Webnote: The 2012 California Ballot Initiative for mandatory GMO labeling papers are being filed the third week of October with the California Attorney General's office and the official petition gathering of 550-700,000 registered voters will begin at the first of December.
DM: Dr. Joseph Mercola
RC: Ronnie Cummins
DM: Hi everyone. This is Dr. Mercola. Today, I am joined by Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association. If you have any interest in organic you have to watch his video. There is going to be some profoundly important information you need to know that we're going to share with you.
Before we go on the specific details, I just want to sort of set a frame, you maybe familiar with the fact that we have this year started an initiative called Health Liberty which is really focusing on four areas that we think we can really make a profound difference. One of them is mercury in dentistry. The other is fluoride in the water supply primarily and then another one is vaccinations and then lastly is the area of GMOs which ties intimately with the organic movement. Ronnie is one of the leaders in this area and really providing an educational service through his website and initiatives.
Many of you have probably heard of the movement Millions Against Monsanto. If you look carefully at Ronnie's shirt, you'll see that's the shirt because he's the founder of that movement. We have some really exciting information for you because we think we have - not we, primarily Ronnie and his group, have figured out a way to identify the Achilles heel of one of the most evil corporations on the planet Monsanto and how we can take them out on this very important issue of how they have been able to penetrate the pervasiveness of GMOs in the food supply. A really important issue. If you have any interest in this or the future health of our generations, you've got to watch this. Welcome Ronnie.
RC: Good to be with you today.
DM: I'm glad you can. Why don't you talk about some of these plans and what the strategy has been because prior to now, it's been an almost insurmountable task. Monsanto Corporation has billions - at least tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars behind them to really effectively disseminate misinformation and cause a large percentage of our food supply to be contaminated with GMOs. Why don't you sort of set a scope for what the challenge is and then share with us the exciting way that we can actually make a big difference in this area.
RC: Over the last 15 years I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the United States has become sort of a Monsanto nation. We've got 165 million acres of genetically engineered crops planted out there.
DM: How many acres are there in the United States?
RC: There is 435 million acres of cultivated crops in the U.S.
DM: Almost a quarter.
RC: More than a third right now are GMO. The Grocery Manufacturers Association admit that probably 75% of all the processed foods that is the non-organic processed foods in supermarkets today have genetically engineered ingredients in them. Most animals in the United States, animal products, meat, dairy, eggs, unless they are organic, these animals were fed a steady diet of genetically engineered grains their whole life.
We're approaching a situation where Monsanto has bought up more and more of the seed companies that it is becoming very difficult for farmers not to plant GMOs. How do we stop this situation? We've been complaining in the U.S. since the beginning that these crops are not proven safe. There is a lot of scientific evidence that indeed they are hazardous. They are hazardous to humans, animals, and the environment. But we have not been able to get the federal government to listen to us. They will not label the products. They will not properly safety test them and so on.
However, if we look across the ocean at the European Union which is actually the largest agricultural market in the world, why don't you find any genetically engineered foods on supermarket shelves? You can't even find then in junk food restaurants like McDonalds or fast food outlets. You don't find an acreage of any consequence planted in these crops. Well is this because the European Union has banned GMOs across the board? Actually not. The World Trade Organization and the U.S. have prevented the European Union from banning most of these crops. There is a few of them that are banned.
The difference is that in the European Union if a food manufacturer or a grocery store or a restaurant is going to serve up genetically engineered food or foods that have these ingredients in them, they have to label them. It's the law across the European Union. Because it's the law and it has been the law for over a decade, grocery stores don't want to stock anything with GMOs. Food manufacturers don't want to sell them and farmers will not plant them.
That brings us back to the United States, are we different over here that we want to be force fed genetically engineered foods and food ingredients? No. Actually, if you look at all the polls ever since the first genetically engineered food product hit the market, the bovine growth hormone, Monsanto's in 1994 - every poll ever taken by the government or by industry or by universities have shown the same thing. Americans, 80% to 95% always say they want to know whether foods have been genetically engineered or not. They want labels on these foods.
Okay, if we've always wanted this, how come the European Union has gotten this law and we haven't gotten this law. The sad answer is that in Washington D.C. and on Capitol Hill, we've got a White House, we've got a congress, we've got regulatory agencies that seem to care more about what big corporations like Monsanto, and Dow, and Dupont, (indiscernible 6:19) and the McDonalds and Purdue and the rest of the them, Wal-Mart think that what we the people think.
