Amy Klobuchar moves to the DARK side on GMO labeling

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar joined Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee last week to vote for the DARK Act — the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. That’s the bill that would forbid state and local governments from requiring labeling foods containing GMOs. The bill, which still has to pass the full Senate, was described in a March 2 Star Tribune news article:

“The vote gave the food industry, including Minnesota-based companies such as Cargill, General Mills and Land O’Lakes, everything it wanted to derail state GMO labeling laws, especially a law set to take effect in Vermont in July.”

The bill adds insult to injury, by requiring “a taxpayer-funded public education campaign that explains scientific evidence of the benefits of ‘agricultural biotechnology.’” The strongest criticism of GMO foods, in my opinion, is that they increase reliance on precisely the wrong kind of agricultural biotechnology: chemical-intensive and dangerous to our waters, capital-intensive and tied to big corporate interests. Minnesota Women’s Press published an article that I wrote last year about the DARK Act and Minnesotans organizing for GMO labeling, which I’m republishing here:

Refusing the DARK

Are you eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs)? Probably, says Right to Know Minnesota (RTK), since more than 90 percent of all corn and soybeans planted in the U.S. is genetically modified, along with lots of sugar beets, canola and other crops.

Genetically engineered foods have been in U.S. grocery stores since 1994. RTK is fighting for a law requiring labels for foods containing GMOs, a move opposed by big agrichemical and agribusiness organizations.

“Why can’t we know what’s in our food? Why can’t we know what we are feeding our families?” asks RTK campaign director Heather Flesland. “You should be able to have that power, to know what’s in your food, to make that choice for your family.”

GMOs, food and the right to know are women’s issues, says Jennette Turner, a RTK board chair. “Ecofeminism is concerned with how we treat the land, how we treat all people and make those connections.”

Women lead the way in Minnesota’s Right To Know movement, building a coalition with hundreds of farms, restaurants, co-ops, groceries and other organizations.

GMO 101 

GMOs are made by taking one or more genes from one organism and implanting them in a second organism. That’s different from the more traditional selective breeding to get desired traits, which takes longer and does not transplant genes across species.

People concerned about GMOs see four basic issues: food safety, farmer protection, environmental impact and – the biggest issue for Right to Know Minnesota – transparency about GMOs and about how our food is produced.

Health effects from genetically modified foods have not been shown, but the presence of pesticide residues in these products is a related food safety issue.

Roundup Ready seeds are genetically altered to survive the application of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Roundup Ready seeds constitute one of the biggest uses of GMOs, allowing massive applications of Roundup herbicide to fields. Roundup’s basic component is glyphosate, which has just been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

“I want to know if I’m eating these crops that are grown with massive doses of pesticide,” Turner says.

Other environmental issues raised by GMOs include contamination of non-GMO (and especially organic) crops by pollen drift from GMO fields, and a huge increase in pesticide-resistant weeds.

As for the impact on farmers, Turner notes that the use of GMOs “displaces small farms [and] environmentally friendly growing practices.”

The combination of GMO seeds and higher agrochemicals are important components of a global movement to increasing the size of farms and driving out the small farmers – including most women farmers – who produce food to feed their families. Around the world, women produce more than half of all food crops. Most of this is small-scale production.

The complex social and economic dynamics that are changing farming include not only GMOs and agrochemicals, but also land prices, mortgages, and decreased market access for smaller producers.

RTK leadership and legislation

Whether or not GMOs affect your health directly, RTK board member Tracy Singleton says, consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. While RTK board members and supporters “are at different points” in the overall GMO debate, campaign director Heather Flesland says they are united in support of labeling.

Singleton, the owner of Birchwood Café in south Minneapolis, says, “We’ve always encouraged people to know and connect to where their food comes from.”

Singleton was disappointed by the defeat of California’s Prop 37, the GMO labeling initiative back in 2012. Big agrichemical and food companies – led by Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Dow Agrisciences – poured intense lobbying and money into defeating Prop 37.

Singleton started looking for ways to channel disappointment and anger into action and joined Right to Know Minnesota.

Turner worked closely with natural-food co-ops and in dietary counseling before she went back to school for her masters’ degree in public health. She volunteered as a Right to Know lobbyist as part of a class on legislative advocacy, and then continued as a volunteer and became a board member.

Flesland, now RTK’s campaign director, heard about GMOs on social media a few years ago. Then, in a career transition, she “had time to focus on advocacy and thought this seemed like a good cause.” To Flesland, the right to know what’s in food is just common sense.

Minnesota State Representative Karen Clark introduced GMO labeling legislation in 2015, and RTK hopes that the legislature will hold informational hearings on the bill in the 2016 session. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed GMO labeling laws.

Around the world, 64 countries require labeling. On a federal level, RTK opposes HR 1599, known as the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know (DARK) legislation that would outlaw state and local labeling efforts and any state or local regulation of GMOs. The House of Representatives passed the DARK Act in July; at press time, the Senate had not yet voted on it.

A few years ago, says Flesland, most RTK supporters were in the metro area. But now the word is getting out: in April [2015] she logged 1200 miles, sharing the message across the state. “We haven’t had a gathering in greater Minnesota that’s under 50 people,” she says proudly.

“The big issue is corporate control over our whole agricultural system,” Turner says, “and without transparency, people can’t choose whether to participate in that or to opt out.”

