If ever conditions were ripe for revolution, that time is now—especially for anyone who cares about their health, and the health of planet earth.
President-Elect Donald Trump’s short lists for his environment and agriculture cabinet appointments are dominated by entrenched D.C. insiders, career politicians and industry lobbyists. Not one of these proposed “leaders” supports policies that would lead to healthier food, a cleaner environment or a cooler planet.
So much for “draining the swamp.” And so much for an easy road to forward progress on food, ag and climate policy under our future fast-food leader.
On November 15, POLITICO said it had obtained a list of talking points that “offer a roadmap on how President-Elect Donald Trump's agriculture secretary could shape agricultural policies, including the sweeping promise to ‘defend American agriculture against its critics,’”. . (emphasis ours).
This “promise” directly contradicts what a Trump campaign manager told me in a phone conversation, just days before the election. In an attempt to capitalize on a negative story about Hillary Clinton’s Monsanto ties, the Trump operative tried talk us into circulating a press release claiming that Trump was anti-GMO and anti-Monsanto. Predictably, those claims proved untrue, as we explain below.
But there’s something even more troubling about the “sweeping promise” talking point. It’s this: the use of the term “American agriculture.” The authors of this memo are referring to the industrial, chemical- and pesticide-intensive GMO monoculture-crop agriculture that dominates the U.S. landscape. By intentionally branding this system “American” agriculture, the authors (politicians) can make the case for painting those of us who oppose pesticides and degenerative agriculture as anti-American.
Before we get to the list of reasons we’ll need a bigger and better #ConsumerRevolution in the coming months and years, a word to our regular readers and others who consider themselves to be aligned with OCA’s mission, but who also voted for Trump. The bullet points below, based on announcements by the Trump team, signal clearly that this administration will oppose (with a few exceptions, such as the TPP deal) almost every issue OCA advocates for on behalf of consumers. It’s our job to highlight Trump’s positions on these issues, even at the risk of offending some of our supporters.
You should also know, if you haven’t already realized it, that OCA has never held back when it comes to criticizing candidates and politicians who are on the wrong side of the issues we fight for, regardless of their party affiliation. If you search our website, you’ll find plenty of instances where we have called out Hillary Clinton for being on the wrong side of public and environmental health, including her cozy relationship with Monsanto. We’ve done the same with President Obama— for pushing the corporate-friendly TPP trade agreement, and for failing to make good on his promise to label GMOs. (Instead of using his veto power, Obama signed into law the DARK Act, forever depriving consumers of the right to know what’s in their food).
It’s our job to speak truth to power—regardless of who holds that power. And speaking of power . . . with the coming influx of pro-Monsanto, pro-pesticide, pro-factory farm, anti-environment, anti-health, climate deniers in Congress, we predict our complaints to federal policymakers will largely fall on deaf ears. More than ever, we will need to use our buying power to hit the corporations that pollute and poison where it hurts—their bottom line.
Here are six reasons we need to ramp up the #ConsumerRevolution.
Reason #1: GMOs/Health. No use looking to the Trump administration to support policies that promote healthful, nutrient-dense, GMO-free food. As the New York Times reported in August, Trump—a “junk food aficionado”—is happiest feasting on Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s burgers and fries.
It’s no surprise then that Trump’s Agriculture Advisory Committee includes none other than Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) who, along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in July 2016, rammed through the DARK Act, the bill that nullified Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law, and permanently stripped U.S. consumers of the right to know if our foods contain pesticide-drenched genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Kiss goodbye any hope of repealing the DARK Act in 2017—it’s here to stay, under Trump. (Trump reportedly offered the position of CIA chief to Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), author of the House version of the DARK Act. Pompeo may have little influence over food and ag policy from his new digs at the CIA, but it’s said he was offered the job because of his “loyalty” to Trump).
Reason #2: Pesticides. Any hope that the incoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will start protecting public health instead of Monsanto and the rest of the pesticide peddlers faded the minute Trump tapped Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team. Mother Jones reports that Ebell, a self-proclaimed climate denier, directs the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a front group that runs SafeChemicalPolicy.org, a website devoted to downplaying the health and ecological impacts of chemicals.
According to Mother Jones, the Center for Energy and Environment “dismisses the well-established existence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals as a myth conjured by ‘anti-chemical activists.’" That’s bad news, given the latest research on endocrine disruptors. And it likely means we can expect little or no action from the EPA, which is currently weighing the pros and cons of renewing licenses for dangerous chemicals such as atrazine and glyphosate.