We've run into a stone wall over the last 12 years. We've introduced bills in congress over and over again to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. They have never even gotten out of committee much less come to a full vote.
In the last presidential election, President Obama claimed he supported labeling of genetically engineered foods. Hillary Clinton, now the Secretary of State when she was running for president, she claimed she supported it. But the minute they hit the White House, they start appointing Monsanto's stooges to the government, talking about how great biotech is, it's going to feed the world and so on and so forth.
DM: And important parts of the government that are actually responsible for regulating and controlling the regulation of GMOs and the introduction of it. Is that correct?
RC: Exactly. The USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA are supposed to have jurisdiction over new food products and food ingredients. They have fallen down completely on the job. For example, how is it possible that irradiated foods in the United States except for minor ingredients have to be labeled and yet genetically engineered foods don't? Well, they have had a hard time dancing around the law but they came up with this idea of substantial equivalence.
They are saying, hey if you genetically engineer a food product, you splice in some bacteria and viruses, and antibiotic resistant marker genes the humans have never eaten before that you don't know in what quantity they are going to exist in the host food. You don't know what they are going to do. How can you say this is substantially equivalent? Didn't Monsanto and Dow and Dupont just go down the street to the patent office and get a patent on this new seed or this new crop? How can it be substantially different if they got a patent on it?
How can it be substantially different when you have a growing body of evidence that animals that ingest this genetically engineered corn or soy or rapeseed or canola or the genetically engineered cotton, cottonseed oil suffer severe damage to their vital organs and call it substantial equivalent?
The bottom line is that the government at the federal level has been lying to us all along. They know, just like in Europe, if you put a label on genetically engineered foods consumers are going to think twice about buying these products. They are going to look around for an organic product or they are going to look around for a product that does not contain GMOs.
We have reached a point where it's time to give up on the federal government indefinitely on this issue. You can take these courts around genetically engineered crops all the way to the Supreme Court and then you have Clarence Thomas who used to be the lawyer for Monsanto making the decision that, no, these things don't have to be labeled. You don't have to worry about the environment and so on and so forth.
We have reached a point where we need to change the terrain of battle if you will. We need to get out of Washington D.C and Capitol Hill and move this battle to a place where we've got a better chance of succeeding.
What a coalition of health and organic activists including Mercola.com and the Organic Consumers Association have decided is that the best place we can carry on this public education battle and change the law is California. What we have done is filed papers to put a citizen's ballot initiative on the ballot in California for the November 2012 election that will call for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients.
The impact of the largest state in the nation passing this law will be that manufacturers are going to be facing a large dilemma. I mean, for example, is Kellogg's cornflakes willing to admit on its packages in California that it contains genetically engineered corn and then not admit that in the other 49 states? The answer is no. Or Kraft Boca Burgers, are they going to admit that they are using genetically engineered soybeans in their vegetarian burgers in California but not admit that in the other states? Of course not.
We have a clear legal precedent for this as a ballot initiative that was passed in California in 1986 called Proposition 65. This was a ballot initiative instigated by consumer groups and public health advocates and so on. They said when a product has a carcinogenic chemical in it, in California, it's going to have to be labeled as a carcinogen if it's above certain levels depending on the particular chemical.
Industry fought this Proposition 65 back in 1986 tooth and nail. They didn't want it go get on the ballot, enough signatures were collected among registered voters to put it on the ballot. It got on the ballot and it passed. What did product manufacturers including food manufacturers do? Well they certainly didn't label stuff as carcinogenic in California. What they did was they reformulated the products to get these carcinogens out.
We believe the same thing will happen in California. If half a million registered voters will sign our petition to put this on the ballot. This will pass we believe. Once it passes the entire food industry is going to start to shift away from genetically engineered foods and ingredients and toward organic and non-GMO. So it's a battle royale if you will. We're dealing with the weak point in Monsanto's defenses and the biotech's defenses which is the state level in a state that allows citizen ballot initiatives.