FFI:
Call Minnesota’s U.S. Senators and ask them to oppose the DARK Act. 
Al Franken: 651-221-1016
Amy Klobuchar: 612-727-5220

To find state-level representatives to voice support for GMO labeling: www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts
“Like” Right to Know Minnesota on Facebook: facebook.com/RightToKnowMN

Learn more about RTKMN: www.righttoknowmn.org

Jim Spencer, Bill outlawing state GMO labeling laws passes Senate committee (Star Tribune, 3/2/2016)

James Riddle, Counterpoint: Shame on you, Amy, for betraying us on GMO labels (Star Tribune, 3/2/2016)

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9 Comments

Filed under agriculture, environment, food and farming

9 responses to “Amy Klobuchar moves to the DARK side on GMO labeling

  1. There are many reasons to label GMOs. Neonicotinoids. Atrazine. Increased use of herbicides and insecticides. Huge threat to biodiversity. GMOs are a huge threat to food security. Is that not obvious to everyone?

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  2. Ricardo

    Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do Or do without
    Grandma Urpelding

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  3. C.Carlson

    And would the ‘Right to Know’ folks also label food from mutagenetically modified organisms? Do they even know the difference? Mutagenesis is the modification of the genetic materials in an organism by applying ‘toxic’ chemicals or RADIATION. Such organisms are acceptable under organic labeling rules.

    Are they against hybridization? Hybrids have been patented for over 80 years, and growers who choose them are ‘limited’ just as they are when buying transgenic seeds. Are RTK folks against the protection of intellectual property?

    Are the RTK folks aware that some recent GMOs were created by adding copies of an organism’s own gene, not genes from other organisms? Are they superstitiously afraid of those foods too?

    Are the RTK folks aware that GMOs actually make it possible to use FEWER pesticides, not more? Maybe they should take a look at BT corn and soy, and their impact on the use of insecticides. Poor agricultural practices, like massive monoculture, have been a growing practice with or without GMOs.

    Are the RTK folks aware that pesticide resistance has been a phenomenon since long before GMOs were grown? Do they know anything about evolution at all? Take a look at the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance – the analogy with herbicide resistance is direct.

    In my house, ‘Right to Know’ is called ‘Right to Misinform’. As a long-time organic gardener, I have chosen to learn something about the facts and science behind this issue. Those who would pass laws that could affect the application of scientific knowledge to our food supply should do the same.

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    • Mary Turck

      The arguments sound good – but facts on the ground are different. GMO crops are sold as herbicide resistant. They have greatly INCREASED the use of herbicides in the United States over the past nine years.

      From Forbes :
      “One of the main arguments behind creating these engineered crops is that farmers then need to use less herbicide and pesticide. This makes farms more eco-friendly, say proponents of genetically modified (GM) crops, and GM seeds also allow farmers to spend less on “inputs” (chemicals), thereby making a greater profit.

      “But a new study released by Food & Water Watch yesterday finds the goal of reduced chemical use has not panned out as planned. In fact, according to the USDA and EPA data used in the report, the quick adoption of genetically engineered crops by farmers has increased herbicide use over the past 9 years in the U.S. The report follows on the heels of another such study by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook just last year.”

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      • C.Carlson

        It’s hard to know where Forbes got their data or when, since you provide no citation. However, I need to point out that Food & Water Watch is Ralph Nader’s NGO explicitly aimed to oppose GMOs. I did follow the reference to Benbrook and found this: “Independent review and assessment of paper ‘Impact of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US’ – the first sixteen years by Benbrook C (2012) concludes that the paper is flawed being based on inaccurate claims, biased assumptions and misleading use of official data.” I’ll give you the source of my quote: David Tribe’s blog GMO Pundit at http://tinyurl.com/zb4eopd. The study Tribe cites is at http://tinyurl.com/hqrhpch.

        You might try looking at some more current and science-based sources for your “facts”, like gmoanswers.com, science20.com, and geneticliteracyproject.org. Forbes did run an interesting piece you might also be interested in: “You Probably Didn’t Know Smallholder Farmers Can Benefit From GMOs, Too” at http://tinyurl.com/gsom24d.

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      • C.Carlson

        Funny how my replies to your questionable citations never show up on your blog. I’ll try again – perhaps three’s the charm..

        Chuck Benbrook has been shown to be a well-rewarded employee of the ‘organic’ industry, and his research has been well-reviewed and debunked. “Benbrook’s best-known study, published in 2012, concluded that genetically modified foods have resulted in increased pesticide use, purportedly because weeds are developing resistance to glyphosate. The study was widely criticized in the mainstream science community because he did not take into account the fact that glyphosate is less toxic than the herbicides it has replaced, thus the net toxicity of herbicide use has decreased even as the total herbicide use increases. However, the Benbrook study is still widely circulated on anti-GMO websites as fact.” geneticliteracyproject.org (http://tinyurl.com/gnxqxln).

        And: “Independent review and assessment of paper ‘Impact of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the US’ – the first sixteen years by Benbrook C (2012) concludes that the paper is flawed being based on inaccurate claims, biased assumptions and misleading use of official data.” David Tribe, http://tinyurl.com/zb4eopd.

        You might want to look at the quality of the studies being used to make the anti-GMO, anti-science arguments.

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      • Mary Turck

        Sorry – did not get around to doing anything on the blog yesterday, including moderating comments. Your comments do show up – but only after I approve them. That’s not any political judgment, but a way to avoid being overrun with spam. I do disagree – and will post a lengthier reply once I get a little more time. I am not sure why the Forbes link did not show up on my post – WordPress removed the link for reasons unknown to me. Trying again – http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/07/02/gmo-crops-mean-more-herbicide-not-less/#4a0a7488a371 or, if WordPress removes that again – www dot forbes dot com /sites/bethhoffman/2013/07/02/gmo-crops-mean-more-herbicide-not-less/#4a0a7488a371

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  4. Pingback: What’s wrong with GMOs? | News Day

  5. Mary Turck

    Finally took time to prepare a longer response – https://maryturck.com/2016/03/19/whats-wrong-with-gmos/
    This post describes my own objections to GMOs and support of labeling.

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