Our Right To Know About Gene Editing

*Our right to know if it’s GMO is officially under attack—again.

On June 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new rule that would revise the agency’s current method for regulating genetically modified plants, and would exclude newer so-called “gene-edited” GMOs.

In a statement, the USDA justified the new rule by claiming that it came “in response to advances in genetic engineering.”

A week later, Trump bolstered the USDA’s proposal by signing an executive order directing the USDA, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “streamline” GMO regulations in the U.S. for agricultural biotechnology, including for genetically modified livestock and seeds.

The full import of these two moves, and specifically the threat that they represent to consumer freedom, is only just starting to sink in—and the need for consumer action is urgent.

Read ‘USDA Opens the Door to New Untested, Unlabeled GMOs’

*Excerpt From Organic Consumers

GMO FREE-FOR-ALL

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with help from then-President Obama, effectively stripped consumers of their right to know if their food contains GMO ingredients.

Now, under the Trump administration’s “free-for-all” approach to regulation, the USDA wants to let companies like Monsanto-Bayer, DowDupont and Syngenta (now owned by ChemChina) “regulate” their own genetically engineered products.

From the department of “you can’t make this stuff up,” the USDA calls its new proposed rule for reviewing and approving GMOs “Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient,” or “SECURE” for short.

If this rule is allowed to take effect, biotech companies will for sure be more secure—secure in the fact that they will be allowed to unleash any genetically engineered organism they want into the environment or into the food system—with no oversight, no independent testing and no accountability.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the USDA to do its job: protect consumers, not the biotech industry!

Excerpt from Organic Consumers

Most GE Foods Exempt From Labeling

The many loopholes in the new federal law for labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods make it a very disappointing standard to those of us who have spent 20 years advocating for transparency. Many GE-derived foods are exempt and won’t be labeled under the new regulation, making our job at PCC of providing transparency more difficult.

The final National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just before Christmas. At press time, we still were analyzing the rule, but some things are clear.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says one in six foods that contain highly refined GE products are exempt. Highly refined cooking oils, sugars and high fructose syrup in sodas and candies won’t be labeled if current testing methods are unable to detect their GE content.

The rule also sets a high 5 percent threshold for any “unintended presence” of GE ingredients. The 5 percent allowance is the weakest in the world, more than five times higher than the European Union’s 0.9 percent standard.

In addition, the rule does not require disclosure on actual food labels. It allows manufacturers options to avoid on-package declarations.

One option is to print QR codes on packages that must be scanned by a smartphone to get information. Studies show QR code disclosures discriminate against more than 100 million Americans.

Consumer Reports’ Senior Scientist, Michael Hansen, PhD, says, “No information is required on packages and manufacturers can get away with simply providing a QR code and phone number for consumers to learn more. Even consumers who have a smartphone and take the time to do that won’t necessarily get the full picture since many genetic engineering technologies and ingredients are exempt from disclosure.”

“Not everyone has a smartphone or lives in an area with reliable internet service,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumer Reports. “Even for those who do, it’s inconvenient to have to scan every food you put into your grocery cart.”

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), says “USDA’s own study found QR codes are inherently discriminatory against one-third of Americans who do not own smartphones or those without access to the internet. These are predominantly rural, low income and elderly populations.”

Similar objections apply to USDA’s option for disclosure through text messaging, which will entail messaging fees for some consumers. Both off-package methods are time-consuming and clearly designed to inhibit — not facilitate — access to GE content information.

Whatever the method of disclosure for products that are required to be labeled, the regulation prohibits the best-known terms — genetically engineered and GMO — used by consumers, companies and regulators for more 30 years. Instead, USDA permits only a new unfamiliar term, “bioengineered,” which may confuse shoppers. The law does appear to permit voluntary, non-GMO “absence” claims from the Non-GMO Project.

“Right now, certified organic and certified Non-GMO Project labels remain the only dependable way to avoid GMOs,” states Rebecca Spector, West Coast director for the Center for Food Safety.

Unfortunately, instead of settling the demand for transparent labeling, stakeholders say the weak rule and its loopholes almost certainly will lead to lawsuits, more state legislation, and efforts to amend the federal law. CFS already has said it “will explore all legal avenues to ensure meaningful labeling and protect the public’s right to know.”

Congressional leaders say they’re ready to fight for improvements. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) released a statement saying, “USDA’s plan for labeling GE food is an insult to consumers … What USDA has produced is a marketing campaign aimed at putting a positive spin on GMO food. These labels should give people the facts of whether ingredients in their food have been genetically altered, plain and simple. It seems like USDA is trying to paper over those facts here. In the coming Congress, I will be working on the House Appropriations Committee to push against this deceptive campaign.”