This is one of the few tools left that citizens in the United States have to bypass what is now a corrupt federal government and bureaucracy. It's mainly states west of the Mississippi that still have the right for citizens to collect enough signatures and actually put something on the ballot to vote. California, thank goodness is one of those states that have the initiative process. We intend to use this and we intend to win.
DM: Terrific. That's a lot of information. If I could just summarize it and you can confirm that my summary is correct. Essentially we have the European Union who has a history of labeling and then as a result of labeling not some sort of governmental restriction, GMOs are not available in Europe because of this.
Yet when we seek to do that in the United States because of this massive corruption and conflict of interest and the manipulation of the governmental regulatory agencies by the corporations that control this, you are unable to pass this at the federal level. It's been tried multiple times. It just fails repeatedly because they have been very successful at controlling the government in this area.
This Achilles heel that you figured out is to really use this uncommon practice with the ballot initiative which has a history of being successful in other areas in California. This is not - I just want to emphasize - not just for the people in California because if this passes in California this could be the beginning of the end for genetically modified foods in the entire United States. So it's very exciting.
I'm just sort of playing devil's advocate for the person watching this who is a skeptic because the immediate response would be - well, how are you going to get this in the ballot and what type of experience do the people you're working with have in doing this? What is their success rate? So if you could just walk through that as a person who might not believe that this is even possible.
RC: The Organic Consumers Association and a broad coalition of farming in California have hired a team of consultants who are experts at getting citizen ballot initiatives on the ballot - a team of experts who have a track history of winning ballot initiatives in California.
The bottom line in California is that we have to get the signatures of somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000 registered voters in order to put this measure on the ballot in November of 2012. This means we're going to have to recruit a grassroots army of several thousand people who live in California who are willing to go to a training meeting in their neighborhood or their town, their city, get a little training, meet the other volunteers from their area and then starting the first week in November, start collecting these petition signatures.
There will be teams of two to four people. You will be out in front of natural food stores and other areas where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. You will be asking people, are you a registered voter? Would you like to sign this petition so that genetically engineered foods have to be labeled? It will be on the ballot in November 2012. We'll have about a hundred days after the first week of November to collect these 500,000 to 700,000 signatures. That means in May we will be able to turn in to the California officials more than the minimum number and then it will be sure that it will on the ballot in 2012.
Now, typically if a corporation or a powerful special interest wants to get an initiative on the ballot in California, it's pretty simple. They pull out their wallet. Take out a couple of million dollars and pay a professional ballot gathering business to gather the signatures for them. It's a business for many people. In our case, we don't really have a couple of million dollars extra to spend. We also have thousands of people we know who want to volunteer to help us do this.
So by having volunteers collect the petition signatures, we'll save right off the bat over a million dollars. We will be able to use those resources to start combating the lies that the grocery chains and the agribusiness and Monsanto and the farm bureau are going to be throwing out. That's the first stage of the campaign. We need volunteers.
We also need to build up our campaign war chest. Monsanto and the rest are going to spend at least 50 million dollars to defeat this campaign. We don't need to raise 50 million dollars but we do need to raise a significant sum. So if you don't live in California and you can afford to make a donation to this campaign, please do so. If you do live in California and you can make a donation great. But especially in California we need several thousand people to step forward now to sign up to become volunteer petition gatherers.
DM: Terrific. Just to highlight again the level of professionalism of the consulting company that you have hired, I believe if you can maybe address some of their previous successes because I think this is the organization or the firm that was responsible for the successful passage of the most recent ballot initiative in California which legalized marijuana for medical uses.
RC: Yeah. The consultants we're working with were able to successfully put the original medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in California which won. That started a trend across the United States where medical marijuana is now legal in quite a few states.
In 2010, the same folks we're working with managed to start from not much money and a dedicated band of volunteers to put an initiative on the ballot that would have legalized marijuana in California.
That narrowly lost 54 to 46 partly because in retrospect looking back it was a light turnout in 2010 compared to what it will be in 2012. A lot of young people did not turn out to vote in 2010 in California. A lot of low income people. The exact group of people who were strongest in support of legalizing marijuana didn't vote in 2010. That's the main reason it lost. People are determined to put it back on the ballot.
Ken Masterson, one of the consultants we're working with has 14 different ballot initiatives that he's helped organizations put on the ballot using sometimes all volunteers like we intend to do to gather the petition signatures.
