U.S. Consumers Rein in Big Ag and Send A Strong Message about People Power

GMO Corn Maize Cob on wooden background

U.S. consumers celebrated a couple of victories over multinational food industry economic hit men (EHMs) last month:

  1. Under pressure from various consumer groups, the U.S. Senate rejected HR Bill 1599 that would have made labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) voluntary. Referred to as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act by opponents, the bill would have favored corporations over consumers;
  2. A small group of activists and bloggers in a state with less the 0.2% of the U.S. population (Vermont) forced some of the biggest food producers in the country—Kellogg, General Mills, Campbell Soup, Mars, and ConAgra—to commit to labeling GMOs not just in their state, but nationally.

Currently, states can enact their own GMO labeling requirements. Vermont now has a mandatory labeling law that will take effect this July. Connecticut and Maine have similar laws. The DARK Act would have negated these state laws. Grassroots groups like the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, and the Organic Consumers Association stepped up to counter the food companies behind the House bill, including Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow.

The agri-business EHMs and the big money behind them were defeated by a handful of consumers. Yes, there’s more to be done, but these are big steps forward.

The Grocery Manufacturers’ Association and Monsanto’s EHMs poured millions of dollars into making HR Bill 1599 happen. Monsanto has a shady past of using many of the EHM techniques I describe in my books to influence politics, including allegedly benefiting from the Ukraine crisis that started in 2013. Ukraine has the largest fertile agricultural land area in Europe, excluding Russia. The IMF and World Bank gave the deeply indebted Ukraine a $17 billion loan with the conditions that the country allow GMO crops and lift a ban on private sector land ownership. Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych rejected a European Union agreement associated with the loan in favor of a loan from Russia, and he was ousted in a 2014 coup that had all the markings of CIA involvement.  Last year, following the coup, Monsanto completed a $140 million seed facility in Ukraine to cash in on the low land prices and desperate farmers’ need for cash crops.

Are all GMOs Dangerous?

GMOs have existed since the 1860s when Austrian monk Gregor Mendel first systematically crossed varieties of garden peas. They have been deemed safe by the FDA and food industry and are in virtually everything we eat. So while GMOs are used regularly and for the most part safely, consumers should be worried about how some of them are developed, sold and managed. For example, many of Monsanto’s seeds have been developed specifically to be resistant to and used in conjunction with glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide. Glyphosate comes with a host of problems though, including being declared a possible carcinogen by the Word Health Organization. The crops become totally dependent on these chemical fertilizers and insecticides, and the harmful chemicals find their way into our streams, soil and air, further poisoning our planet.

The defeat of the DARK Act is all part of a larger movement to connect to the food supply and know where our food comes from. As consumers we want to know what’s in our food, while corporations often want to keep that secret and thereby maintain the status quo. Many big agri-business seeds are not re-usable; that makes farmers dependent on buying more seeds every year, and it defies movements that support sustainable living.

A Strong Message

These recent consumer victories send a strong message to all of us. The marketplace is a democracy if we just use it as such. Social media makes this particularly easy—and fun. We can go way beyond GMOs and encourage legislatures to pass laws the rein in companies that pay low wages, use offshore tax havens, and pollute environments. We can use social media to convince corporations that they must serve us, the consumer, instead of just a few rich stockholders, that they must turn the Death Economy into a Life Economy (see my previous blogs for more on these).

I want to take these consumer victories as an opportunity to encourage each of you to take heart–and act. Keep telling a new story, one that is based on creating an environmentally sustainable, resource regenerative world. Pick a company and use social media to demand that it serve us, you and me, and the world our children will inherit.

About John Perkins

John is a founder and board member of Dream Change & The Pachamama Alliance, non-profit organizations devoted to establishing a world future generations will want to inherit & the author of the NY Times bestseller, Confessions Of An Economic Hitman.

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