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OCA and Our Allies Pressure 10 Senators Who Voted Against States' Rights to Label GMOs

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

Seventy-one senators voted against the Sanders Amendment to the Farm Bill, an amendment to uphold states’ rights to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food.

It’s time to take action. The Organic Consumers Association has selected 10 of the 71 senators (listed below). With help from several of our ongoing allies in the GMO labeling battle, along with, and some of the state GMO campaigns, we’re launching a campaign to start pressuring these 10 senators to support their state’s right to enact a GMO labeling law.

How? By organizing meetings at their Washington D.C. and home district offices. By submitting op-eds to their state newspapers. By encouraging consumers to email and call their senators, write letters to the editors of their newspapers, and post on their facebook pages.

Here’s what we want these 10 Senators to do.

•    Explain why they voted against the Sanders Amendment
•    Issue a public statement that they will not support any rider, amendment, or legislation of any kind that would preempt their state’s right to enact a GMO labeling law.

We’ve listed the 10 Senators below, organized by state. If your Senator is on the list, be on the lookout soon for an invitation to visit one of his or her district offices. In the meantime, you can start pressuring them now, by calling their offices or emailing them. Or posting on their facebook pages (we’ve included the links, next to their names). You can also write a letter to the editor of your local paper, “outing” you Senator as one of those who voted against your right to know.

ILLINOIS: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

*$28,000 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

We’re sending people to Sen. Durbin’s office because he’s the Senate Assistant Majority Leader, and because the people of Illinois have been clear: They want labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods. Illinois has an active “Illinois Right to Know GMO” campaign and the state has GMO labeling legislation in the pipeline. The Illinois Right to Know movement turned out more than 2000 activists on May 25 for the March Against Monsanto. With all that activity, wouldn’t you think the senator who supposedly represents Illinois voters would support an amendment to uphold states’ rights to label GMOs? Apparently not.

GMO legislation:  On Feb. 13, 2013, State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) introduced SB 1666, legislation that would require companies to label foods containing GMOs. Sen. Koehler has chosen to hold off on a Committee vote in order to hold a series of hearings before the subcommittee of the Illinois State Senate Committee on Agriculture and Conservation. The hearings will be open to the public.

KENTUCKY: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky)

No significant campaign contributions from agribusiness

We couldn’t resist including Sen. Rand Paul on the list, even though there is no GMO legislation currently before the Kentucky state legislature. The king of state’s rights, himself, voting against state’s rights to label GMOs? Sen. Paul says he’s “fully in favor of consumers being fully informed of what they're buying, but he's incredibly cautious about handing government new powers to regulate food labeling.” We think it’s worth having an in-depth discussion with Sen. Paul on this issue, especially as there are already so many state laws already governing food and food labeling. Would he vote to overturn those laws, if given the chance?

Kentucky GMO legislation: None.

MAINE: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)

$17,500 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

Sen. Collins made the list for a couple of reasons. First, as a Republican, we were surprised to see her vote against states’ rights. Second, we were especially surprised, given that Maine has such a strong GMO labeling movement. The state is poised to pass GMO labeling legislation soon, thanks to the powerful Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which is leading the charge. The overwhelming majority of Maine voters want GMO labeling laws. Maine’s Sen. Collins? Not so much.

Maine GMO legislation:  A GMO labeling bill has been passed out of a joint legislative committee and will be voted on by the state Senate and House any day.

MASSACHUSETTS: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass)

Is Sen. Warren, who is so often on the right side of so many issues, just out of touch with the voters in Massachusetts? We were shocked to learn that she voted against the Sanders Amendment, especially in a state that is currently considering five GMO labeling bills. Sen Warren’s response to a voter who asked her why she voted no on states’ rights to label GMOs? She insisted that the Sanders Amendment would “take away the authority of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).” When the voter pointed out that the amendment merely would have preserved federal protection of states’ rights to safeguard consumers, she “wouldn’t hear of it,” the voter said. We’re hoping her hearing will improve if enough people show up in her office to talk about the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, and why voters in her state want the right to know what’s in their food.

