Prop 37- Pesticide Industry Greed vs California
Gary Ruskin, Yes on 37 campaign manager says, “The companies that told us Agent Orange and DDT are safe are lying again and trying to buy this election by putting the full weight of their propaganda wizardry behind a campaign to confuse and deceive voters.”This week author Michael Pollan brought Prop 37 to the New York Times Magazine with a feature, Vote for the Dinner Party. "One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6," he wrote, "is whether or not there is a 'food movement' in America worthy of the name-- that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system. People like me throw the term around loosely, partly because we sense the gathering of such a force, and partly (to be honest) to help wish it into being by sheer dint of repetition. Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement-- something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda... What is at stake this time around is not just the fate of genetically modified crops but the public’s confidence in the industrial food chain." And that led right into a fulsome endorsement of Prop 37.
“Ten days of incessant pounding lies have taken their effect, but in the end Californians will not be fooled by these tactics. We're confident that California voters will want to know what's in their food and will vote yes on Proposition 37.”
For examples of the deceptive tactics used by the opposition in just the past week, the "No on 37" anti-consumer, pro Big-Pesticide, campaign was accused by Stanford University, the Academy of Nutrition and three major newspapers, of misleading voters.
The industry is happy to boast about genetically engineered crops in the elite precincts of the op-ed and business pages-- as a technology needed to feed the world, combat climate change, solve Africa’s problems, etc.-- but still would rather not mention it to the consumers who actually eat the stuff. Presumably that silence owes to the fact that, to date, genetically modified foods don’t offer the eater any benefits whatsoever-- only a potential, as yet undetermined risk. So how irrational would it be, really, to avoid them?Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a scientist for the Pesticide Action Network was writing this week about what she calls the pesticide industry’s dirty little secret: GE seeds are no green solution to the world’s food needs, but are rather the growth engine of the world’s biggest pesticide companies. In point of fact, the latest wave of GE crops is expected to drive a 25-fold increase in the use of one particularly nasty pesticide (2,4-D) in corn over the next seven years."
Surely this explains why Monsanto and its allies have fought the labeling of genetically modified food so vigorously since 1992, when the industry managed to persuade the Food and Drug Administration-- over the objection of its own scientists-- that the new crops were “substantially equivalent” to the old and so did not need to be labeled, much less regulated. This represented a breathtaking exercise of both political power (the F.D.A. policy was co-written by a lawyer whose former firm worked for Monsanto) and product positioning: these new crops were revolutionary enough (a “new agricultural paradigm,” Monsanto said) to deserve patent protection and government support, yet at the same time the food made from them was no different than it ever was, so did not need to be labeled. It’s worth noting that ours was one of only a very few governments ever sold on this convenient reasoning: more than 60 other countries have seen fit to label genetically modified food, including those in the European Union, Japan, Russia and China.
To prevent the United States from following suit, Monsanto and DuPont, the two leading merchants of genetically modified seed, have invested more than $12 million to defeat Prop 37. They’ve been joined in this effort by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose president declared at a meeting last July that defeating Prop 37 would be the group’s top priority for 2012. Answering the call, many of America’s biggest food and beverage makers-- including PepsiCo, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and General Mills-- have together ponied up tens of millions of dollars to, in effect, fight transparency about their products.
Americans have been eating genetically engineered food for 18 years, and as supporters of the technology are quick to point out, we don’t seem to be dropping like flies. But they miss the point. The fight over labeling G.M. food is not foremost about food safety or environmental harm, legitimate though these questions are. The fight is about the power of Big Food. Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process; lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends.
These are precisely the issues that have given rise to the so-called food movement. Yet that movement has so far had more success in building an alternative food chain than it has in winning substantive changes from Big Food or Washington. In the last couple of decades, a new economy of farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture (also known as farm shares) and sustainable farming has changed the way millions of Americans eat and think about food. From this perspective, the food movement is an economic and a social movement, and as such has made important gains. People by the millions have begun, as the slogan goes, to vote with their forks in favor of more sustainably and humanely produced food, and against agribusiness. But does that kind of vote constitute a genuine politics? Yes and no.
...One person in Washington who would surely take note of the California vote is President Obama. During the 2008 campaign, he voiced support for many of the goals of the food movement, including the labeling of G.M. food. (“We’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified,” he declared in an Iowa speech in 2007, “because Americans should know what they’re buying.”) As president he has failed to keep that promise, but he has taken some positive steps: his U.S.D.A. has done much to nurture the local-food economy, for example. Perhaps most important, Michelle Obama began a national conversation about food and health-- soft politics, yes, but these often help prepare the soil for the other kind. Yet on the hard issues, the ones that challenge agribusiness-as-usual, President Obama has so far declined to spend his political capital and on more than one occasion has taken Monsanto’s side. He has treated the food movement as a sentiment rather than a power, and who can blame him?
Until now. Over the last four years I’ve had occasion to speak to several people who have personally lobbied the president on various food issues, including G.M. labeling, and from what I can gather, Obama’s attitude toward the food movement has always been: What movement? I don’t see it. Show me. On Nov. 6, the voters of California will have the opportunity to do just that.