s idea of a world-historic event. Especially since Chipotle, by US standards, is not a huge operation. A clear sign that the move is significant, however, is that Chipotle’s decision was met with a tidal-wave of establishment media abuse. Chipotle has been called irresponsible, anti-science, irrational, and much more by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and many others. A business deciding to give consumers what they want was surely never so contentious. The media lynching of Chipotle has an explanation that is important to the future of GMOs. The cause of it is that there has long been an incipient crack in the solid public front that the food industry has presented on the GMO issue.
Genetically engineered crops, or GMOs, have led to an explosion in growers’ use of herbicides, with the result that children at hundreds of elementary schools across the country go to class close by fields that are regularly doused with escalating amounts of toxic weed killers. GMO corn and soybeans have been genetically engineered to withstand being blasted with glyphosate – an herbicide that the World Health Organization recently classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The proximity of many schools to fields blanketed in the chemical puts kids at risk of exposure. But it gets worse. Overreliance on glyphosate has spawned the emergence of “superweeds” that resist the herbicide, so now producers of GMO crops are turning to even more harmful chemicals.
Thousands of farmers have taken to the streets in a Kisan Maha Panchayat (farmer meeting) in Delhi, India, in protest at the Modi government’s anti-farmer policies, which include uncritically promoting open field trials of GM crops. There is some speculation in India that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, led by Narendra Modi (now prime minister), may have come to power with the help of generous funding of their election campaign by the GMO lobby. It is said that this may explain their conversion to the pro-GMO cause. Though there appears to be little transparency in political funding in India, we hope the Modi government will move to allay fears of corruption by publishing full details of its election campaign funding.
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) issued this statement today in response to yesterday’s ruling by a federal judge in Vermont clearing the way for the state’s GMO labeling law to take effect in July 2016: “This landmark ruling not only paves the way for Vermont’s GMO labeling law to take effect on schedule, July 1, 2016, but more importantly it signals that the courts agree that states have a constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws,” said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association. “This ruling also bodes well for GMO labeling bills that are moving through other state legislatures, including Maine, where a public hearing on Maine’s LD 991 is scheduled for April 30,” Cummins said.
When Justin Dammann enters his southwestern Iowa cornfield this month, the 35-year-old farmer will sow something these 2,400 acres have not seen in more than a decade — plants grown without genetically modified seeds. The corn, which will head to a processor 20 miles down the road this fall, will likely make its way into tortilla shells, corn chips and other consumable products made by companies taking advantage of growing consumer demand for food without biotech ingredients. For Dammann and other Midwest farmers, the burgeoning interest in non-GMO foods has increased how much they get paid to grow crops in fields once populated exclusively with genetically modified corns and soybeans. The revenue hike is a welcome benefit at a time when lower commodity prices are pushing farm income down to what’s expected to be the lowest level in six years.
It’s been a tough few weeks for Monsanto. Late last week, companies “such as Monsanto” were implicated in a watchdog group’s petition to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on behalf of anonymous scientists within the agency who say their research is suppressed when it upsets powerful agrichemical interests. The allegations enraged the industry’s critics, who have been busy touting recent reports linking popular herbicides often used in tandem with genetically engineered crops, or GMOs, to cancer and antibiotic resistance. Both controversies are renewing calls for tougher restrictions on certain herbicides and mandatory packaging labels for groceries containing GMO ingredients. “If true, this is a major scandal at the USDA,” wrote Gary Ruskin, director of the pro- labeling group US Right to Know, in a March 30 letter to the US House and Senate agricultural committees demanding an investigation. “It is not the proper role of the USDA to engage in a cover up for Monsanto and other agrichemical companies.”
A battle is currently being waged over Africa’s seed systems. After decades of neglect and weak investment in African agriculture, there is renewed interest in funding African agriculture. These new investments take the form of philanthropic and international development aid as well as private investment funds. They are based on the potentially huge profitability of African agriculture – and seed systems are a key target. Right now ministers are co-ordinating their next steps at the 34th COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) Intergovernmental Committee meeting that kicked off yesterday, 22nd March, in preparation for the main Summit that will follow on 30th and 31st March 2015.