We got the Center for Food Safety who are our legal experts on this. They have been the ones suing Monsanto and the U.S. government for over a decade on genetically engineered crops and foods. They have a very good track record of being able to keep some of these products off the market and get others like the sugar beets temporarily suspended. They are fighting against the genetically engineered alfalfa at this point and other issues. So we got an excellent team.
Polls in California and across the states have shown in the past and they are showing in our polls right now that 80 to 85 percent of the public basically support our position. That they have a right to know whether foods have been genetically engineered or not. That they are tired of being lied to, deceived, force fed when it comes down to it genetically engineered foods without their consent.
DM: Terrific. It's because there is such a high percentage of people who really want to have the knowledge of the food before they purchase it at least have the choice of whether or not they are going to purchase a genetically modified food rather now because they don't know and most assume that it's not but most people are purchasing it. There is a high likelihood that if it makes it to the ballot initiative stage it will pass because 90-95 percent of the people want to know.
On the converse, there is going to be this enormous amount of funding perhaps 50 million dollars that you estimated between Monsanto and many of the industry who will benefit from the continuance of genetically modified foods to combat that and spread falsehoods to tell them it's going to raise the price of food and everything. Maybe you can address that and we'll talk about how this project is going to be funded.
RC: The propaganda campaign on the part of Monsanto and their allies is definitely going to be stepped up now. The first thing they are going to keep telling us is that genetically engineered foods are perfectly safe. Of course, we can counter this. There is plenty of scientific evidence that shows the contrary. And the public doesn't believe Monsanto and the industry on that point. They are also going to tell us that we need more genetically engineered crops
DM: If I could just stop you at one point there because I want to mention one point. Even if you accepted their argument that they were safe, which we don't, the way that these foods, many of these foods work is that they allow it to be sprayed truckloads of pesticides on the crops which are contaminating the crops with massive amounts of pesticides which we know are not good. No one would dispute that.
In addition, they are creating these pesticide or herbicide resistant weeds, these super weeds which are making a nightmare to farm now. It's almost going to burn itself out just on that fact alone because the reason they exist is to use these pesticides or herbicides and the herbicides don't work anymore.
RC: They have always told us from the beginning that genetically engineered crops will reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides. The statistics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that that's not the case. Since they started using these genetically engineered crops, they are spraying more herbicides and pesticides not less than they did before.
They always told us too, oh yeah, the world population is growing. We need to feed this world population. Genetically engineered crops will have higher yields. They will produce more. Again, look at the USDA statistics and the statistics across the world. Genetically engineered crops do not have a higher yield than chemical crops or organic crops. It's not true. It's propaganda.
Now they are telling us I guess we have global warming now. We have unpredictable weather and so on and so forth. What are we going to do? We'll roll out some new genetically engineered seeds that will perform better in these new extreme weather conditions that have become the norm. Again, this is propaganda. There is literally no genetically engineered seeds on the market that are so-called drought resistant or that can survive heavy downpours or so on and so forth. This is propaganda.
What we do know for a fact is that the way people farmed for 10,000 years that is organically; this is the way to reduce pesticides and herbicides. In fact, you don't use any in organic agriculture. If we are concerned about drought tolerance or the ability to withstand heavy downpour, organically managed crops and soil both retain more moisture in dry periods and then when you have excessive rain, they basically can hold more moisture in the soil. So they are much more resistant to climate change than chemical intensive crops and GMO crops. We know this for a fact.
We also know that organic is higher in vitamin levels and important trace minerals. We know that organic does not damage the soil food web because you're not using these chemical fertilizers or pesticides or so on. We know what we need in order to deal with the current global warming crisis. We need to get back to organic farming and ranching becoming the norm like it was for 10,000 years and forget about this crazy 60-year experiment we've had with chemical intensive agriculture and now genetically engineered agriculture.
Monsanto knows this as well but they want to hold us back. They want organic to stay 4% or 5% of market share. One of the ways that they are holding back the growth of organic is by refusing to label genetically engineered food. I can guarantee you we'll see the same thing we have seen in Europe is that once GMOs are labeled, they will start to be taken off the marketplace. Once GMOs are started to be taken off the marketplace, food manufacturers and grocery stores are going to look for organic alternatives.
