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In her June 25 keynote address to the BIO International Convention in San Diego, Calif., Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for genetic engineering and genetically engineered crops. She earned a standing ovation that day by stating that the biotech industry suffers from a public perception problem and that it just needs “a better vocabulary” in order to persuade GMO skeptics who don’t understand “the facts” about genetic engineering.
And then Hillary proceeded to get the facts wrong.
Why does it matter what Hillary, who holds no public office and has not (yet) declared her candidacy for president, says or believes about genetic engineering and genetically modified crops and foods?
It doesn’t—unless she throws her hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination. And then it matters not just what her position is on GMOs, not just how deep her financial ties to the biotech industry run, not just how much she distorts the facts about the “promise” of biotech crops.
It matters, deeply, to more than 90 percent of Americans, what her position is on laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs in food and food products.
If elected, will Hillary support consumers’ right to know? Or will she support the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year, which if passed, will preempt state GMO labeling laws?
Hillary has been coy about announcing her candidacy. But when it comes to clarifying her position on GMO labeling laws, she’s been dead silent.
As she soon heads to Iowa—the testing ground for presidential candidates—Hillary’s presidential aspirations will no doubt become more clear. If she runs, as the pundits predict, it will be up to the GMO labeling movement to demand that she take a stand on GMO labeling laws.
Meanwhile, here’s why Hillary’s speech to the BIO convention was just plain wrong.
Wrong on the science of genetic engineering
Hillary brought the BIO convention-goers to their feet with her call for “a better vocabulary” to win over consumers.
No wonder. After all, that’s the line Monsanto has been feeding the public ever since the public became wise to the lies and false promises of an industry known for its reckless disregard for public health. It’s part of an aggressive, widespread public relations campaign to sugar-coat the facts about genetically engineered foods and the toxic chemicals required to produce them.
As scientists release studies, each one more alarming than the next, revealing the devastating health and environmental hazards of the herbicides required to grow GMO crops—toxic chemicals such as glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, and Dow’s 2,4-D —consumers are connecting the dots between the rise of chronic illness and the unleashing of toxins into the environment (and onto our food).
No amount of “better vocabulary” will be able to counter the science behind the impact of toxic herbicides and pesticides on soil, on the environment, on human health.
But here’s where Hillary’s call for a “better vocabulary” really ran off the rails. Coverage of the convention included a video in which Hillary wrongly equated the age-old practice of seed hybridization with modern genetic engineering, in order to make the case that genetic engineering has been around since the beginning of farming.
Hillary would do well to go back to her science books. Here are the facts, as understood by every biologist. Seed hybridization occurs when the seeds of two compatible parent plants, within the same species, are crossed, either in a controlled environment or in nature. That process is in no way equivalent to genetic engineering, a process that requires human intervention, and consists of changing the genetic code of one organism by inserting into it the DNA from a completely different plant or animal.
Genetic engineering is an unnatural process that can take place only in a laboratory, aided by a human.
Wrong on genetic engineering and drought
In the same video from the June 25 conference, Hillary perpetuates industry claims that as global warming leads to more droughts, GMO crops will feed the world. She does this by focusing on GE drought-resistant seeds—as if engineering seeds for drought-resistance were a major focus on the biotech industry.
It’s not, of course. Drought-resistant seeds and crops make up a miniscule portion of the GMO crop market. Close to 98 percent of GE crops are corn, soy, alfalfa, canola and sugar beets, used to make biofuels, animal feed and processed food products, such as high fructose corn syrup. These crops are engineered to produce their own Bt toxins in every cell or else to withstand massive doses of herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, which are sold to farmers as companions to their GMO seeds. They have nothing to do with drought-resistance.
In fact, attempts to engineer seeds to thrive during droughts are still in the experimental stages and so far have largely failed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Monsanto’s DroughtGard, the only drought-resistant crop approved so far by the USDA, produces “only modest results, and only under moderate drought conditions.”
Yet to hear Hillary tell it, genetic engineering is all about saving farmers by providing them with magic seeds that thrive without water.
Wrong on genetic engineering and global warming
Toward the end of her video interview, Hillary switched gears to talk about climate change. She endorsed the Obama climate plan and called out the media for giving too much attention to climate-change skeptics.
Hillary believes we must address global warming. Good news.
But there’s just one problem.
A growing chorus of scientists warn that we cannot successfully address global warming unless we acknowledge the huge role that industrial agriculture, with its GMO mono-crop culture and massive use of chemicals, plays in cooking the planet.
If we’re truly serious about averting a global warming disaster, reducing carbon emissions isn’t enough. We have to acknowledge, and harness, potential of organic, regenerative agriculture to reverse global warming by sequestering carbon.
According to groups like the Rodale Institute, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty, a transition to sustainable, regenerative agriculture—not genetic engineering—is not only the only way we will feed the world, but absolutely essential if we want to slow global warming.
Hillary is just plain wrong if she thinks we can solve global warming while simultaneously promoting GMO agriculture, here in the U.S. and abroad. That’s why the Organic Consumers Association has launched a petition asking her to rethink her support for biotech, and commit to supporting a transition to a sustainable, organic food and farming system.
As consumers grow more knowledgeable about the link between food produced using toxic chemicals and the declining health of the U.S. population, they are looking more closely at those politicians who side with, and take money from, the biotech industry. Clinton’s ties to the biotech industry date back to the 1970s, when she was a partner in the Rose Law Firm which represented Monsanto.
A recent ABC News poll revealed that 52 percent of Americans believe food containing GMOs are unsafe, while 13 percent are “unsure.”
On mandatory GMO labeling laws, Americans are clear: 93 percent want labels.
Hillary, where do you stand?
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is the international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate Via Organica.