Photo by U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The states of Vermont and California have made major strides in defending consumers’ right to know about the presence of genetically modified (GM) content in their food and the toxicity of agrochemicals. But industry wants to punish them for it.

Vermont’s state legislature passed a bill that would require GM foods sold in the state to be labeled as such. The bill, known as Act 120, signed by governor Peter Shumlin in 2014, will go into effect on July 1. And in California, the state government intends to identify Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide as a carcinogen, after concerns about the glyphosate-based agrochemical were raised by the World Health Organization.

Industry reaction to these state-level initiatives has been harsh and vindictive. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, one of the nation’s largest trade lobbies, filed suit against the state of Vermont, alleging that Act 120 is costly, misguided, unenforceable, lacks basis in health, safety and science, and runs afoul of the First Amendment and interstate commerce protections.

And California is being sued by Monsanto, which alleges that its Roundup is not a cancer risk to humans and that the WHO assessment is “inconsistent with the findings of regulatory bodies in the United States and around the world.”

The corporate arguments are absurd. Sixty-four countries worldwide label GM foods, without causing their food systems to collapse or food prices to significantly rise. Polls consistently show that the majority of American consumers want GM foods labeled.

And if GM foods are safe, as the industry claims, then why the stubborn opposition to this labeling? The biotech corporations have never given an adequate answer to this question.

Apart from the scientific debate over whether GM foods or herbicides are perilous to human health, these corporate lawsuits are cause for deep concern. How can state governments legislate and regulate if they are under constant threat of major corporations and trade associations suing them whenever they do not like what they see?

These lawsuits form part of a larger picture of corporations all over North America taking legal action against consumer and environmental protections, using trade agreements as platforms. In January, TransCanada sued the U.S. government, alleging that it violated  the NAFTA trade agreement by blocking construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

And it bears asking: Will this trend get worse with the approval of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, the mother of all trade agreements?

That would be a good question for citizens and journalists to ask the candidates now vying for votes on the presidential campaign trail.


Carmelo Ruiz is a Puerto Rican author and journalist. He is a research associate of the Institute for Social Ecology and a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program. His Twitter account is @carmeloruiz.



GM labels do not tell you which pesticides are used. They also tell you nothing about nutrition, patents, or even ingredients. GM is a breeding technique, one of several used by food producers. Organic industry also uses pesticides, which may likely be toxic. Organic traits may also be patented, created in a lab, etc. Thats why GM labelling tells you nothing about what you're getting, but only serves as a marketing ploy to advance non-GM interests.
Some of us are concerned about what's happening to the soils, pollinators, and other environmental aspects as a result of the heavy use of glyphosate. Weeds are developing resistance to glyphosate much faster than predicted. Soever heavier doses are required. As a result ' Superweeds' are being bred In addition glyphosate is being sprayed directly on crops right before harvest. I believe that leaves plenty of residue on the produce being harvested.
I have never seen or heard anyone advocating GM labeling should replace nutritional labeling.

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What's more worrying are those who undermine people with disabilities from behind a veneer of politeness.

It will be good to put all this uncivil discourse behind us.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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