Federal “DARK Act” introduced in Congress: why you need to care

This week, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo (Republican from Kansas) introduced legislation called the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a bill so mislabeled in my life, as what this bill would do is ensure that we never achieve safe and accurate food labeling.

Opponents have dubbed this the DARK (Deny Americans the Right-to-Know) Act, and the hyperbole actually seems to fit here. The bill aims to override state efforts to label GMO foods, as several states have taken up that charge and introduced labeling legislation. Rep. Pompeo’s bill would prohibit any mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods.

He claims that the “patchwork” of state GMO laws creates no standard and creates unnecessary fear on the part of consumers. And I agree with him on the first point – we do need a federal standard. But we need one based on science, which at the current moment means that we don’t know the long-term effects of GMO crops on health and the environment. So we need to be aware of where they are and how much we are consuming. If products aren’t labeled, the long-term effects can’t be assessed. Labels are like the informed consent portion of being part of a national experiment. People have a right to be afraid when we aren’t informed. We need to know.

To me, this bill is evidence that the bioengineering companies know that consumer confidence is flagging and that their lack of transparency is an issue. So instead of changing their business practices or allowing the American people to decide what they want, they will pour their money into Congressional pockets to take the decision out of our hands and into the federal government.

In the absence of any federal transparency legislation, state legislation is important. State legislation is where the voice of the American people gets to be heard more than lobbyist dollars and Big Ag. Yes, on the state level we also contend with lobbying and misinformation, but the vote comes to the people who are affected by it, instead of members of Congress who can be and are often easily swayed by corporate money.

This bill really matters. Enough that I’m contacting my legislators, and I encourage you to do the same. Even if you have no issue with GMO foods being unlabeled, the fact that the government is trying to preempt your right to have that distinct voice be heard in a state-level vote is troubling. And right now it’s biotech corn that’s at the center of this debate. But if this legislation passes, what’s next? Biotech fish? That’s on the horizon. Maybe Farmed & Dangerous wasn’t so far off with its 8-winged chicken.

So I’m sending the letter below to my federal legislators – and even some that are in my region, but not my specific area. It’s a modification of a letter that Just Label It, a national GMO labeling advocacy organization, put together. Feel free to use it and tweak or personalize it to let your legislators know that you want transparency and choice in our food supply.


I am urging you to not co-sponsor the new legislation introduced by Rep. Pompeo (R-Kan) that would deny consumers a right to know about genetically engineered or biotech foods and allow companies to voluntarily label genetically engineered (GE) foods. Until independent, third-party science can truly verify the long-term health and environmental effects of GE foods, the American public deserves transparency. If bioengineering companies are to be allowed to expose the public to GE foods, which can pose risks on many levels, we have the right to informed consent.

Rep. Pompeo’s bill would pre-empt states from taking any legislative efforts towards the labeling of GE foods and allow GE ingredients in products labeled as  “natural.”  It would also prevent the FDA from requiring GE labeling in the future. As one of the 93% of Americans who support GE labeling, I strongly oppose this legislation, and urge you to not sign on as a co-sponsor.

I am asking that instead you support the GE Food-Right-to-Know Act (S.809/H.R. 1699) sponsored by Sen. Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) that would require food manufacturers to clearly label any product that has been genetically engineered or contains GE ingredients. Studies have shown that the majority of Americans regardless of race, religion, class, or political party support GE labeling, a right that people in 64 nations around the world already have. Lack of labeling also complicates our exports, as more and more nations are refusing to import GMO foods. Russia is just the latest.

Please endorse federal labeling of GE foods, and vote against any legislation that would bar the Food and Drug Administration, or the states, from mandating labeling of GE food. Do not support legislation that makes the American people, your constituents, the lab rats of corporate biotech.

Sincerely,

If you don’t know who your representatives are, you can find out here. Same with senators, here. I’m contacting my senators too, in case this bill makes it to them.

We can’t expect legislators to know what we want them to do for us if we don’t tell them. Watching and reading the news and getting outraged isn’t going to do anything if you don’t push where it matters. Then we can hold our elected representatives accountable.

book review: Foodopoly by Wenonah Hauter

I added this book to my list of reads after I realized that the author is the executive director of Food & Water Watch, an advocacy organization I follow quite closely. I was expecting it to contain about the same types of information that I usually find in books about the food movement. Interesting and informative, but not much new.

