Organic Consumers Association

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‘QR’ Barcodes: The Latest Plot to Keep You in the Dark about GMOs

“The [Oct. 21, 2015] Senate Agriculture hearing reaffirmed the broad consensus among scientists and regulators that GMOs are safe . . . We were pleased to hear Senator Stabenow’s [D-Mich.] personal commitment to work to develop a bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate by the end of this year…”. - Pamela Bailey, Grocery Manufacturers Association, in an October 21, 2015 press release 

In the ever-complicated debate over labeling of genetically modified foods, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offers this idea: Use your smartphone. Vilsack told members of Congress on Wednesday that consumers could just use their phones to scan special barcodes or other symbols on food packages in the grocery store. All sorts of information could pop up, such as whether the food's ingredients include genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. "Industry could solve that issue in a heartbeat," Vilsack said during a House hearing on agriculture spending. - Associated Press, February 27, 2015.

“Gary Hirshberg, chairman of pro-labeling group Just Label It, told lawmakers during the [Oct. 21, 2015 Senate] hearing that his group is open to any national solution that requires disclosure of GMOs in foods, noting that "certainly the focus has been on labels, but there has been a lot of talk of technology" in helping to inform consumers. Hirshberg told reporters after the hearing that a final solution will likely be a mix of labeling and an online disclosure system, though he added that "in our view, however, two words in the ingredient label is a lot easier" than getting into smartphones -- and consumers don't use QR codes. While it was hedged support, Hirshberg's comments go further than many other labeling advocates, who have long dismissed the idea that has been championed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and who have said that smart labels are a non-starter.” PoliticoPro, October 22, 2015

Monsanto and its collaborators in the food and chemical industry, academia and Congress are feeling the heat. Their 20-year propaganda campaign of lies, deception and bribery—designed to ram down our throats a growing menu of foods contaminated with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) and pesticides, is failing. The controversy surrounding genetically engineered foods and crops, and the toxic Roundup, atrazine, metolachlor, glufosinate, 2,4D, neonicotinoids (bee-killing) and other poisons that are sprayed or spliced into these foods and crops has developed into a full-blown Food Fight that has begun to affect the bottom lines of Monsanto and Big Food corporations.

The World Health Organization recently classified Monsanto’s glyphosate (Roundup), the top-selling herbicide in the world, as a probable carcinogen. For decades, Monsanto has falsely claimed that its widely used Roundup weed killer is “safe.” Indentured scientists, journalists and politicians have dutifully regurgitated this corporate propaganda. Dissenting scientists, journalists and activists have been attacked. And even though in 1985, the EPA said glyphosate causes cancer, the agency later reversed its decision. Since then, every government agency charged with serving the public has instead served Monsanto. 

Roundup, composed of the “active ingredient” glyphosate and a toxic brew of so-called “inert ingredients,” is currently lurking nearly everywhere—on most food (except organic food), in municipal drinking water, rainfall, human urine, even in the breast milk of nursing mothers. USDA bureaucrats have admitted that they don’t test foods for glyphosate residues because it’s “too expensive.” As Andre Leu points out in his new book, “The Myth of Safe Pesticides,” pesticide residues in food, such as Roundup, pose a danger to all of us, and are especially dangerous to pregnant women and children since: (1) even the tiniest doses can be hormone disruptors; (2) no tests are done on the actual formulations including the so-called inert ingredients that can make the pesticides a hundred times or more toxic; (3) no testing is done on the toxic synergy of several pesticides and chemicals, even though most non-organic, GMO foods contain multiple pesticide/chemical residues

Meanwhile Roundup is routinely sprayed, in ever-increasing amounts, on approximately 90 percent of all GMO crops in the world, as well as more than a hundred non-GMO (non-organic) crops, including wheat, barley, oats, flax, peas, lentils, beans and sugar cane. In the U.S., Roundup is sprayed not only on 150 millions of acres of GMO farm crops, including corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, and cotton; and millions of acres of other crops as a pre-harvest desiccant or drying agent; but also on public parks, school playgrounds, sports fields, golf courses, lawns, and gardens. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that 280 million pounds of Roundup were used in 2012, nearly a pound for every American. 

