Republicans Vote To Prevent Consumers From Finding Out What's In The Food They Eat
Wednesday, when I got home after a month in the hospital, I found a big stack of mail, including a copy of Neil Young's new CD, The Monsanto Years. And I got home in time to watch two of the most treacherous right-wing "Democrats," Blue Dogs Jim Costa (CA) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), cross the aisle and vote with the Republicans on a procedural resolution to advance what food activists are calling the Monsanto Protection Act.
This is a relatively simple issue. Food activists want to see potentially dangerous GMO food labeled so that consumers can make up their own minds about whether or not to feed it to their families. Monsanto and the GMO-Republicans, led by the Koch brothers' Mike Pompeo (R-KS), want to make sure that there is no labeling and that the states that have already passed labeling laws to protect their citizens-- Connecticut, Maine and Vermont-- are overruled. I guess the concepts of states' rights and small government are trumped in GOP minds when their Big Business allies squawk loud enough! The bill passed yesterday 275-150. 45 disgraceful Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with all but a dozen Republicans in favor.
Among the Democrats who sold out their own constituents were the regular Blue Dogs and New Dems who tend to back the GOP in most things, plus easily corrupted crooks like Donald Norcross (NJ). After the vote, Alex Law, the progressive Democrat challenging Norcross' reelection, told us:
The dark bill that passed in Congress today with the support of my opponent Donald Norcross is a direct assault on the consumer's right to know about their food. It is transparently a bill bought and paid for by companies like Monsanto. It is an assault on democracy and an assault on states' rights and I would have voted against it.One Los Angeles congressman, Steve Knight (R-Santa Clarita), voted for the bill. The progressive Democrat running against him, Lou Vince, was stunned. After the vote he told us:
This bill is incredibly important. Every person deserves to know what is in their food, and especially if their food contains potentially dangerous GMOs. The American people are not hurt by GMO labeling so there is no reason to oppose it, unless you are receiving money from large agribusiness firms like Monsanto. Every vote cast against GMO labeling is a vote against consumers, the right to know what you are consuming, and against the interests of average Americans. We need to stop Congress from serving as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the giant chemical corporations. As a congressman, that's exactly what I would do.Do Republicans want to give you cancer? Probably not. Do they care about protecting you from it? Uh... no; they don't care. Or maybe they're just too stupid to understand. Earlier this year the World Health Organization declared glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in Monsanto's weed-killer Roundup, a probable carcinogen.Yesterday House Republicans voted to exempt Monsanto's GMOs from labeling.
Pompeo's ironically named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” (H.R. 1599) has four toxic components:
• It forbids states from labeling GMO foods or enforcing existing labeling laws already passed in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont.For two decades-- under corrupt Republicans and corrupt Blue Dogs (the House Agriculture Committee for years and years was like a Blue Dog caucus meeting)-- Monsanto and other giant chemical companies have basically been writing the rules and regulations behind closed doors, allowing their toxic chemicals and untested genetically engineered crops to receive rubber-stamp approvals at the FDA, EPA and USDA. "Americans," wrote John Conyers in an OpEd before the vote yesterday, "want to know what's in their food."
• It prohibits any state or local county or city oversight of GMO crops.
• It further weakens already nearly impotent federal regulations on GMO crops at USDA and FDA.
• And, outrageously, it allows GMOs to be labeled as "natural."
The Orwellianly-titled "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," HR 1599, would bar the Food and Drug Administration from introducing mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods and ban states from doing the same -- even if voters demand such labeling through a ballot measure. The bill would also block many state and local efforts to protect farmers and the public from concerns including seed and pesticide drift and would forbid states from making it illegal for companies to label GMO products as "natural," as Connecticut has done.
The bill is a serious attack on transparency and presents a dubious one-size-fits-all approach to federal policy making. Most importantly, it presents a potentially serious threat to our long-term health.
In a landmark report this year, the World Health Organization revealed a weed-killer called glyphosate to be a probable cause of cancer. The chemical, also known as Roundup, is considered safer than some other herbicides, but it's being used increasingly often in growing quantities as farmers around the world attempt to drown out new weeds that have become resistant to the chemical's effects. This overzealous use of herbicides is made possible by a recent innovation: corn, soy, and other crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand heavy use of the chemicals. The issue, therefore, isn't just GMOs on their own-- it's the increasing use of herbicides that GMOs enable.
This is why voters in Vermont passed a ballot initiative to require GMO labeling. It's why 64 countries around the world require GMO labels. It's why, according to recent polling, more than 90% of Americans support mandatory labeling for these crops.
The proposal before Congress this week isn't simply about denying Americans the right to know what's in their food. As the text of the bill stands right now, HR 1599 could potentially block state and local efforts to regulate GMO crops and related chemicals to protect farm workers and rural residents from economic and environmental damages. This is particularly troubling when you consider that there are hundreds of elementary schools within 200 feet of a corn or soybean field, according to the Environmental Working Group.
This should not be a partisan issue-- both parties purport to stand for transparency, and both parties should oppose a federal power-grab to prevent states and localities from making their own decisions regarding the protection of lives and property.
So why has the bill been introduced?
Proponents of HR 1599 claim it's essential to stop food labeling in order to prevent a spike in food prices. Yet companies change food labels frequently to highlight innovations, and countries with mandatory labeling have not encountered food price spikes attributable to anti-GMO backlash.
While proponents claim that their proposal will still allow voluntary GMO labeling, the bill, as it stands now, outlaws any non-GMO claim unless approved through a new certification process to be created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Given that it took the department more than a decade to establish similar certifications for organic foods, this would effectively stop farmers and food companies from advertising the purity of their own food. Meanwhile, many of the corporate lobbyists who champion this proposal are the folks who are fighting to reject the claims of leading scientists that the liberal use of glyphosate and other chemicals could harm human health.
Upton Sinclair, the author who appears to have awakened Teddy Roosevelt's interest in food safety, said it best: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
The fact that Congress is even considering a proposal to deny Americans basic information about their food speaks to overwhelming power of these corporate lobbyists over the public interest.