GM labeling comes to California: The right to know versus the right to impose
By Oliver James
Monsanto World’s Definition:
“Proprietary information,” n.
1. Something we publicly identify in order to charge royalties, then hide from the public in order to keep our market.
This November, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, “The Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” on whether or not to label food made with genetically modified ingredients. While not the first (this year’s Connecticut labeling initiative got squashed by Agribusiness) the CA initiative will undoubtedly be the most contested yet.
That’s because, for the first time, the GMO labeling question will be posed directly to the electorate. And since California’s food policy affects what’s on people’s plates almost everywhere, massive market shares (and profits) are on the line.
Monsanto’s third-quarter earnings are up another 35% this year driven by its GE corn and soybean portfolios. 85% percent of the corn and 90% of soybeans grown in the U.S. are GE, and the vast majority of the GE seed market belongs to Monsanto (the other part mainly to DuPont.) Their success has a lot to do with the fact that more corn acreage was planted in America this year than at any other time since 1937 (when density per acre was much lower). Meanwhile, seed prices are up 135% since 2001 and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant projects another 10% seed price hike for 2013.
"Our genetics tend to do well in warm, dry conditions," observed Grant recently, after learning that corn futures had surged 28 percent.
One analysis of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (Ht) soybeans carried out by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University, indicates that at 1999 adoption rates, 60 percent of total economic benefits go to the innovator as profit.1 A mere 26 percent is split up among the thousands and thousands of producers who buy Monsanto Roundup ready seed and the companion Roundup herbicide. And while seed prices skyrocket, the promised returns to farmers are shrinking, thanks to the steady march of Roundup-resistant weeds.
Farmers would benefit from more competition in the seed industry—particularly, non-GMO seed—but Monsanto’s patented monopoly makes Monsanto the seed and herbicide seller of first and last resort.
It is the genetic distinctiveness, patented by Monsanto, that allows the company to charge ever-higher royalties for the use of its seed and prevents farmers from competing with Monsanto by keeping or reproducing not just the seed, but also its patented genetic material (even when it accidentally crosses over to pollinate non-GMO fields). In the case of farmers, the distinctiveness of Monsanto’s seed is what allows Monsanto to control both farmers and the market.
But when it’s time to consume Monsanto’s patented genes, their overtly public claim to royalties based on distinctiveness melts into thin air.
Corn and soy are the building blocks of many processed foods. By controlling the corn and soy market, Monsanto also ensures the infiltration of GM ingredients into nearly everything we eat; up to 75% of what’s on supermarket shelves in the U.S. according to the Grocery Manufacturers of America.5
Roundup-ready corn and soy genes in the processed food supply—as well as the glyphosate and Bt itself—are ubiquitous in meat, cereals, sweeteners, soft drinks and processed foods. Nearly 100% of the non-organic, processed items that contain corn- or soy-based additives found in a typical grocery store (items that are often labeled ‘natural’ foods) would require GM labeling. Nowhere are they labeled as such.
But while the U.S. Patent Office and the USDA consider Monsanto’s seeds to be distinctive in agriculture, they take the position that eating products made from Monsanto’s GMOs are “not significantly different” from non-GMOs.
Monsanto makes a large public show of claiming that farmers “prefer” its seeds. (This is a bit like a dictator claiming they’ve won elections by a landslide...)
Why doesn’t Monsanto want consumers to know when its GMO ingredients are used in food products?
Because many consumers simply wouldn’t prefer them.
As more studies reveal the negative health and environmental effects of GMOs in the food supply, U.S. consumers are demanding to know which food products contain GMOs, invoking their inalienable “right to know” so that they can avoid them. We label foods that contain known allergens. We label food that is Kosher and Halal. We label food that is organic, pasteurized, or raw. On a fundamental level this additional labeling is no different.
The biotech giants know that 9 out of 10 Americans support labeling what we eat. If consumers reject GMOs in their food, processors will turn to alternative ingredients that are not genetically modified.
This California labeling proposition is about more than consumer information and GMOs. While Monsanto controls the seed market by patenting, identifying and enforcing their patents, they need to control the consumer market by not identifying these same GMO ingredients. In the end, labeling GMOs will spoil both of their market strategies.
No matter how the corporate “front groups” try to frame this issue, we are gearing up to fight a battle this fall over exactly this: the right to know versus the right to impose.
1. GianCarlo Moschini, “Economic Benefits and Costs of Biotechnology Innovations in Agriculture,” Iowa State University, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Working Paper 01-WP-264 (January 2001), at 13.
1.“Vangaurd State: California might just lead the way on GMO labeling.”
2.”EU Farmers Ditch GM Crops: Industry Figures Show Drop in Cultivation.”
3. “This Hidden Food Poisons Your Family – Ignore These Cooked Up Lies.”
4. “Connecticut’s GE Foods Bill Eviscerated by Lawyers.”
5. “Genetic Engineering: The World’s Greatest Scam?”
6. Right to Know Campaign.
7. “The Case Against the Local Economy and for a Turn Towards the Local.” Sierra Club Books. Reproduced with Permission.
8. “10 Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Organic Consumers Association.
9. “Poll: Skepticism of Genetically Modified Food.” ABC News Online.
10. Friends and Enemies of Your Right to Know.