Well, I was wrong. Foodopoly did have some familiar themes, but the level of research and explanation in this book blew me away. Hauter’s main argument is that while focusing on changing consumer behavior and “voting with your fork” is important and has its benefits, no large scale change will happen without complete reform of the faulty industrial, corporate-controlled agriculture system that we have now. 

What this book does really well is explain how we got to where we are, and what the factors are that contribute to it staying this way (and getting worse). I expected a book with such an extensive and thorough notes section to be dry, and while it did take me longer to read than some other food books, it’s because there was so much information to absorb. 

Reading Foodopoly really hammered home for me how much of a privilege it is to be able to buy food from local farmers, living in an urban area where many farmers are able to make a living by providing food direct to consumer. I was reminded that many small and mid-size farms across the country do not have direct-to-consumer sales as an option, and are forced to grow commodity crops where they are paid less than the cost to produce and to work within monopolistic corporate systems. 

This book covers antitrust laws through this country’s history and the impact that deregulation has had on food and farming in America. Though I knew that many organic producers have been taken over by giant food conglomerates and that only a handful of corporations control all sectors of our food chain, reading Hauter’s logical explanations of what happens behind the scenes makes you realize that this country has allowed business to be the watchdogs of our public health and welfare.  

Foodopoly also covers genetic tinkering – not just genetic engineering of plants and animals, but synthetic biology and the groups that are trying to use government money to actually create life for profit. Here as in other places in the book, compelling evidence and meticulous research support her arguments. 

The only thing I felt this book lacked was a “now what” at the end. I was waiting for a chapter on practical ways to support the kind of large scale political movement she describes, especially after the book fired me up so passionately about moving beyond just supporting our CSAs and avoiding processed foods, etc. I do have a goal to write to my legislators more often this year, and I’ll continue to try to read up on legislative and judicial instances where public comment is needed. If you’re looking for research and facts to back up the feeling that our system needs to be fixed and not just consumer behavior, Foodopoly is a fantastic place to start.


reading this week

I’m still processing all that I learned and saw at the Mother Earth News Fair, but look for recaps on that soon. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been reading this week.

The USDA recently changed the process of exempting prohibited substances in foods labeled as organic, without having any public comment period. Previously, prohibited substances were given five year periods in which they could be exempted, while alternatives could be found. After that period, they’d expire unless a two-thirds majority of the National Organic Standards Board allowed it, AFTER a public comment period. 

Now, all of that has been erased and these substances can be allowed indefinitely, and with no public comment period, outside of the public view. Not only does it weaken the already relatively weak organic standards, but it pulls more of our food processes behind closed door and decreases transparency.  

CDC’s thoroughly convincing report on the threat of antibiotic resistance (Food Politics)
A great infographic on how antibiotic resistance is created, plus links to other stories explaining the issue.

A Washington state farmer’s alfalfa crop has been found to contain a GMO trait, which has stopped him from being able to export it (as European nations have much more strict laws regulating GMOs than the U.S.). How this plays out will be interesting, though I’d venture to guess the government will not go out of its way to protect the farmer.

Factory Food From Above: Satellite Images of Industrial Farms (Wired)
Enhanced images from satellites of the feedlots that house industrial meat production

Food banks are a ‘slow death of the soul’ (The Guardian)
A really interesting take on food pantries from someone who runs one. What he does? It’s my dream job. I was asked once in a job interview what my dream would be, and I said if I had capital, I’d open a food pantry that was a community garden and had cooking and gardening classes. To help people get on their feet and empower them to make good choices.

10 Reasons for Gardeners to Love Chickens (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Self-explanatory. :)

reading this week

CNN tells the story of Monsanto (Inspired Bites on Prevention.com)
2 million people across the world took part in the March Against Monsanto recently, and one of the only media outlets that covered it was CNN. Robyn O’Brien highlights their coverage in this blog entry and also links to this video, which does a great job of simplifying the issues that have been raised about Monsanto and GMOs. Definitely worth the 7 minutes to watch. (Even just to watch Michael Moss and his fierce eyebrows talk at the end.)