The regulations are effective beginning January 2020. Labeling by food manufacturers is not required until January 2022.

PCC will be working in 2019 to determine what GE products in our stores we can identify legally, if not covered in the scope of this rule. Look for more detailed information in future Sound Consumer issues.

 

Article printed in PCC Newsletter  Feb 2019 by Trudy Bialic, PCC’s director of public affairs and quality standards.

US:Twenty-eight states make it illegal for counties and cities to pass seed laws

EXCERPT: “There is no looming threat that warrants forfeiting the independence of local agricultural communities in the form of sweeping language that eliminates all local authority governing one of our most valuable national resources,” says [Kristina] Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance.

Twenty-eight states make it illegal for counties and cities to pass seed laws

By Kristina Johnson
The Fern, August 17, 2017
https://thefern.org/ag_insider/twenty-eight-states-make-illegal-counties-cities-pass-seed-laws/

With little notice, more than two dozen state legislatures have passed “seed-preemption laws” designed to block counties and cities from adopting their own rules on the use of seeds, including bans on GMOs. Opponents say that there’s nothing more fundamental than a seed, and that now, in many parts of the country, decisions about what can be grown have been taken out of local control and put solely in the hands of the state.

“This bill should be viewed for what it is — a gag order on public debate,” says Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy and communications at the Organic Seed Alliance, a national advocacy group, and a resident of Montana, which along with Texas passed a seed-preemption bill this year. “This thinly disguised attack on local democracy can be easily traced to out-of-state, corporate interests that want to quash local autonomy.”

Seed-preemption laws are part of a spate of legislative initiatives by industrial agriculture, including ag-gag laws passed in several states that legally prohibit outsiders from photographing farms, and “right-to-farm” laws that make it easier to snuff out complaints about animal welfare. The seed laws, critics say, are a related thrust meant to protect the interests of agro-chemical companies.

Nearly every seed-preemption law in the country borrows language from a 2013 model bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The council is “a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists,” essentially “voting as equals” with state legislators on bills, according to The Center for Media and Democracy. ALEC’s corporate members include the Koch brothers as well as some of the largest seed-chemical companies — Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont — which want to make sure GMO bans, like those enacted in Jackson County, Oregon, and Boulder County, Colorado, don’t become a trend.

Seed-preemption laws have been adopted in 28 states, including Oregon — one of the world’s top five seed-producing regions — California, Iowa, and Colorado. In Oregon, the bill was greenlighted in 2014 after Monsanto and Syngenta spent nearly $500,000 fighting a GMO ban in Jackson County. Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta also spent more than $6.9 million opposing anti-GMO rules in three Hawaiian counties, and thousands more in campaign donations. (These companies are also involved in mergers that, if approved, would create three seed-agrochemical giants.)

Montana and Texas were the latest states to join the seed-preemption club. Farming is the largest industry in Montana, and Texas is the third-largest agricultural state in terms of production, behind California and Iowa.

Language in the Texas version of the bill preempts not only local laws that affect seeds but also local laws that deal with “cultivating plants grown from seed.” In theory, that could extend to almost anything: what kinds of manure or fertilizer can be used, or whether a county can limit irrigation during a drought, says Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. Along with other activists, her organization was able to force an amendment to the Texas bill guaranteeing the right to impose local water restrictions. Still, the law’s wording remains uncomfortably open to interpretation, she says.

In both Montana and Texas, the laws passed with support from the state chapter of the Farm Bureau Federation — the nation’s largest farm-lobbying group — and other major ag groups, including the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Texas Seed Trade Alliance. In Texas, DuPont and Dow Chemical also joined the fight, publicly registering their support for the bill.

Echoing President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric, preemption proponents argue that, fundamentally, seed-preemption laws are about cutting the red tape from around farmers’ throats. Supporters also contend that counties and cities don’t have the expertise or the resources to make sound scientific decisions about the safety or quality of seeds.

“We don’t believe the locals have the science that the state of Texas has,” said Jim Reaves, legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau. “So we think it’s better held in the state’s hands. It will basically tell cities that if you have a problem with a certain seed, the state can ban it, but you can’t.”

Other preemption proponents claim that local seed rules would simply get too complicated, forcing growers to navigate conflicting laws in different counties. “Many of us farm fields in more than one county,” said Don Steinbeisser Jr., a Sidney, Montana, farmer who testified in support of his state’s bill at a legislative hearing this spring. “Having different rules in each county would make management a nightmare and add costs to the crops that we simply do not need and cannot afford.”

But critics of preemption laws, including farmers (organic and conventional) and some independent seed companies, are afraid of losing their legislative rights. They claim something far more serious than a single farmer’s crop is at stake.