Roundup has become the DDT of the 21st century, highlighting the alarming fact that the biotech industry’s supposedly safe and sustainable genetically engineered seeds and crops are actually nothing more than Pesticide Delivery Systems (PDS), designed to increase the sales of high-priced, patented GMO seeds and the proprietary pesticides that go along with them. Among the deadly diseases linked to Roundup are: cancers of the lung, liver, thymus, stomach, bladder adrenal glands, ovaries, colon, uterus, parathyroid and mammary glands.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies reinforce what consumers have known or suspected all along: GMOs and their companion pesticides and chemicals are deadly, not only for humans, but also for animals, the environment and the climate. 

The growing crisis for Monsanto and the Gene Giants (Syngenta, Dow, Dupont, Bayer, and BASF) is that consumers, especially women and parents of young children, are not just complaining about transgenic foods, but are actively rejecting GMOs. More than 10 percent of all U.S. consumer purchases in grocery stores are products that are labeled as “organic” or “non-GMO,” while restaurant chains such as Chipotle’s and Panera are beginning to take GMOs off their menus. 

This poses a major threat to the bottom line of the nation’s junk food/processed food companies (Coke, Nestle, Unilever, Pepsi, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, et al), given that 80 percent of all (non-organic) supermarket (and restaurant) foods now contain GMOs. If GMO labels become mandatory, as they are in Europe, big food companies and restaurant chains will have little choice but to remove GMOs from their products. Even worse, if consumers begin to thoroughly understand that pesticides, dangerous drug residues, and factory farms are part of the same toxic package as GMOs, Big Food will literally have to go organic or else go bankrupt.

But of course Big Food’s preferred plan is to keep consumers in the dark about the pesticides, GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, and synthetic chemicals in their products. As a Monsanto executive admitted 20 years ago, “putting labels on genetically engineered foods would be like putting a skull and crossbones on them.” 

Thirty-eight countries, including most of the European Union, have now banned GMO crops, while 64 nations require mandatory labeling.  Does anyone in their right mind seriously believe that these nations are banning or labeling GMOs just for the hell of it? Even in the U.S, the heartland of genetically engineered food and crops, grassroots pressure has brought about the passage of a number of laws either banning GMO crops (nine counties) or else labeling them (Vermont’s Act 120 goes into effect July 1, 2016. Maine and Connecticut also have passed mandatory labeling laws, but they can’t take effect until a total of five New England states also require mandatory labeling).

Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince consumers that GMOs foods are safe, a 2015 Pew Research poll found that the majority of Americans (including 65 percent of women) still believe that GMO foods are unsafe, and that that establishment scientists are wrong in claiming that GMOs are safe. Other polls have consistently shown that the “number one” food safety concern of consumers is pesticide contamination.

Congress to Consumers: Shut Up and Eat Your Frankenfoods

Despite the growing national and international consensus on GMOs, not one single member of the U.S. Congress, in several well-publicized hearings in the House and Senate this year, has had the intelligence or the courage to say that GMO-tainted foods and the pesticides that go along with them are toxic or unsafe. Perhaps even worse, the few token spokespersons from public interest groups—Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Working Group and Just Label It—despite portraying themselves as the “loyal opposition,” and despite being trotted out to testify in Congressional hearings, have either repeated Monsanto’s lies of “no-scientific evidence of GMO harm” or claimed disingenuously “we don’t know.”

With the mandatory implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law fast approaching, and the failure of industry’s lawsuit in federal court to stop the Vermont law from going into effect, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are growing desperate. Although they successfully introduced and passed H.R. 1599, aptly dubbed the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know), on July 23, abolishing the rights of consumers and states to require GMO labeling, Monsanto’s Minions are now worried that they won’t be able to pass a law in the Senate and get Obama to sign it in time to head off implementation of the GMO labeling law in Vermont. 