Speaking of Monsanto…

GMO Wheat Found in Oregon Field (NPR)
GMO wheat is not authorized for commercial planting, but an Oregon farmer found it on his land. Wheat is a huge export crop for U.S. farmers, which is why GMO wheat is not authorized to be planted. Other countries, particularly in Europe and Asia, won’t buy GMO products. More tests are being done to determine how the wheat got there and the extent of its presence, but it goes to show how easily these GMOs can sneak into our food supply.

Candy Won’t Make You Fat, Says Study Funded by Big Candy (PopSci)
This article showed up a lot on the Internet a week or two ago and was laughable. The National Confectioners Association funded a study that concluded that candy was not associated with any health risks. Wow! What strikes me, though, is that people are quick to laugh when a candy company funds research that promotes candy as part of a healthy diet, but we listen to soft drink manufacturers and other Big Food/Big Ag companies tell us the same things, with research funded by their own interest groups. When you see a new research study released that touts the health benefits of a food, look closely to see who sponsored the research  An independent or government group? Or industry? 

Too Many Repeat Violators in Hog Slaughter, Inspector General Report Says (Food Safety News)
This statistic is shocking, but not surprising: “The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service issued 44,128 noncompliance records (NRs), but only 28 of the nation’s 616 swine plants ever faced suspension.” Even those don’t stay suspended for long, and many are repeat offenders. Read the list of offenses and I doubt you’ll be drooling for conventionally raised pork anytime soon. This is why we NEED to fight Ag-Gag laws – our government “inspections” are meaningless.

4 Questions You Should Never Ask at a Farmers Market (Smith Meadows)
I am proud that I’ve never asked these questions at a farmers market, though this article sheds some light on what it’s really like for farmers to participate in these markets.

Scotts Miracle-Gro  – the bird killing company? (Guardian via @unhealthytruth) 
Scotts Miracle-Gro knowingly sold bird seed with unregulated and illegal pesticides for two years. These pesticides are poisonous to birds, but were added to control insects eating the seed in warehouses. Reason #562894 that I won’t buy anything from Scotts – not even their organic products.



Crossing lines we said we’d never cross

You may have heard some news recently about a so-called “Monstanto Protection Act” that was an Agricultural Appropriations Bill (HR 933) that contained a provision (in section 735) allowing companies to harvest GMO seeds, even if an injunction or other litigation is pending against them.
Watch as John Stewart brilliantly sums it up for us. You stuck what where now?
It should be noted that Senator John Tester (Democrat, Montana) stood up against this provision and called it out for what it was. At the time of this episode of the Daily Show, no one had fessed up to including the provision. Later, Senator Roy Blunt (Republican, Missouri) came forward saying he worked with Monsanto and was responsible for its inclusion. This is no surprise, as he is known to be a friend of Big Ag and has lobbyist ties to other processed food companies that do not support GMO labeling. He gets plenty of money in his war chest from Monsanto. (To read more on Monsanto, check out Food & Water Watch’s Monsanto: A Corporate Profile.)
All of the issues with GMO labeling and Big Ag aside, it makes me so utterly disappointed in our government that anonymous, secret riders can be snuck into any bill, particularly one that would avert a government shutdown, which are almost inevitably going to be signed into law. It represents the highest level of corruption, greed and fraud that politicians can be bought. It wasn’t even just votes that were bought on an issue that was out in the open, but Monsanto effectively purchased a law that benefits their business to the detriment of the environment and our health, behind everyone’s back. Even when Senator Tester stood up, not enough people listened. Our government is for sale to the highest bidder.
When you are making your choices about what kind of fertilizer to buy for your garden this summer, look into who makes those products. Are you buying Monsanto products (RoundUp, Scots, etc.)? If so, you’re helping to subsidize the purchase of our government. You might not think $20 here and there matters, but until Americans start standing up one by one and saying “here is the line and I will not cross it,” we can expect these companies to continue to buy their way into our government.
This probably sounds melodramatic. But I truly believe this is how democracy vanishes. Crossing the lines we said we’d never cross.