A controversial lobbyist who claimed that the chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer was safe for humans refused to drink his own words when a French television journalist offered him a glass. “You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you,” Moore insists. “You want to drink some?” the interviewer asks. “We have some here.” “I’d be happy to, actually,” Moore replies, adding, “Not really. But I know it wouldn’t hurt me.” “If you say so, I have some,” the interviewer presses. “I’m not stupid,” Moore declares. “So, it’s dangerous?” the interviewer concludes. But Moore claims that Roundup is so safe that “people try to commit suicide” by drinking it, and they “fail regularly.” “Tell the truth, it’s dangerous,” the interviewer says. “It’s not dangerous to humans,” Moore remarks. “No, it’s not.” “So, are you ready to drink one glass?” the interviewer continues to press. “No, I’m not an idiot,” Moore says defiantly.
Toxic herbicide GLYPHOSATE, an active ingredient in Roundup, has been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers and in urine collected from people living far from the sites where Roundup is applied to crops. This means that it is IN OUR FOOD supply, on food crops, in processed foods of all kinds, including pediatric and feeding supplements for the most vulnerable children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Monsanto tells us that Glyphosate does not accumulate in our bodies, but the research being conducted does not back up their statements. Only organically grown, Non GMO (genetically modified) food and food products are free from glyphosate and other toxic herbicides. How dangerous is GLYPHOSATE?
The perils of ingesting food that has any contact with a Monsanto-produced product are in the news on nearly a weekly basis. As Dr. Jeff Ritterman has documented, Monstanto’s herbicide, Roundup, has beenlinked to a fatal kidney disease epidemic, and has also been repeatedly linked to cancer. Recently, a senior research scientist at MIT predicted that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, will cause half of all children to have autism by 2025. Farmers in El Salvador are acutely aware of the importance of producing their own seeds, and avoiding those from the bioengineering giant.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not essential for feeding the world, but if by some massive stretch of the imagination they were to lead to increased productivity, did not harm the environment and did not negatively impact biodiversity and human health, would we be wise to embrace them anyhow? The fact is that GMO technology would still be owned and controlled by certain very powerful interests. In their hands, this technology is first and foremost an instrument of corporate power, a tool to ensure profit. Beyond that, it is intended to serve US global geopolitical interests. Indeed, agriculture has for a long time been central to US foreign policy.
In the face of overwhelming competition skewed by the rules of free trade, farmers in El Salvador have managed to beat the agricultural giants like Monsanto and Dupont to supply local corn seed to thousands of family farmers. Local seed has consistently outperformed the transnational product, and farmers helped develop El Salvador’s own domestic seed supply–all while outsmarting the heavy hand of free trade. This week, the Ministry of Agriculture released a new round of contracts to provide seed to subsistence farmers nationwide through its Family Agriculture Program. Last year, over 560,000 family farmers across El Salvador planted corn and bean seed as part of the government’s efforts to revitalize small scale agriculture, and ensure food security in the rural marketplace.
If you’re headed to Austin, Texas, next week to attend the “Southbites: Feed Your Mind”session during Austin’s South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, don’t expect to hear an honest debate on the health and safety of genetically engineered crops or food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—at least not if the biotech industry can help it. According to Cathleen Enright, executive vice president food & agriculture, for the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO), there is nothing to debate. GMO agriculture is “sustainable” and GMO foods are “safe.” Anyone who says otherwise is making “scary” statements that have no basis in fact—because every shred of scientific evidence suggesting health or safety concerns related to GMOs “has been discredited,” Enright told me during a March 3 (2015) phone conversation.
The U.S. government and multinational corporations have capitalized on African nations’ voids in regulatory frameworks to push genetically modified (GM) crops, standing to gain lucrative corporate profits while decimating food sovereignty, a new report states. Released Monday from the African Centre for Biosafety and commissioned by environmental network Friends of the Earth International, Who benefits from GM crops? The expansion of agribusiness interests in Africa through biosafety policy (pdf) looks at how U.S. interests have used the mantra of addressing food security to push these crops despite local opposition. “The U.S., the world’s top producer of GM crops, is seeking new markets for American GM crops in Africa,” stated report author Haidee Swanby. “The U.S. administration’s strategy consists of assisting African nations to produce biosafety laws that promote agribusiness interests instead of protecting Africans from the potential threats of GM crops.”