Massachusetts GMO legislation: The Massachusetts state legislature is currently considering five GMO labeling bills. The Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture is debating H.808, introduced by Todd Smola (R-Palmer), which would require the labeling of foods containing GMOs and H.813, introduced by Ellen Story (D-Amherst), which would require the labeling of genetically engineered seeds. The remaining three GMO labeling bills have been referred to the Joint Committee on Public Health, including H.2093, introduced by Ellen Story (D-Amherst), H.2037, introduced by Michael Moran (D-Brighton), and H.1936, introduced by Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg).
MICHIGAN: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich)

$740,926 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

We chose Sen. Stabenow because, well, she’s such an easy target. She’s not only chair of the Senate Ag Committee, but she actually led the opposition to the Sanders amendment.  The fact that she took in more contributions from agribusiness in 2012 than any other senator, is just icing on the cake. Arguing against the Sanders Amendment, Sen. Stabenow said  that the amendment “ . . . would interfere with the FDA’s science-based process to determine what food labeling is necessary for consumers.” Stabenow’s statement shows either her ignorance of, or dismissal of, the existing scientific evidence that GE food has been linked to everything from allergies to kidney failure to cancer.

Michigan GMO legislation: None. But there’s an active GMO Right to Know movement in the state, and 12 cities mobilized marchers for the March Against Monsanto on May 25.

MINNESOTA: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

$18,800 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

Sen. Franken’s vote was another one that had us scratching our heads. In a state with active Right to Know campaigns in major cities, and new ones being formed every day, you’d think Sen. Franken would have voted on the side of the people, not Monsanto. He can’t claim that he doesn’t know how Minnesota voters feel. Two GMO labeling bills have been introduced in Minnesota and, to date, three of Minnesota’s most-read newspapers, the Duluth Tribune, Timberjay (northern MN), and Star Tribune, have all endorsed the state’s labeling legislation.

Minnesota GMO legislation: On February 28, 2013, SF821, a bill to require the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered seed and food was introduced in the Minnesota legislature by Senators John Marty and Foung Hawj. A companion bill, was introduced by numerous members of the House on March 11, 2013. Both bills are being withheld from a Committee vote due to the need to build more support in the legislature through grassroots organizing and outreach.

MISSISSIPPI: Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss)

$71,500 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

No big surprise, here. Sen. Cochran, along with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), is credited with trying to block the Merkley Amendment to the Farm Bill, an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to repeal the infamous Monsanto Protection Act. We don’t hold out much hope of winning over Sen. Cochran. But as the ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, we think it’s a good idea for Mississippi Right to Knowers to pay him a visit. We’re hoping the folks in Jackson, Miss., who marched against Monsanto will help us march into Sen. Cochran’s office.

Mississippi GMO legislation: None.

NEW JERSEY: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)

$159,050 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

We have no idea why Sen. Menendez voted against the Sanders Amendment.  New Jersey has an active GMO labeling movement and bills are pending in the legislature. We did notice that more than a year ago, a New Jersey voter left a note on Sen. Menendez’s website asking him to please introduce a GMO labeling bill in New Jersey. It looks as if Mr. Menendez hasn’t responded. Maybe he’ll talk to voters if they organize meetings with him?

New Jersey GMO legislation: This year bills were introduced in the NJ Senate and House, but neither has been passed out of committee.

NEW YORK: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

$198,883 in campaign contributions from agribusiness

One look at Sen. Gillibrand’s facebook page and it’s obvious that New York voters weren’t happy with her vote against the Sanders Amendment. There were plenty of questions about the vote on her page. But no answers. Meanwhile, GMO Free New York continues to push for a state GMO labeling law, with or without Gillibrand’s support.

New York GMO legislation: New York has two active GMO labeling bills in the state legislature: Assembly Bill A3525, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, and Senate Bill S3835, sponsored by Kenneth Lavalle, R-Albany. A3525 was voted down in the Assembly's Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection on June 4, 2013. Assemblywoman Rosenthal has vowed to find another way to bring the measure to a vote before the Legislature’s June 20 recess.

WISCONSIN: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Wisconsin is one of those states where you just expect that leaders will do the right thing. So, again, we were surprised when Sen. Baldwin voted against her constituents’ right to know. Right to know Wisconsin is actively assisting local leaders in support of labeling GMOs while promoting more general awareness of the threats they pose to human health and the environment. We hope to engage Sen. Baldwin in a conversation about states’ rights to label GMOs, and win her over to our side.
Wisconsin GMO legislation: None.