Farmers, who used to be able to save seed from year to year, now must buy GMO seed from Monsanto and their pals each year to get the “advances” in agricultural technology that the corporations say their seed will deliver. Conventional farmers buy the genetically altered corn, for instance, because it’s Roundup Ready, meaning that glyphosate herbicide won’t damage the corn. And patented corn seed has been genetically altered to manufacture its own pesticide within its cells—a function borrowed from Bacillus thuringiensis and inserted into the corn’s genes, meaning farmers don’t have to spray for corn earworm or corn rootworm; this is killer corn, ready for any caterpillar that comes along. Once patented, the seeds of the world’s major crops like corn, soybeans, and alfalfa represent a cornered market. You think that’s hyperbole? Worldwide, 395 million acres of farmland were planted in GMO crops, according to figures in the 2011 International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. The United States leads the world in GMO plantings with 170 million acres in 2012—that’s 95 percent of this nation’s sugar beets, 94 percent of its soybeans, 90 percent of the cotton and 88 percent of our feed corn.
And woe betide any farmer who saves those seeds, or whose seeds have cross-pollinated with the GMO crops, because they will be—and have been—sued.
But there are always those pesky organic farmers and consumers. So here comes Prop 37, and Monsanto and its pals realize that if it passes in California, other states may start passing similar laws. As Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Company, a Monsanto subsidiary, was quoted in the Kansas City Star, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” So Monsanto and pals know that labeling means sharp cuts in the market for those foods—and more importantly for them, in the profit from seeds farmers plant to grow those foods. To stop Prop 37, they have put together a coalition that has already started a disinformation campaign and amassed a $32 million war chest. The coalition is called No on 37, and includes a long list of biotech, big ag, and drug and chemical manufacturers, including front groups like the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), whose president, Elizabeth Whelan, describes herself as a lifelong conservative “more libertarian than Republican.” ACSH supporters include Dow, DuPont, Exxon, General Mills, David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, and of course Monsanto. And Coke and Pepsi if you need an artificially sweetened beverage.
The first volley of propaganda has been fired in California. A mailing has been sent out by a group called No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme, whose major funding comes from Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta, among others on the Council on Biotechnology Information, and from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The mailing is a flier that proclaims, in all-caps, 60-point type: “DEMOCRATS OPPOSE PROP 37.”
The three Democrats cited include two Central Valley members of the California Assembly, Henry Perea and Manuel Perez, and the vice chairperson of the California Democratic Party, Alexandra Rooker. I sent emails to all three, asking them to explain their opposition to Prop 37 and, additionally, whether they had received any campaign contributions from the Council on Biotechnology Information, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, or from BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Perea’s office said he was away on family business and that was all I heard from him. Rooker never responded. Perez’s office passed my request for elaboration to Kathy Fairbanks of Bicker, Castillo, and Fairbanks, a Sacramento lobbying firm hired by the anti-Prop 37 forces. Here’s what Perez said in the flier:
“This initiative was rushed to the ballot and contains flaws that will lead to unintended consequences. Prop 37 is an unfunded mandate filled with confusing loopholes, contradictory exemptions, and extreme restrictions that will cost the state millions of dollars to administer.” Some of his wording is identical to wording in an accompanying “fact sheet.”