“There is no looming threat that warrants forfeiting the independence of local agricultural communities in the form of sweeping language that eliminates all local authority governing one of our most valuable national resources,” says Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance.

Organic farmers can lose their crop if it becomes contaminated with genetically modified material. Even conventional farmers who rely on exports to Asia, where GMOs are banned by some countries, face risks from contamination. There are currently no plans to push for a GMO ban anywhere in Texas or Montana, and neither state requires companies to disclose the use of GMOs. (In Montana, at least, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, added an amendment to the preemption bill when he signed it, preserving the right of local governments to require that farmers notify their neighbors if they’re planting GMO seeds.) Yet critics of the preemption laws fear that they tie the hands of local governments, which will make it harder for communities to respond to problems in the future.

Still, the fight isn’t just about GMOs, says Judith McGeary, noting that seeds coated with neonicotinoids — a class of pesticides linked to colony collapse disorder in bees — are also at issue. Under the Texas bill, a local government can’t ban neonic seeds in order to protect pollinator insects, and in the current political climate, it’s hard to imagine that such a ban would happen on the state level.

“We have an extremely large state with an incredible diversity of agricultural practices and ecological conditions, and you’ve now hobbled any ability to address a problem that’s found in one local area,” says McGeary. “Until it’s a big enough issue for a state of 23 million to pay attention to through the state legislature, nothing is going to happen,” she says.

Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media—and Discourages Criticism

Sign Petition To President Obama: Veto DARK ACT

On July 14, the House of Representatives voted 306-117 to kill Vermont’s popular mandatory GMO food labeling law, which had already begun to force major junk food and beverage giants (Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Campbell’s, Dannon, Smuckers, Starbucks) to label their GMO-tainted products nationwide. 

As soon as President Obama signs the DARK Act, (or lets it take effect by not vetoing it) states will no longer have the right to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods. That means that the 90 percent of consumers who want to know what they’re eating can now look forward, on a permanent basis, to what amounts to no labeling.                   What we will get, if anything, in a few years will be bogus Grocery Manufacturers Association trade-marked QR smart codes, or 1-800 numbers on processed food packages that will serve to keep consumers in the dark about Frankenfoods and their omnipresent toxins, while pretending to provide so-called “disclosure.”

But today, while the bill is still just a bill (and not a law), we need your signature.

If you haven’t already, please sign this White House petition today, asking Obama to veto the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.

Call the White House 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 to leave your comment!  The comment line is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Letter To Representative Rick Larsen – GMO Labeling Now

The House of Representatives will be voting (again) on GMO Labeling.  This letter, (see below) from an island resident, was sent to Congressman Rick Larsen, who represents us here in the San Juans.  His stance on GMOs, essentially, is that they are considered reasonably safe, with no proven harming effects; labeling is not necessary.  He needs to hear from us either with a phone call or an email/letter.  Use this letter or send your own.  Let him know that he needs to educate himself on the harm that GMO food is causing our environment, our food security, and our well being.  Tell him we want to know what is in the food we are buying – whether it contains GMO or not.                                His contact info:  larsen.house.gov

Congressman Larsen,

Here in the San Juan Islands many of your constituents have had the opportunity to educate ourselves about the impact of GMO’s on farming, the environment, and our health. Your recent response to me about this issue was pure Monsanto and Big Food rhetoric. As a life long democrat I am dismayed at your position.

Today I am contacting you about GMO’s again because last night the Senate passed the Roberts-Stabenow bill. The bill is intended to hide information (behind electronic codes) from consumers, not provide it—in plain English, on a label. The bill is intended to exempt the vast majority of GMOs from even having to be hidden behind codes, much less labeled in plain sight. The bill is voluntary—it contains no enforcement mechanism, no penalties for non-compliance. The 63 Senators supporting the Roberts-Stabenow DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act misrepresent this industry-written bill as a “uniform federal mandatory labeling solution.” The bill is a fraud!

The bill passed last night is an attack on democracy, an attack on states’ rights. It not only overturns Vermont’s carefully considered and fairly debated mandatory GMO labeling law, but as Sen. Bernie Sanders noted in his speech on the Senate floor, this bill overturns nearly 100 other state laws. This bill is not about what is best for our food security, environment, or our health. This bill is about millions of dollars spent by Monsanto and Big Food to buy our democracy!

The Roberts-Stabenow bill will now go back to the U.S. House where you represent me. I urge you to educate yourself on the full range of real impacts of GMO’s by looking further than the information supplied by lobbyists. I hope you will see the other side of this issue, the side nine out of 10 Americans and citizens in 64 countries are on.

Sincerely,