Biotech's Losing Game of Whack-A-Mole

Rick North Facebook

The labeling campaigns' common sense resonates with virtually everyone: We have the right to know what's in our food.

When I was a kid going to amusement parks, they would typically have a “Whack-a-Mole” game. Armed with your mallet, you’d pound the heads of pesky moles popping up all over the place, trying to drive them back under the surface.

Biotech, agribusiness and Big Food, led by Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), are now unwillingly engaged in their own Whack-a-Mole game with legislators, farmers and consumers challenging genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops and food. This time the moles aren’t plastic and the playing field isn’t an arcade, but the entire country.

There are two major types of actions, banning the growing of GMO crops and requiring the labeling of GMO food. Last month, Jackson County sent a nationwide shock wave, passing an initiative banning GMO crops by a whopping 66%-34% margin. This is after being outspent 3-1, with some of the most powerful biotech and food corporations in the country dropping nearly $1 million trying to stop it. In bordering Josephine County, voters approved another GMO crop ban in another landslide, 58%-42%, defying a state law pre-empting such measures that had excluded only Jackson County. If Benton County can get enough signatures, a November initiative there would be next.

The most recent epicenter for GMO crop bans is Hawaii. Last year, Kauai enacted an ordinance that restricted, but didn’t ban, growing of GMO crops. Now residents are proposing a county charter amendment that would ban all GE cultivation unless biotech corporations could demonstrate that their pesticides aren’t harmful to public health. Also last year, Big Island residents passed a law banning GMO crops except papaya. Biotech firms have sued both counties. On Maui, a similar voter initiative could ban GMO crop growing if it passes this fall.

On the labeling front, Vermont’s state legislature led the way by passing a law last month that would require labeling GMO food starting in 2016. The GMA and other trade groups waited all of a month before announcing they would sue to stop the law from taking effect. Earlier, Connecticut and Maine had also passed bills requiring labeling, but they’re contingent upon other states passing similar bills. In all, 25 states are considering legislative action to label. Worldwide, 64 nations already require GMO food labeling.

Enter Oregon - again. After near-misses of labeling initiatives in California and Washington State that both lost 51%-49%, a coalition of consumer advocates, farmers and businesses are mobilizing to place an initiative on the ballot for this November. Signature-gatherers all over the state are going to farmers’ markets, libraries, grocery stores and big events to sign up the 87,000 + voters required. Meanwhile, a similar initiative is gathering steam in Colorado.

In short, we’re witnessing a massive popular uprising against GMO’s and the lack of transparency in our grocery stores. Indeed, a Consumers Union poll just released found that 92% of Americans want GMO food labeled. The labeling campaigns’ common sense resonates with virtually everyone: We have the right to know what’s in our food.

Monsanto and friends’ responses so far have been to spend millions to fight the initiatives through saturation TV and radio ads and millions more on lobbyists in state capitals to block legislation. If that fails, they bring on the lawyers. And behind it all, they go to Washington, DC to get the fed’s to pre-empt any state or local action. In other words, stamp out grass roots democracy.

Up until a few years ago, they usually won. But a critical mass of energized advocates has emerged – organized people have started to defeat organized money. No one knows how all this will play out, but for now, the biotech giants are facing their worst nightmare: Too many moles, not enough mallets.

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