It is an inescapable fact that certain companies are making a lot of money selling products that make us fat, deplete us of vitality, and shorten our lives.
With the food fight against multinational fast food and fizzy drink chains well documented, our most prominent food fight today is arguably that against genetically modified foods (GMO’s).
The fight for people’s right, and ability, to have a say in food law, is unfortunately hidden behind a shroud of bureaucracy; not only because of its staggering complexity, but also because of the immense power of the corporations involved.
Why should I care?
An easy way to maintain a healthy diet is to understand how the substances hidden in food items are affecting your body.
Absorbing the information that I am about to share with you, will help you to maintain a healthy diet when your determination wavers; because once you understand the food game played around you, it will fundamentally change the foods that you consume.
What are Genetically Modified Foods / GMO’s?
GMO’s are plants or animals that have undergone a process wherein scientists alter their genes with DNA from different species of living organisms, bacteria, or viruses.
Scientists alter their genes to make an organism with the most desirable traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides (1).
Companies producing genetically modified foods argue that GMO’s are needed to supply the world’s ever-increasing food demands.
However, their safety for human consumption and our environment is a controversial topic.
In the following paragraphs, I will discuss a case using examples from American-based corporations and American law.
Nonetheless, the case that I am about to discuss is just as relevant to Europe as it is to the US.
Unlike America which allows direct genetically modified food consumption without labelling, the EU only allows GM foods to be used as animal feed or biofuel; although the meat and dairy products produced from animals fed on GM feed are not required to be labelled. (2)
With GMO production in America increasing, and with the possible entrance of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, biotech companies are starting to push the EU to the relax its ban on the direct consumption of GM food, and for the allowance and use of several pesticides which are currently banned.
Who are these biotech companies and why are they so powerful?
One group, in particular, that is pushing for more relaxed European laws on GMO food is Monsanto.
In the world of GMO foods, Monsanto has the monopoly.
In 1996 Monsanto introduced ‘Roundup Ready’ soybeans. Crops that can grow unaffected by the herbicide Roundup.
Also owned by Monsanto, ‘RoundUp Ready’ crops are controversial for several reasons including potential harm to wildlife habitats from blanket spraying with weedkiller, and potentially dangerous pesticide residues on food.
Herbicides such as Roundup have been linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer, and the safety of GMO’s is still contested.
Monsanto states that GMO’s and Roundup are safe for use – why should we not believe them?
To date, Monsanto, a billion dollar biotech company, has introduced us to some of the worst poisons on the planet.
Foods that the company claimed were safe such as DDT, PCB’s and Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) are now banned in numerous countries for their severe and detrimental effects on human, animal and environmental health.
On a side note: Monsanto also engineered the chemical weapon Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war.
How did such unsafe products make it onto the market?
Both the agricultural and GMO markets involve significant food safety concerns; thus, biotech companies are profoundly affected by federal regulations on their business.
The most important of which, come from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Increased regulations and labelling requirements directly impact profits.
Conversely, reducing regulations will allow corporations like Monsanto to increase profits.
Hence why these biotech giants are pushing for the European laws on GMO’s to be relaxed.
Due to the vested interest that biotech companies have in controlling the regulations that affect their businesses, they have both donated to politicians and political campaigns, and promoted the appointment of people who work for them to positions within the American government. (3)
The Monsanto Protection Act
One example of Monsanto’s political power was the passing of the HR 933 Continuing Resolution, aka ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ or ‘Farmer Assurance Provision’.
A bill that effectively barred federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of GMO or GE crops and seeds, even if they were proven to be dangerous to human health.
Up until the enacted bill, the US Department of Agriculture oversaw and approved (or denied) the testing of genetically modified seeds; while the federal courts retained the authority to halt the testing or sale of these plants if it felt that public health was jeopardised. (4)
With HR 933 in law however, the court system no longer had the right to step in and protect the consumer.
Due to public outcry and anger, members of Congress stated that they were unaware of the Farmer Assurance Provision as it had slipped last minute into a short-term budget resolution.
