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Organic Consumers Association

An Open Letter to Monsanto Shareholders

  • By Dave Murphy
    Food Democracy Now! , January 28, 2014

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Millions Against Monsanto page and our Genetic Engineering page.

Dear Organic Consumers

Today we will be at Monsanto's shareholder meeting presenting a resolution asking for Monsanto shareholders to support GMO labeling.

For more information: http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1192?t=5&akid=1154.344620.a_lKPw

See Monsanto's investor page for a livestream of the meeting

http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/go/1200?t=7&akid=1154.344620.a_lKPw

An Open Letter to Monsanto Shareholders:

Hi, Mr. Grant, Monsanto Shareholders, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here today. My name is Dave Murphy, I am the founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots movement of more than 650,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to reforming food and agriculture.

I am here today as the proxy on behalf of Monsanto shareholder Adam Eidinger, who is outside right now exercising his right of civil disobedience against the current policies of Monsanto. Mr. Eidinger has submitted a proposal to the board of directors calling for Monsanto shareholders to support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

I have spent my life growing up in a small town in northern Iowa. I know the importance of agriculture and I know many farmers who plant Monsanto's seeds and other farmers who sell them. These are good people, but even they distrust this company because of its heavy-handed practices against family farmers and Monsanto's known reputation for bending our nation's laws and regulatory policy to their will.

I had the honor to serve as the co-chair of Prop 37 in California and helped write and pass GMO labeling bills in Connecticut and Maine. More importantly, in 2007, while on the campaign trail in Iowa, I convinced Barack Obama's campaign that labeling of genetically engineered foods was a reasonable and common sense idea and I later videotaped it when he made that pledge in front of an audience of 400 Iowa farmers and rural residents, a promise for which he received a resounding applause, even from farmers who plant Monsanto's seeds.

The fact is, even many of America's farmers who plant these seeds recognize that as citizens in a democracy, individuals and mothers have the basic right to know what they're eating and feeding their family.

Right now more than 26 states have introduced GMO labeling bills in states across the country.  In the past two years alone, Monsanto has spent more than $13.4 million to defeat GMO labeling efforts in California and Washington state.

Lack of transparency is not good for free markets or a democracy. In a free market, consumers need basic information to make informed decisions, and denying simple labels means Monsanto is not an honest player in America's market and millions of Americans are coming to realize this fact.

Already Monsanto labels their products in 64 other countries around the world. Why not America?

At this moment, citizens in all of Europe, India, South Africa, Russia and China enjoy the right to know what's in their food. Monsanto tells Americans we don't deserve that right.

Even citizens in Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant's homeland of Scotland, his family can buy foods with a simple GMO label so they can eat those foods containing Monsanto's patented genes to their hearts content.

But today, Mr. Grant and the board of directors is going to ask that its company's shareholders vote NO, against GMO labeling. I say that's an outrage and a vote against the future of this company and the future of our democracy.

I want to fill you in on one of Monsanto's dirty little secrets. I hear they have a few, but today I want to focus on labeling.

While Scotland born Hugh Grant, Monsanto's CEO today says that as Americans we don't have a right to know what's in their food, Monsanto is on record supporting GMO labeling.

Monsanto's GMO Labeling Flip Flop: Monsanto was for GMO Labeling Before They We're Against It!

In a 1998 interview Monsanto's then-CEO Robert Shapiro, stated unequivocally (in answer to a question about the labeling of genetically engineered foods) that:

"One can make a reasonable argument that consumers and citizens have a right to know anything they wish to know. It is they who are choosing these products and it is they who are choosing and judging their governments. So it is almost impossible to make a case that information should be withheld from consumers.... consumers, in my view [have an] unquestioned, right to know anything they wish to know about the products they consume.... it is not my role, or Monsanto's role, to decide these things. It is society's role to decide those questions after appropriate debate"

To the question "So you are open to labeling being introduced then?"

Shapiro answered: "Yes. Of course".