Why is it in a country like Austria, for example, you have around 15% of all the foods sold in the grocery stores is organic? Why is it that the country has a goal of being majority organic within a decade? Well, it's because in the European Union they still have the right to know about their food. When you give consumers the right to know whether their food is genetically engineered or not and chemically intensively raised or not, they will choose the organic. They will start moving in that direction.
DM: Great. Let's talk a little bit about the funding of the project now. I believe the estimate is to successfully allow this ballot initiative to not only be on the ballot but to win it would be about 5 million dollars. Somewhere in that ball park range.
As you mentioned earlier, the industry is going to spend about 50 million. We're going to be doing it for a fraction of the price. A portion of that of course will be used to pay the consultants to successfully get this on the ballot but then also that it's going to be used to address the inevitable propaganda that's going to be generated by the media.
You're going to leverage a volunteer - we'll talk about that in a little bit. We've already mentioned it but that's going to help us reduce the cost by a million dollars. Five million dollars may sound like a lot but it sounds like we're about halfway there. Maybe you can address some of the donors to the campaign.
RC: Yes. Even though the fundraising part of this campaign just started recently, we're happy to report that we're well on our way. Mercola.com has put up a pledge of half a million dollars which is extremely impressive. Organic Consumers Association, we've committed a quarter of a million dollars. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap Company has pledged a million dollars to this campaign. And just in the last few days, Nature's Path, an organic breakfast cereal and grain company has committed half a million dollars.
We've got other groups of people in the alternative health and the organic community who have committed another quarter of a million dollars. We're well on our way to reaching the minimum threshold that we need to win.
It's quite clear to some of us why we have to have a sizeable campaign war chest because we had an effort back in 2002-2003 in Oregon where there was a ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods. This was a very grassroots attempt in the beginning. Amateurish some people say. But it did manage to get on the ballot. By the time the Organic Consumers Association and others got involved, it was pretty late in the game. But we were outspent 30 to 1 by Monsanto and the farm bureau and the grocery manufacturers.
Basically, we went from having most people in Oregon supporting the bill, in the beginning are supporting the initiative, to losing in the final election. We want to make sure this doesn't happen again. We don't need to raise 50 million dollars because we have already got the overwhelming majority of the population in our support. But we do need to raise 5 million or more.
Looking at our industry out there, the organic industry is a 30 billion dollar a year industry right now. The so-called natural products industry - I say so-called because some of it is not that natural - is another 50 billion dollars. There is plenty of money out there to fund this. The more money the better. Organic Consumers Association is soliciting money from our members. We don't care if people can only afford small amounts of money or if they all they have is some volunteer time to help that's great.
We do believe that the large businesses involved in the organic and health sector can afford to put up some significant money for this. We salute Mercola and Dr. Bronner's and Nature's Path and other companies that are stepping forward. We are very confident that we're going to be able to raise the money we need to fight off Monsanto's propaganda barrage and win a victory.
DM: Thank you for summarizing that. Let me just highlight some of the ways that our viewers can participate in this process because the last thing I want to do and emphasize is to make anyone watching this feel guilty for not being to donate something because if you can't afford it, you can't afford it. But if you can and if you have a significant amount of wealth and you feel motivated with this cause, clearly contribute especially if you're in California. It's really going to be necessary. But if you don't there is a number of different ways you can participate.
If you are in California we're going to absolutely need you in the very near future as part of the volunteer force. It's going to save a million dollars by going out and getting these half a million signatures or three quarters of a million signatures that are necessary for the ballot initiative to get on there. If you're not living in California, later on in the campaign, you'll be able to actually volunteer and call people in California about this vote.
Additionally, wherever you live, you can put pressure on companies within the industry that haven't been listed that you know or maybe have some influence with that you can motivate them, give them the examples of the company that are already participating in this movement and motivate them to donate some of their profits to this venture. I think that's where you could probably make the biggest difference. You can really leverage your efforts.
If you get together with a little local group and somehow be able to communicate a campaign to influence that company to make a difference, it could be huge. Absolutely huge. Those are major ways that you can make a difference in this campaign because we're already just about halfway there on the funds that are needed. Really, the campaign hasn't even started yet.
RC: I think this is going to be the David versus Goliath battle but I think we're going to win this thing and it's going to have national and international repercussions.