Due to massive opposition from the public, the corporate rider was ultimately stripped out in a subsequent spending bill in September 2013. (5)
While there is such a substantial conflict of interest at a federal level, consumers have been fighting for the introduction of GMO labelling at a state level.
Until scientists can conduct more research on the safety of GMO’s, labelling will at least give people the right to know if the food they consume contains a genetically modified ingredient. (6)
One example of the labelling food fight was California’s Prop 37 ‘A Mandatory Labelling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative’.
However, the initiative turned into a David and Goliath story with the biotech, agriculture, and fast food companies that manufacture or benefit from genetically engineered food being the Goliath, and the public and organic sector David.
The Vote Yes ‘Right to Know’ campaign raised just over 8 million dollars in support, with its largest supporter The Organic Consumers Association donating just over 1 million.
The Vote No campaign raised over 45 million dollars – over five times as much.
It’s biggest campaign supporters were Monsanto which donated 8 million dollars and DuPont (also a manufacturer of GMO’s and agricultural chemicals) over 5 million.
Pepsico (who’s products include GM foods) also donated over 2 million, DOW, Bayer and B.A.SF (all biotech companies) 2 million each and other companies including Kraft, Coca-Cola and Nestle (who use GM products) donating over 1 million each. Prop 37 failed, and as it stands today, food can be labelled as ‘natural’ even if made with GM products. (7)
Despite the fact that California lost the fight against the biotech giants, in 2016 the state of Vermont won.
With the labelling of GM foods set to take place in Vermont, Monsanto hit back with another bill.
The GM food labelling preemption bill (H.R. 1599), dubbed by many as the DARK act, or ‘Denying American’s the Right to Know’ was expanded.
It now seeks to prohibit all labelling of GE foods AND make it unlawful for states or local governments to restrict GE crops in any way. (8)
The battle over Prop 37, Vermont’s victory and the DARK act aren’t really about science or health.
It’s about politics, who should control the food system and have influence over the foods you consume.
Why am I telling you so much about food politics?
What if I told you that the hand that feeds you genetically modified foods, also produce the drugs in your medicine cabinet?
As our consumption of meat, dairy, sugar and GM foods have increased, so have the diseases of the western world; namely cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Feeding a generation on nutritionally devoid food is to create a generation dependent upon pharmaceutical drugs and the health care system.
Upjohn, Pharmacia and Monsanto
An example of how our food and drug companies are so closely intertwined would be the merger of Upjohn, Pharmacia and Monsanto.
In 1995, The Upjohn Company (a pharmaceutical company) merged with the Swedish pharmaceutical and biotech company Pharmacia AB, to form Pharmacia & Upjohn.
In 2000, Pharmacia & Upjohn merged with Monsanto (leading global supplier of herbicides and GM seeds), at which time the name changed to Pharmacia. The drug divisions, including Monsanto’s old Searle drug division, were retained in Pharmacia, while the agricultural divisions became a wholly owned subsidiary of Pharmacia.
A short while later, Pharmacia spun off this agricultural/biotech subsidiary into a “new Monsanto” company.
Pfizer then bought Pharmacia in 2002, and today also owns the remainder of Upjohn. (9)
The deal created an industry behemoth with over $48 billion in revenue and a research-and-development budget of more than $7 billion.
Pfizer is the world’s largest drug manufacturer and the leading pharmaceutical company, by revenue, in every major market around the globe.
As you can see, the past and present connections between all of these mega-corporations is dizzying in its complexity.
Considering that the safety of many genetically modified foods, sweeteners, herbicides, and hormones is still in question, it’s easy to recognise why you’d want to have a stake in the pharmaceutical industry as well, since drugs are the primary form of healthcare offered by conventional medicine today.
How can we regain control of our health?
Buy organic foods if your budget will allow, and eat a whole-food, plant-based diet. It’s honestly as simple as that.
Please help to spread the word by sharing this post across social media and join the fight against the DARK act: http://www.justlabelit.org/dark-act/