In addition, in 1998 Monsanto ran ads in Britain, promoting their support for GMO labeling. Why are they opposed now?

"Recently you may have noticed a label appearing on some of the food in your supermarket. This is to inform you about the use of biotechnology in food. Monsanto fully supports UK food manufacturers and retailers in their introduction of these labels. We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase".

Unfortunately, while Monsanto supports GMO labeling in Scotland and the United Kingdom, here in the United States of America, Monsanto's executives have manipulated the rules and regulations to deny us that right.

Current FDA GMO Labeling Policy Based on Politics, Not Science

Current FDA policy denies Americans the right to know what's in their food due to the 1992 FDA draft guidance regulating biotechnology. The FDA's current draft guidance is a scientific fraud that states that genetically engineered foods are "substantially equivalent" to those that have been bred and raised by farmers for thousands of years. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This current policy was announced by Vice President Dan Quayle, as part of the President's Council on Competitiveness, designed to give the illusion of regulation, while allowing the new technology of genetic engineering to proceed to the market without proper safety testing.

The policy was crafted by Michael Taylor, a Monsanto lawyer who was rotated into the FDA by the first Bush administration to fill the newly created position of deputy commissioner of policy. Taylor's tenure at the FDA and his role in crafting the 1992 FDA draft guidance has been extremely controversial, since the policy is widely seen as a politically engineered loophole designed for Monsanto's convenience.

In an ironic twist, the Obama administration appointed Michael Taylor as the deputy commissioner of foods in 2009, where he now oversees food safety policy for the federal government. So once again Michael Taylor and Monsanto hold the power to work in favor of strong mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

Unfortunately, for the growing movement of mothers, fathers, farmers and everyday citizens working to win this right, the more we learn, the more we lose faith with the basic institutions that were set up to protect our health and our democratic rights.

Wide Disagreement Among FDA Scientists Silenced in the 1990s

While Monsanto and political appointees in the Bush administration tried to pretend that genetic engineering was entirely safe, and there was no material difference between GMOs and traditional crops, the FDA's own scientists disagreed significantly.

From the start, the policy of "substantial equivalence" had many critics. The concerns by the FDA's own scientists were summed up in a memo by FDA compliance officer Dr. Linda Kahl, who protested the idea, stating, "The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different, and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks."

Confirming these concerns over risk of the new technology was Dr. Louis Pribyl of the FDA's Microbiology Division, who wrote: "There is a profound difference between the types of unexpected effects from traditional breeding and genetic engineering, which is just glanced over in this document Multiple copies inserted at one site could become potential site for rearrangements, especially if used in future gene transfer experiments, and as such may be more hazardous."

Even more concerning, internal FDA documents obtained by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity during a 1998 lawsuit against the agency reveal that the FDA's Biotechnology Coordinator, James Maryanski knew full well the potential risks but chose to override them.

In a November 1, 1991 memo to Mayanski titled "Points to Consider for Safety Evaluation of Genetically Modified Foods. Supplemental Information", the real potential problems with new genetically engineered crops were laid bare.

Detailing the potential "undesirable effects" of genetic engineering, the FDA's own scientists stated that the process of genetic engineering -"increased levels of know naturally occurring toxicants, appearance of new, not previously identified toxicants, increased capability of concentrating toxic substances from the environment (e.g. pesticides or heavy metals) and undesirable alterations in the levels of nutrients.

Despite this, Monsanto and the FDA continue to claim that genetically engineered foods are perfectly safe and are considered "generally regarded as safe" or GRAS under current FDA guidelines, despite growing evidence that this is not scientifically accurate.

No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety, No Matter What Monsanto Say

You might hear the mainstream media and the New York Times repeating the frequent claim that genetically engineered foods are perfectly safe and that this is confirmed by wide scientific consensus, but these convenient "facts" are more the stuff of public relations spin than scientific fact.