DM: Absolutely. What I neglected to mention that there is a large food chain that's traditionally recognized as the leader in the natural food industry for selling groceries. I'm wondering if you can share your experience with what we all know is Whole Foods and their participation in this project. Interestingly, it would seem superficially they would be one of the companies that would benefit the most. They are a billion dollar company and certainly have the revenue to generate something like this as opposed to a smaller company like the ones you mentioned that are donating these types of funds.
RC: Over the past year, the Organic Consumers Association on our Millions Against Monsanto campaign, we've had quite a few picket lines and protests and leafing events out in front of Whole Foods and also out in front of Trader Joe's trying to get these companies to voluntarily label the products in their stores that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
DM: Because they can do that. There is no rule against it.
RC: Exactly. What we tried to tell them was you're selling a lot of organic products in your stores and we're very happy about that. These products are completely free of genetically engineered ingredients. But you're also selling a lot of so-called natural products that you know and we know contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms). You have an obligation to your customer base to tell them this and to admit this. In our picket lines, in our protest out in front of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, we've asked the customers going into the stores, we have said
DM: Informally poll them.
RC: Yeah. Almost everyone thinks that there is nothing in these stores that is genetically engineered.
DM: Over 90%, 95%, 99%?
RC: Whole Foods is selling - a little over a third of their sales are certified organic. So the other two-thirds are "natural" category. You look in the natural processed foods section for example in Whole Foods, if you see stuff that has soy or corn or canola oil or cottonseed oil which is often designated as a vegetable oil or if it has a sweetener that is not cane sugar, it is very likely GMO.
I must say that we have not had any luck trying to convince Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or their main distributor United Natural Foods (UNFI). UNFI doesn't distribute to Trader Joe's but they do to Whole Foods. We have not had any luck getting industry to voluntarily lead the way. So they have left us no choice but to move to make it mandatory. Whole Foods is going to have to label foods that are genetically engineered just like Safeway, just like Wal-Mart, just like all the other companies.
I think it behooves these companies, these large companies like Whole Foods that are 9 billion dollars or more in sales; Trader Joe's at around 9 billion. I think they should really contribute to this campaign and do so in a significant way. They are far larger companies than Mercola.com but they are not showing so far that they are going to take leadership in donating to this cause. We certainly hope they will and if you're one of their customers, we hope you will tell their management that you expect them to step forward on this issue.
Now we're going to be setting up petition gathering tables in California in front of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Of course we expect them to welcome us and not call out the police as we've had some problems in the past with these companies. But we also want them to contribute some significant money to this campaign.
DM: Good. Hopefully, if you're watching this you'll be able to participate in that encouragement process. If enough of you do it, there will be a significant influence and hopefully they will start to participate because they could really be a critical difference if they got behind this initiative. Of all the companies that you mentioned they certainly can afford it more than all of the other ones put together.
RC: That's right. We need people all across the United States to start talking to their friends and neighbors in the stores where they shop about why we need to go as a nation back to organic food and farming and why we have to take this genetically engineered industry and put it back where it belongs not in the marketplace but in secure laboratories.
If they want to do a little basic R&D and actually prove some of their claims that would be one thing. But right now they are force feeding billions of dollars worth of these products to America's consumers and to farm animals. The scientific evidence is that this is hazardous.
We don't want to be ingesting pesticides. We don't want to be ingesting genetically engineered organisms. We don't want to be pouring 24 billion pounds of chemical fertilizers on to our farm lands every year. We need to get back to the organic natural ways of living and farming and eating that we had traditionally.
DM: Great. Are there any other comments that you think might be helpful for those watching this video?
RC: I think we have to understand what this whole technology of genetic engineering is all about. In reality, what we're talking about is genetic engineering is a way for large chemical companies to monopolize the seed sector and the food production sector. When you look at Monsanto and BASF and Dow and Dupont and Syngenta, you see that, oh my God, these weren't even major seed companies a decade ago. Now they control the majority of the world's seeds.
Now they are forcing people when they buy their seeds to agree to spray their proprietary herbicides and pesticides on these products. They have become powerhouses in the pesticide sector as well. It's becoming harder and harder for an organic farmer to be able to grow their crops without being contaminated by GMO crops that others are growing.
DM: Can you discuss some of the implications of them controlling the majority of the seeds and what that might have on the future of our food supply.