Reason #3: Factory farms. Factory farming is a trillion-dollar industry that has a devastating impact on food quality, human health, animal welfare, farmworkers, rural communities, water quality, air pollution, biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions. According to Meatonomics, Americans pay $414 billion in hidden costs, including for healthcare, subsidies and environmental damage and clean-up related to factory farm production of meat, dairy and other animal products.
If we want factory farms to be replaced by ranchers who use regenerative grazing practices, or dairy farmers who produce organic milk from pasture-raised cows, we’ll have to boycott the factory farmers—because we surely won’t get any help from the Trump administration when it comes to regulating factory farms or holding them accountable.
How do we know? Just look at who Trump has surrounded himself with. Charles Herbster, owner of both a Nebraska cattle-breeding company and a company that sells chemicals and fertilizers, is heading up Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee. According to the latest report from POLITICO, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is a leading contender for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. In 2009, Perdue signed a bill into law that blocked local communities in Georgia from regulating factory farms to address animal cruelty, pollution or any other hazards. After meeting with Trump on November 30, Perdue told POLITICO: “ [Trump] knew what it takes to make America great again by doing the things we do well, which is agriculture, for one, and to free up farmers from the regulations that we see. He was spot on those issues." The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a front group for the GMO industry, named Perdue their 2009 Governor of the Year.
Reason #4: Global warming. Trump, who famously tweeted that climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” wasted no time in announcing his intent to de-fund the U.S. NASA climate research program. International climate scientists denounced the plan, stating that loss of the program will “devastate” global climate research.
Trump has also vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the global Paris Climate Treaty, in a move guaranteed to leave the U.S. in the dust when it comes to advances in renewable energy and soil carbon sequestration programs aimed at reducing emissions and drawing down excess carbon from the atmosphere. It’s difficult to imagine that the “leader of the free world” would betray future generations by ignoring what is generally recognized as the greatest threat to civilization today, including to U.S. national security and to the global economy. But there you have it.
Reason #5: Water pollution. It’s been 42 years since Congress passed the Clean Water Act. But loopholes in the Act, along with attempts by big polluters (including agribusiness) to weaken the law, have left millions of acres of wetlands, and approximately 60 percent of America’s rivers and streams unprotected. The EPA has been trying to restore protection to those wetlands and waters—the source of drinking water for 117 million Americans. But factory farm lobbyists have fiercely opposed tighter regulations. So, it seems, will the Trump administration.
Under the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, the EPA set out to un-muddy the waters around which types of waters are, and are not, covered under the original Clean Water Act. According to his campaign’s official transition website, the Trump administration wants to roll back the Obama Administration’s effort to clarify the rules around water pollution. That means we can forget about forcing companies like Tyson Foods, which dumps more toxic pollution into the nation’s waters than any other agribusiness, to clean up after themselves.
Another bad sign for the Waters of the U.S. rule? Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, is on Trump’s short list for EPA administrator. Pruitt is an outspoken opponent of the EPA's efforts to address factory farms that pollute drinking water. He was one of the first state attorneys general to file suit against the EPA over the rule. His position against protecting drinking water from factory farm waste has no doubt been shaped by his campaign contributors, who include the Oklahoma Farm Bureau (OFB) and Monsanto.
Reason #6: Animal welfare. It goes without saying that anyone who supports factory farming doesn’t lose any sleep over the physical, much less emotional suffering of animals. Trump is no exception, as the Humane Society Legislative Fund pointed out in an article titled, “Trump's ag A-team a royal flush of animal protection haters.”
The article calls Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee “a veritable rogues gallery of anti-animal crusaders.” From the article:
The group boasts a wealthy funder of an anti-animal super PAC, politicians who sponsored state “ag-gag” measures and opposed the most modest animal welfare bills, and leaders of the factory farming industry. It’s an unmistakable signal from the Trump campaign that he will be an opponent of animal welfare—a show of overt hostility toward the cause of animal protection that raises serious concerns for the humane movement about a potential Trump administration.
The Humane Society of the U.S. named Pruitt (Oklahoma attorney general and potential EPA administrator under Trump) the nation's least animal friendly attorney general for teaming up with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau to oppose “efforts to crack down on puppy mills, horse slaughter, the exotic pet trade, factory farming, and just about every other animal welfare issue you can think of.”
We could go on, but a person can take only so much bad news at once. For now, suffice it to say that at the federal policy level, consumers will have little or no say over matters that have a dramatic—sometimes devastating—impact on our health and the environment. That means we’ll need to take our battle to the marketplace.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.