In a stark demonstration of the power of the agrochemical industry to dictate the terms of our nation’s food safety system, President Obama recently ignored 250,000 petitioners and signed into law Senate Bill 764, known to many as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.
The DARK Act was boiled up by agrochemical industry lobbyists and their allies in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats) to prevent Vermont from becoming the first state in the country to implement a mandatory GMO labeling on food packaging.
Employing the Orwellian style with which the corporate media promotes the false narratives of corporate-corrupted politicians, ABC News made no mention of the Vermont law, instead reporting that the bill “creates a federal labeling standard for foods containing genetically modified ingredients.” White House spokeswoman Katie Hill told ABC News, “This measure will provide new opportunities for consumers to have access to information about their food.”
Professor Laura Murphy, director of the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, observed that the new law, in fact, does the opposite of creating consumer transparency for GMO food. “If Congress were really interested in providing consumers with information, it could have adopted Vermont’s on-package label that companies are already using across the country,” Murphy explained. “Instead, Congress created a mechanism for companies to hide behind QR codes and trample on state efforts to provide their citizens with actual information. As if this weren’t bad enough, the federal law has a confusing definition of ‘bioengineering’ that gives USDA the authority to determine how much of a product needs to be bioengineered before a label is required, and prevents even the food companies from certain types of disclosure. “
As I wrote here last month, what I call
the Monsanto Doctrine is the newly emerging legal right of agrochemical corporations to do whatever they want, regardless of county and state laws created to protect public health, safety and the environment from toxic pesticides in our food, water and soil.
Our Stop Poisoning Democracy petition, which can be signed here, focuses on the federal judiciary being used to invalidate common-sense public safety laws passed in three separate Hawaiian counties to regulate many of the 1,100-plus experimental GMO “farms” across the state. The world’s six largest agrochemical corporations currently spray massive quantities of pesticides on genetically modified crops across the Hawaiian Islands to see which genetic mutations can survive. These companies make more money selling Roundup and other poisons than they do selling GMO seeds, so creating “Roundup-Ready” crops, like more than 90% of the soy grown in the United States, allows them to profit doubly by poisoning the earth, as well as the food and feed sold to the public.
Monsanto and its GMO-pesticide-hawking allies have already corrupted the executive branch agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Agriculture (DOA) with a revolving door enrichment scheme for government officials.
Now they are winning legal claims that federal agencies, originally created to protect public health, should instead serve as legal shields to protect corporations from any and all public safety regulation by local and state governments.
The agrochemical industry’s secret strategy was laid bare on June 15 in the oral arguments for the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing to decide whether to uphold or overturn the Monsanto Doctrine. The video below, made by ProgressiveSource.com, my public interest communications firm, shines a spotlight on the broad, ominous claim that the world’s six largest pesticide and GMO companies are now making. Their legal position, argued by one of Washington’s slickest corporate attorneys, is that no county or state can take any measure whatsoever to protect the safety and health of its citizens, soil and water, because those basic constitutional powers are purportedly pre-empted, and therefore invalidated, by the federal government.
In other words, the food safety and environmental floor of standards established by U.S. agencies that was created to make sure that corporate polluters in any state could be properly regulated has been reinvented by the Monsanto Doctrine. These same taxpayer funded agencies, which rely on multi billion dollar chemical companies to sponsor their own safety tests, green light corporate-corrupted “standards” that are now being used as a ceiling, above which no state or county can go, despite the historically recognized constitutional powers allowing local governments to protect citizens against toxic substances in their food, soil and water.
(a shorter version of this video can be viewed here)
By persuading compliant members of Congress to overwhelmingly pass the DARK Act, the agrochemical industry has extended the Monsanto Doctrine to the legislative branch, securing a seemingly impenetrable fortress around the business of toxic agriculture.
In striking down the Vermont law, Congress has made sure that American exceptionalism, on behalf of corporate donors against basic consumer rights, is a mainstay of U.S. politics. The DARK Act ensures that the United States will not follow the 64 countries around the world that now require plain labeling of GMO food.