RC: For 10,000 years we've had a seed system across the world where farmers basically would - they would take note of the fact of which plants grew well under which conditions and so on and so forth and they would save these seeds.
In the 20th century, we had the development of hybrid seeds on the part of companies like Pioneer Hybrid which has now been bought out by Dupont, where they have developed seeds that really didn't work that well to save them. You might get higher yields but you had to use a bunch of chemicals. You had to have irrigated farmland. They cost more.
And then when the farmer went to save these hybrid seeds, they didn't really breed true as farmers say. They didn't really work that well. So what you had to do is you go back to the seed company and buy your hybrid seeds every season. Thank goodness a lot of farmers across the world, the majority of them never got into this hybrid seed treadmill.
But then along come Monsanto and the rest who realized hybrids aren't really a tight enough monopoly for us. Let's get a real monopoly. Let's get patented seeds that are genetically engineered where you can't really save them because we're going to have a contract with the farmers and if they save them we can sue them. So they're going to have to come back to us every year and buy them.
DM: It's a brilliant business model.
RC: It's a very good business model. It should not even be legal. But of course they had managed to produce this. And then they said, okay, we're now starting to make these profits, let's start buying up all the other seed companies in the world.
Monsanto, for example, bought up a Mexican company called Seminis which is the largest vegetable seed company in the world. They and the other biotech companies have slowly but surely started buying up all of the seed companies. So you look in the catalog now and even if you're buying hybrid seeds as a farmer, you can't find those varieties anymore. There is fewer and fewer varieties and more and more of the varieties that you can buy are genetically engineered.
Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture even tried to take it further. In the year 2000-2001, they had a patent on a so-called terminator seed. This seed really helped to have a monopoly because a terminator seed, even if you did save it breaking your contract with Monsanto, it would not reproduce period.
DM: This is sterile essentially.
RC: Yes. It would be sterile. Thank God a worldwide movement of revulsion and rebellion sprung up. Organic Consumers Association and our counterparts in a hundred nations fought against this and we managed to beat them back temporarily. USDA and Monsanto announced they would not commercialize the terminator technology.
But the bottom line is that we now have a handful of seed companies that are controlling the germplasm in the world for the majority of the crops being planted. When you think about the situation that we're going into, where the weather is now unpredictable and so on and so forth, you need more varieties and you need more open-pollinated seeds that is non-hybrid, non-genetically engineered seeds.
A perfect example if you want to look at this is back in the 1970s when a corn blight developed a disease that kills the corn plant. This spread across the entire United States very quickly, wiped out over 50% of the corn crop in certain areas, reduced the U.S. yield that year by 15%. This could have set off today, if this would have happened, there would have been mass starvation all over the world because the U.S. produces so much corn and because it is an essential part of people's diets in places like Africa for example where they eat more corn per capita than here.
What did they do? They had to go to a seed bank in Mexico and find some variety, some ancient open pollinated varieties that were resistant to this modern corn blight. Thank goodness they were able to find these seeds and ramp up production where the following year these genetic traits could be cross bred not using genetic engineering but cross bred into the varieties. So the yields went back up to "normal."
What are we going to do when we go to the seed bank and all there are are genetically engineered varieties?
DM: That's a question. Are these seed banks - because Monsanto and other companies are buying them up, are these seed banks disappearing in these repositories of these (indiscernible 47:41) varieties that provide the resistance to future diseases we don't even know of?
RC: I think it's important for us to realize that when you store seeds in a seed bank, that's better than nothing but what you need are varieties that are being grown out in the field. We have had a tremendous loss of varieties around the world. Our major crops have shrunk from thousands and thousands of varieties to a hundred or less in many cases and these are quickly vanishing.
The scary thing about genetically engineered seeds is that, for example, in Mexico which is the biological origin spot of corn. It's where the first varieties developed and where thousands of varieties were grown over time. They are now finding pollution across Mexico of genetically engineered seeds, corn seeds. Why is this? It's not even legal to grow genetically engineered corn in Mexico. Well, it's because Monsanto is pushing genetically engineered seeds into Mexico under the guise of it being cattle feed.
