April 7, 2016

by Terri Reardon (with contributions from Joan Levin)
(updated from a piece originally published in Chicago Market Food Coop blog)

I am a plant propagator by profession. Plants and seeds are my passion and matter a lot to me. That’s why one day while perusing the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog I was catapulted into action upon reading the story of Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser. His canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola growing nearby. Monsanto sued Schmeiser, demanding he pay a technology fee of $15 per acre because he was benefiting from their technology. Percy countersued
and took the case all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. “He became an international symbol and spokesperson for independent farmers’ rights and the regulation of transgenic crops during his protracted legal battle with multinational agrochemical company Monsanto,” according to Baker Creek.

I started to think a lot about my food and where it came from. In April 2014 I became active with Illinois Right to Know GMO on this lightning-rod issue. I researched. I engaged in the conversation. I became increasingly alarmed about what I learned as I dove deeper down this rabbit hole. The slick veneer pasted over Monsanto’s phony “Feed the World” campaign peeled away in sticky, ever-disturbing strips.

Genetically Engineered foods, often called GMOs for Genetically Modified
Organisms or GE, are crops produced from seeds that have had their genetic structures modified by adding genes from non-related species. This is done in a laboratory and is NOT the same as traditional cross-breeding. The result is a cross which could never occur in nature. The primary purpose of most genetically altered seeds is to produce crops that can withstand the application of copious amounts of chemical pesticides that would otherwise kill them. Still other GMOs are designed to produce their own toxic insecticide within the plant itself. Therefore, these crops are simultaneously food and pesticides. These foods remain unlabeled despite the fact that more than 90% of U.S. citizens support labeling.

On July 23, 2015, HR1599, the absurdly named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” (which it is nothing of the sort), passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.  We call this bill the “DARK Act” as it unequivocally Denies Americans the Right to Know.  It received its first hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Oct. 21, 2015.  Subsequently, late last year lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers Association representing large multinational agrichemical companies among others, desperately tried to convince members of Congress to sneak this legislation into the must-pass omnibus spending bill, but due to a monumental effort by grassroots organizations rallying consumers to speak out, the attempt was unsuccessful.

Not surprisingly, 2016 began with a full-on attack aimed at preventing Vermont’s mandatory, on-package labeling law, from going into effect as it is set to do on July 1st.  On March 1st Kansas Senator Pat Roberts introduced a new draft of this egregious bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee. Among other things, the bill called for a voluntary
standard (which companies have always had the ability to do, but have never done) that would preempt any state from ever enacting a mandatory labeling law. The bill flew out of committee and on to the complete Senate with almost no deliberation.

On March 16th, it was introduced in the full Senate, just as they were about to go on recess. We won a momentary victory when consumers flooded the Capital phone lines insisting their Senators vote against this new version of the DARK Act. Since then some large U.S. food producers have announced their intention to label genetically engineered foods. But it’s not over yet. Industry may still make another anti-labeling attempt in Congress before Vermont’s law takes effect.

As of this writing, the Senate is about to reconvene. New attempts may be made to prevent mandatory, on-package labeling of Genetically Engineered foods.

If you care about transparency in the food system, this is your issue. If you care about State’s Rights, this is your issue. If you care about the growing global warming crisis to which GMO mono-crop farming practices contribute, this is your issue. If you care about depleted soils which require ever greater chemical input due to the destruction of arable land, this is your issue as well. If you care about the Food and Drug Administration protecting public health and safety as Congress created it to do, unfettered by industry subterfuge, this is also your issue.

I urge everyone to contact their Senators and tell them to vote NO on the DARK Act. Tell them you insist on clear, mandatory, on-package labeling. Tell them that QR codes, 800 numbers or other “indirect” forms of labeling are not acceptable. Call your U.S. Senators at 202-224-3121. Tell them you want to know if it’s GMO. Visit Illinois Right to Know GMO to learn more: http://illinoisrighttoknowgmo.org. Contact us at IRTKGMO@gmail.com if you would like to receive our occasional Action Alerts.

Thank you for supporting Montalbano Farms and making wise food choices.