Just this past fall, on October 21, 2013, the European Network of Scientists for Social & Environmental Responsibility released a statement signed by 300 scientists, medical professions and academics explaining that in no uncertain terms that "the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist" and that the claim could "lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment."

So now, some 22 years after the FDA papered over the significant differences and potential between genetic engineering, scientists are beginning to speak up again and new peer reviewed scientific studies are confirming these concerns.

New Studies Confirm FDA's Claim of "Substantial Equivalence" is a Not True

While the underpinning claim that GMO crops are "substantially equivalent" or not "materially different" from traditional bred crops has been used by the FDA as an official policy to deny Americans the right know what's in their food, two recent scientific studies prove this not to be the case.

A 2013 peer reviewed study in Food Chemistry journal titled, "Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans", found that "Soybeans from different agricultural practices differ in nutritional quality." This blows the idea of no "material difference" and "substantial equivalence" out of the water.

According to the recently published study, "organic soybeans showed a more healthy nutritional profile than other soybeans", which led the scientists to state: "This study rejects that GM soy is "substantially equivalent" to non-GM soybeans."

Following up on these new revelations, another study published in the journal Proteome Science in December 2013 confirms this "showing molecular differences between genetically modified organisms and their non-GM counterparts".

Titled: "Comparative proteomic analysis of genetically modified maize grown under different agroecosystems conditions in Brazil", this  new study reveals molecular differences between transgenic and conventional maize".

According to the study: "Comparative proteomic analysis of genetically modified maize grown under different agroecosystems conditions in Brazil" showed differences between conventional maize and a Monsanto transgenic maize MON810, of the Bt type (modified to produce insecticidal toxins and kill the caterpillars that eat it). The experiments were conducted in two different agroecosystems in the municipalities of Santa Catarina: Campos Novos and Chapeco. The researchers found 16 different proteins between the two types of corn grown at each site (32 different proteins in total) - i.e., the differences were highly dependent on environmental conditions and were therefore more difficult to predict. The evidence also suggested that conventional maize is more stable, or has less variability, than the GM maize in different environments. The molecular functions of these proteins were mostly attributed to energy metabolism, metabolism of plant response, metabolism of genetic information processing, and metabolism of stress."

The Movement for Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Moves Forward

With new scientific studies eroding previous claims of scientific consensus and "substantial equivalence" millions of Americans and citizens around the world are waking up to the fact that their basic democratic rights are being eroded to benefit the sales and profits of multinational chemical and seed biotech companies.

In the past two years alone, more than 26 states have introduced legislation to label GMOs. During this time, Monsanto has spent more than $13.4 million to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington state, against the better interests of the American public. Despite these recent defeats, GMO labeling bills have passed in Connecticut and Maine and bills are currently being considered in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Today, we're asking that Monsanto shareholders vote in favor of labeling of genetically engineered foods to stop the continued deception of the American public and to join 64 other countries around the world. In the past two years Monsanto and other companies who have contributed more than $70 millions to defeat GMO labeling campaigns. It is against the continued business interests of Monsanto and its shareholders to continue to fight these efforts.

The movement to label GMOs is made up of mothers and fathers who believe in the right to know what's in their food. We understand that we are up against significant economic interests and political power, but this could be put to rest today, if Monsanto's shareholders would vote in favor of this simple proposition to label their patented products.

We firmly believe that if Monsanto can profit off a patent in their products and label their foods in India, China, Russia and South Africa, they can certainly agree that Americans should have this basic right as well.

This movement will not stop until we win this basic right and we strongly urge you to join us on the right side of history. A vote in favor of genetically engineered foods is a vote for transparency in markets, it's a vote in favor of democracy and it's a vote for freedom. The freedom of providing basic information to consumers, something all American corporations should support.

Thanks again for your consideration.

Dave Murphy

Founder, Executive Director

Food Democracy Now!

Sign the letter to join us in speaking truth to power and tell Monsanto: A vote for transparency is a vote for democracy and a vote for freedom! Every voice counts!

Thanks for participating in food democracy,

Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! team    

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