“What the DARK Act shows us is that multinational corporations are not just lobbying and exercising power; they are literally ruling us,” said David Cobb, outreach director of Move to Amend. “Supermajorities of voters in both parties want to see clear labeling of GMO food, but we, the people, don’t control our own government. Our elected representatives don’t represent us. Congress has colluded with Monsanto and the agrochemical industry to force down our throats legislation that the American people do not want.”
Ronnie Cummins, the whistleblowing head of the million-plus member Organic Consumers Association, was a leader in rebranding S.764 as the DARK Act. In a powerful new essay titled “Corporate Money Defeats GMO Labeling-What Would Gandhi Do?” Cummins heralds a new, more muscular phase of activism and consumer boycotts to draw worldwide attention to the health hazards of the pesticides like Roundup that always accompany GMO food.
“The bill is a sham, a slap in the face to the 90 percent of Americans who support labeling,” Cummins wrote. “It’s an attack on states’ rights. It’s another ‘gift’ to Monsanto and Big Food. And,
“for anyone who still harbored any doubt, S.764 is proof that our Democracy is broken, that our lawmakers answer to Corporate America, not to us, the people who elect them.”
In passing the DARK Act and expanding the Monsanto Doctrine of federal preemption, lobbyists for the GMO/pesticide/junk food industries convinced a filibuster-proof 63 to 30 majority of U.S. senators to trample the pretense of concern for consumer transparency and public safety (from hypocritical corporate Democrats)—and state rights (from nearly all of the Senate’s hypocritical Republicans, who scream about the importance of state rights only when it comes to the right of states to suppress civil rights such as gay marriage or enforce the power of corporations to pollute locally).
It will come as a shock to progressives to learn that as many Democratic senators voted for the DARK Act as those who opposed it (full roster here). The 21 Democratic senators who voted for the anti-food transparency bill would surprise many, because it includes a number of senators who are social liberals on issues meaningless to corporate profits, such as gay marriage, but who stand with their pesticide and junk food industry sponsors (”campaign donors”) when it comes to common sense regulations that benefit consumers and food safety.
The Hall of Shame of corporate-corrupted, anti-consumer Democratic Senators includes California’s Dianne Feinstein, Minnesota’s Al Franken, Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono and Delaware’s Chris Coons (whom the biotech industry named 2015 “Legislator of the Year.”)
There is little doubt that these Democratic senators hope to hide behind the false narrative―that they simply supported a GMO labeling bill―instead of the truth. Which is that they voted to support a Monsanto Doctrine bill specifically crafted to gut GMO labeling in Vermont and the other states that might follow in its footsteps.
Before the days of social media, when corporate media was the only national outlet for information (or disinformation), Orwellian messaging parroted by compliant media conglomerates worked well for members of Congress who could sabotage the public interest on behalf of their corporate donors and leave no fingerprints. But thanks to what I like to call the “People Powered Media that Fuels Sanders Second American Revolution,” tens of millions of citizens have become adept at sharing accurate information across their own social networks―without corporate media gatekeepers.
In being the change we want to see by informing to empower one another, we can hold our elected officials responsible and replace those that place the needs of their corporate donors before those of We, the People, who pay their salaries and vote them into office. This is the hope of the peaceful evolution and grassroots movement that the Sanders’ candidacy has kick-started.
It is an indication of how challenging it will be to bring integrity to our government that Bernie Sanders himself was the only national leader to take a vocal stand against the DARK Act.
After the Senate passed it, he sounded the alarm bells, writing that, “The legislation that passed is an outrage and speaks to the power of big money in American politics. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto and other agribusiness spent hundreds of millions of dollars against the Vermont law and against other states going forward to protect consumers.”
Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, believes that the Monsanto Doctrine strategy of hijacking democracy will ultimately backfire on the agrochemical industry.
“Although this is clearly a defeat in our campaigns for getting mandatory labeling in the United States, we are still winning the bigger, more important effort to eliminate GMOs from the market altogether,” he explained.
Smith is now completing a new video called Secret Ingredients (trailer here) exploring the health dangers of GMOs and the pesticides that always accompany them.
“The good news,” Smith notes, “is that the tipping point is already underway based on the voluntary non-GMO labels being put on packages. If there is a silver lining to the recent defeat of mandatory labeling, it is that our movement can now put our collective attention back on the key success factor—tell people the truth about GMOs and how they can protect themselves and their families from the dangers.”