June 22, 2012
by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
There was much back-slapping and self-congratulating among the Senate yesterday as Republicans and Democrats celebrated a rare instance of bipartisanship when the chamber passed the Farm Bill – a much anticipated overhaul of our agriculture system that cut useless subsidies and expanded even more useless insurance programs among other things. However, proponents of natural, organic foods didn’t find much cause to celebrate, as one of the most important amendments to the Farm Bill was predictably shot down in what can only be described as a clear-cut case of how corporate lobbying skews our legislation away from the overwhelming wishes of our citizenry.
The amendment, sponsored by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and co-sponsored by California Senator Barbara Boxer (D) and Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D), would have allowed individual states to decide on whether or not genetically-modified foods (GMOs) should be labeled or not. In this past year alone, 19 states have introduced legislation that would require GMO labeling. Despite the obvious tide of voters and state legislatures waking up to this crucial issue of consumers’ rights, the Sanders amendment was shot down in the Senate 26 to 73.
National polling on the issue has shown that Americans overwhelmingly back GMO labeling, with most polls showing 95% support for labels. So how come the gaping discrepancy in the desires of voters and the votes of our Senators? Easy. Corporate lobbying by the chemical and biotech industries that make genetically-modified foods. Although there is a growing financial support base from consumers’ rights groups like the Center for Food Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists, American Public Health Association, U.S. PIRG and the Sierra Club, corporations like Monsanto and DuPont can still easily outspend them in lobbying efforts to defeat bills and amendments like those proposed by Senator Sanders.
Despite the defeat of his amendment, Sanders chose to look at the bright side of yesterdays vote, issuing a statement that praised the 26 Senators who voted in favor of his amendment and pointing out that this was the first time a piece of legislation dealing with GMO labeling had ever made it to a floor vote. In a statement issued from his Website, Sanders had this to say:
“This is the very first time a bill on labeling genetically engineered food has been brought before the Senate. It was opposed by virtually every major food corporation in the country. While we wish we could have gotten more votes, this is a good step forward and something we are going to continue to work on. The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat.”
In the spirit of Senator Sanders’ positive outlook towards his defeated amendment, I thought I’d share some of the more positive news that has emerged in the last few weeks in the battle for cleaner, more natural foods.
California Homemade Food Act
In a stunning victory for small farmers and cottage-industry food providers, the California State Assembly passed a bill with bipartisan support that makes it easier for food product entrepreneurs to grow and sell their products. The California Homemade Food Act was authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D) and makes it easier for food vendors to make and sell products at Co-ops and farmers markets by lifting some of the costly regulations that make it too expensive for local farmers and food makers to compete with large, factory-farmed or factory-processed foods.
The bill would require small food operations to pass a food handler’s coarse if they only sell at farmers markets and will require labeling that designates the products as “homemade.” Products sold to retail stores will also be subject to inspection by local health departments.
All it takes is one
Sometimes all it takes is one big entity to sway the tides toward a more healthy way of food production. Case in point, Mexican food chain Chipotle has recently changed its sources for meat products to carry only hormone-free, antibiotic-free and pasture-raised beef, chicken and pork. The move expands the market for natural meat products and may have a ripple effect in the ranching and farming communities, causing more livestock farmers to consider going au natural instead of pumping caged animals full of chemicals.
Don’t give up Bernie!
There’s a saying in politics: “As goes California, so goes the nation.” Due to its size and population, California’s tough standards for clean water, air and food have forced the hand of many industries toward more environmentally-friendly and safer products for years. This year, Californians will again get their chance to make big changes. Despite the defeat of Bernie Sanders’ GMO-labeling amendment, California voters will go to the polls in November to decide whether they want genetically-modified products labeled as such. If the California Food Labeling Act of 2012 passes, it would make it too expensive for processed food makers to create two separate labels, one for California and one for the rest of the country, and would force food companies who use GMOs to label all their products. Other States who have similar bills in front of their legislature are: Connecticut, Vermont, Alaska, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts’s, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.