Upcoming Senate Vote on GMO Labeling Could Jepordize GMO-Free Zones

Activists protest against agricultural biotech company Monsanto outside the White House. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty)
Activists protest against agricultural biotech company Monsanto outside the White House. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty)

By Jane Ayers, Reader Supported News

10 September 15


MO crop bans (leading to GMO-free zones) should be a separate issue from GMO labeling laws. Oregon farmers are now concerned that provisions in the H.R.1599 GMO labeling bill to be voted on soon by the Senate could jeopardize their legally established GMO-free zone and GMO crop/seed ban. Creeping its way through the halls of Congress and the Senate is the “Safe and Accurate Labeling Act,” a misleading name for a bill that actually will block labeling of GMO products at state levels, instead of safely and accurately labeling what is GMO in the food supply. The bill passed the House of Representatives last month and will be voted on in the Senate any day now. Critics call H.R. 1599 the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, and the plot is thickening in the game of twisted politics.

Recent polls have indicated that 90% of Americans want to know what is in their food and support labeling of all GMO products. But the bill being voted on is a far cry from real, authentic GMO labeling – it is the opposite of safe and accurate labeling. Food Democracy Now, a public interest group for food safety, states that the GMO labeling bill to be voted upon by the Senate would “prohibit states from labeling GMO foods or enforcing existing labeling laws” even if a high percentage of consumers are in favor of labeling. In addition, they emphasize that the labeling bill would “forbid states, cities, and counties from overseeing the production of GMO crops, creating clear opportunities for Monsanto and other mega-corporations to overrule local citizens and local food economies in favor of GMO and toxic pesticide agriculture,” all while weakening federal regulations on GMO crops. They also point out that the bill would allow the labeling of GMOs as “natural” on product labels (even though they are not natural), “tricking consumers into buying foods and products they might otherwise consider unsafe for their families.”

Threats to GMO crop bans: overthrowing county initiatives

Even though this bill is supposed to be focused solely on the labeling of GMOs, there are possible threats to GMO crop bans inserted in the wording of the bill. Oregon farmers are on high-alert that their GMO crop ban could be in jeopardy in southern Oregon. Though the wording of the bill does not explicitly say it will overturn county initiatives of existing GMO crop bans and GMO-free zones, there is a section of the bill with language that could be interpreted later in courts of law to potentially endanger existing citizen-based ordinances and county and state laws.

Chris Hardy, co-author of the GMO crop ban bill in southern Oregon, stated, “A number of attorneys have expressed concern that leads me to believe the H.R.1599 GMO labeling bill could shut down a dozen GMO crop bans which have been implemented to protect local traditional farming practices nationwide.”

The questionable wording in the GMO labeling bill is found under Section 113, and could in subsequent lawsuits be interpreted as saying that county ordinances cannot ban GMO crops due to “interference with commerce” of GMO farmers.

Dr. Bronner’s ad campaign in September

David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, funded a $1 million campaign for GMO labeling in Oregon last year, ending in a close vote that required a recount. The bill ultimately lost by a small number of votes. Bronner urges consumers to contact their senators immediately and ask them to vote against H.R. 1599. “Junk food manufacturers and the pesticide industry want to keep us in the dark about the food we are eating,” said Bronner. “They’ve pulled out all the stops and kicked their propaganda machine into high gear to ram this terrible law through Congress. Americans overwhelmingly want to know if the food they are eating has been genetically modified to withstand high doses of pesticides, and we must be vocal to stifle this DARK Act.”

Bronner has recently purchased $250,000 of ad space in The New Yorker, Boston Globe Magazine, Forbes, Atlantic, The Nation, The Progressive, Politico, Mother Jones, Reason, and the Natural Food Merchandiser. In the full-page ads, running through the month of September, Bronner hopes to influence consumers to demand from their senators a vote that will reflect what a majority of consumers want: true GMO labeling. The ad is titled “How to Cover Up the Pesticide Industry’s GMO Scheme and New 2,4D “Agent Orange” Crops: Slate’s William Saletan Shows How It’s Done.”

“We are running these ads because the public needs to know that rather than reduce pesticide inputs in agriculture, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity,” said Bronner. “Unfortunately, recent high profile, pro-GMO articles in Slate and other publications amount to pro-industry puff pieces that provide cover and support to the chemical and junk food industries as they scheme with politicians to pass federal legislation that would prevent the labeling of GMO foods.”

Bronner added, “I appreciate that most media outlets we approached recognize the importance of allowing space for well-articulated, hard-hitting advertorials to help inform this one-sided debate, but others disappoint, whether out of skittishness over controversy or pro-GMO bias.”

Scientific American, the Economist, and New Republic have all rejected the ad as too controversial.

Oregon farmer Elise Higley travels to Washington DC to plead case for protection of GMO bans

Other Oregon farmers have increased their actions surrounding this upcoming Senate vote. Elise Higley, director of Our Family Farms Coalition, was one of many farmers (along with the Center for Food Safety) who led the county to victory with a GMO ban and GMO-free zone in Jackson County, Oregon. Higley met with representatives in DC before the House vote last month. She alleges that the timing of the victory against GMOs in southern Oregon produced an unfavorable change in the wording of the bill itself: “After Jackson County’s voter-approved ban on GMOs was recently upheld by a Federal court, the labeling bill was then amended so that it could possibly overturn all local governmental efforts to protect family farmers from GMO contamination.” She urges Oregon representatives and senators to stand up for family farmers, emphasizing, “This is a frontal attack on our right to protect local agriculture from contamination by genetically-engineered crops.”

Farmers in Jackson County, Oregon, had a victory on County Measure 15-119 in 2014, with 66% of the citizenry voting to ban crops from genetically engineered seeds and plants. The Rogue Valley is an area in southern Oregon that produces some of the world’s largest amount of GMO-free seed, highly valued worldwide. After winning the county vote, two GMO farms sued to overturn the GMO crop ban, but Federal Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke ruled in May to uphold the GMO crop/seed ban to “protect farms and crops from transgenic contamination from crops of genetically engineered plants.”

The GMO crop/seed ban went into effect in June. The new threat implied in the labeling bill up for the vote in the Senate is the last thing Oregon farmers and voters want, after all the fights they have endured to win a GMO-free zone in Southern Oregon.

The current GMO labeling bill should be scrapped

Even though proponents of this bill have argued on the House floor that this is “not about GMO bans,” at the very least, this portion of the H.R.1599 should be struck or amended by the Senate to protect already existing or future GMO crop bans nationwide. The deletion of this section, however, does not mean that this labeling bill will be acceptable. If the Senate’s vote is to truly represent the will of the people, they should scrap this bill in its entirety.

Senator Barbara Boxer and Rep. Peter De Fazio introduce new GMO labeling bill

Another bill, H.R.913, the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, was introduced in March 2015 by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter De Fazio (D-Ore.) The bill would require labels to show genetically engineered foods/ingredients, and would prohibit labeling GMOs as natural. It has yet to be voted on.

Jane Ayers is a regular contributor to Reader Supported News. She is also a Stringer with USA Today and Los Angeles Times. She can be reached by email:ladywriterjane@gmail.com



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