A number of Monsanto’s cheerleaders are also worried that a high-profile public vote and debate in the Senate, with a possible filibuster by Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont, will cause a major consumer backlash and a widespread boycott of GMA “Traitor Brands.” As Fortune magazine warned in a recent issue, the DARK Act lobby may indeed succeed in ramming through a highly unpopular bill in Congress abolishing Vermont and other states’ rights to label GMOs, but it could turn into a classic case of “winning the battle but losing the war.” 

The DARK Act by Other Means

In response to their difficulties in passing the DARK Act, Monsanto’s lobbyists, the GMA, and their faithful servants in Congress are preparing several contingency plans: (1) attach a secret rider to a Congressional Appropriations bill that will make the DARK Act the law of the land without U.S. Senators having to take a public stand (this is Monsanto, GMA and the Republican Party’s first choice); or  (2) come up with a grand compromise supported by Senator Debbie Stabenow and the Democrats, seconded perhaps by the “loyal opposition” in the organic and non-GMO industry, for “QR” barcodes on packages and supermarket shelves that supposedly will satisfy consumers’ right to know whether foods are genetically engineered or not.

QR codes are special barcodes that a smart phone or a grocery store scanner can read on a package or a display shelf that can then direct you to a company’s promotional web site, where no doubt after telling you how great they are, they might tell you somewhere in small print that yes Coca–Cola uses genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup in its drinks, or yes, Pepsi-Frito Lay corn chips have GMO corn in them.

As USDA Secretary Vilsack points out, QR bar codes could “solve the issue” of GMO food labels “in a heartbeat.” The “issue” of course that big food companies have is this: If they tell you clearly with a mandatory label on the package that their processed junk foods and beverages contain GMOs, a critical mass of consumers will boycott them.  

QR barcodes could also “solve the issue” faced by Congress—namely that 90 percent of Americans, including their constituents, whether Democrat or Republican, Green, or Independent, want GMOs labeled. So what’s their compromise solution? Stabenow and others are apparently willing to pretend that a voluntary QR barcode scheme is just about the same as mandatory labels, and at the same time make sure that their QR bill preempts or nullifies the Vermont GMO labeling bill.

But as OCA said months ago: Solve the issue for whom? Tot-Toting Moms with busy schedules who would need to take the added step of scanning every item in the grocery store, instead of just glancing at the label? Older people who struggle, as it is to keep up with rapidly evolving technologies?

Or how about those people who can’t afford—or don’t want to own—expensive smartphones? (Vilsack suggested retailers could provide a scanner for consumers who don’t have smartphones—again, not exactly convenient for busy shoppers, or older people who already feel overwhelmed by the latest techno gadgets).

This isn’t the first time Vilsack has pushed his barcode scheme. Earlier this year, Vilsack’s comments in Europe on how “barcodes” might be a trade-friendly alternative to the European Union’s mandatory labeling of GMOs helped inspire 50,000 protestors to take to the streets in Berlin on January 19, chanting, “We are fed up.”

Just like our fellow Europeans, we’re fed up. Fed up with GMO and pesticide- tainted food. Fed up with factory farms, a polluted environment and a disrupted climate. Fed up with Congressmen and women who kiss up to Monsanto, corporate agribusiness and the GMA, instead of listening to the real concerns of their constituents. And fed up with the “loyal opposition” who pretend to be part of our nationwide food movement, but then waffle or repeat Monsanto’s lies when asked whether GMO foods and the pesticides that go along with them are dangerous.

If Washington and the White House dare to spit in the face of consumers, and stomp on states’ rights by passing the DARK Act, or go along with a secret Monsanto Rider to a appropriation bill, or pass a so-called compromise that stiffs us with QR barcodes instead of real labeling, look out. Even the Big Business-friendly Fortune magazine says Monsanto and Big Food are playing with fire. They may be able to win this battle in Congress, but they’re going to lose the war. 

Tell Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and your Senators: Consumers want mandatory labeling of GMOs, not barcodes!

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