So the problem with genetically engineered crops is that they spread their pollen if they are wind borne like corn; or if soybeans they get mixed up together in the seed processing facilities or transportation. So they actually pollute the natural varieties that our out there. So we need to get this genie back in the bottle. The easiest way to get it back in the bottle is to restore consumer's choice to know whether the foods they are buying have been genetically engineered or not.
Once consumers can reassert control in the marketplace, I really think we're going to see a situation like the European Union where genetically engineered foods and crops will become this rare item that is totally marginal in the marketplace that is doing very little in terms of genetically polluting the countryside.
If people want to buy genetically engineered foods, they will still have a chance to do so I assume but most people don't want to buy them unless they can be absolutely proven safe for human health and the environment.
The verdict that has now come in from scientists is that this is an unpredictable inherently hazardous technology that has absolutely no benefit. You don't need genetic engineering to improve crop varieties. Most molecular biologists will tell you this. The cutting edge right now if you want to quickly develop a new variety of a crop is you use gene mapping or gene sequencing to determine a variety that worked really well under certain conditions and then you use traditional crossbreeding to bring that online.
DM: I guess that is an area where there is a lot of confusion in some people. They view crossbreeding as - actually, they view GMO as more sophisticated scientific 21st century version of crossbreeding but it's not. Maybe you can just expand on the difference there.
RC: The most sophisticated type of crop breeding is - for example, you are a farmer in Texas this year. You had the worst drought in history but you found that some of the plants in your field did fine through this thing. A farmer is going to save those seeds because you are liable to have drought conditions like this in Texas from now on. This is what scientists are saying as Texas, Southwest, get used to it. This is the new norm, the weather you are looking at now. That is sophisticated because those plants actually were adapted to your area. They survive that weather conditions and so on and so forth.
Or say you were up in the upper Midwest where you had the torrential spring range this year. And you had some vegetables or some grains or crop varieties that did well. That is cutting edge. Those seeds are going to really work.
But if you are mass producing seeds that are drought tolerant or that are likely to be productive -all these companies know this. You look at their research and development budgets. They are putting it in to what they call marker-assisted breeding or gene mapping not into gene splicing. Gene splicing is a dirty trick to get monopoly control over our seed supply and our food chain. We need to break the stranglehold of Monsanto and Dupont and Dow and BASF and Syngenta by reasserting consumer choice.
I guarantee you, once the California ballot initiative passes this is going to have major repercussions in Canada, in Mexico. It's going to ripple throughout the world. Because the biotech industry now uses the argument that well, the biggest country in the world in terms of genetically engineered crops is the United States and USA citizens aren't complaining and so it must be okay, right?
This is going to have global consequences because when you look at the situation right now genetically engineering is not the biggest hazard we're facing right now. It's a major hazard to our health and the health of the environment but we better deal with some of these other problems that are coming on strong now like climate change, like our aquifers being depleted at an unsustainable rate, like our soil eroding at an unsustainable rate, like our population explosion. We better get these matters under control.
I think it's a consensus across the board now all the way from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to farmers in 120 countries that organic food and farming is a solution to the major problems that we're being confronted with right now whether it's obesity and allergies and attention deficit disorder in humans, soil fertility, cleaning up the water, not using so much water, not using the fossil fuels. Finally, we need to realize that when you organically manage soil like on an organic farm or pasture on an organic ranch, you sequester huge amounts of climate destabilizing carbon dioxide.
Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, an organic experimental farm has shown that you can sequester up to 7000 lbs of CO2 every year per acre and keep it safely sequestered but you need living soil. You need a living soil food web to do this. Organic agriculture produces that type of healthy living soil. Chemical GMO agriculture kills the soil, sends that carbon that used to be in the ground up into the atmosphere where it's now wreaking havoc on our weather.
DM: Terrific. I'm really grateful for all you've done to help educate us and develop this initiative to make a difference. The common theme among the organizations that we're working with in Health Liberty is really that they all are addressing what we perceive as a significant threat to the very existence of the human race. This is really about bringing stewardship to future generations. We can probably survive this genetic assault to our food but the issue is not so much for ourselves but it's for our children, our grandchildren, our kids' grandchildren. It's our descendants. There is a real serious dangerous threat here.
I really thank you for helping us address this because you really found the Achilles heel, a way that each and everyone of us watching this can contribute in the ways that we have identified. That we can make a difference. We can make a huge difference that will be heard worldwide.
It's exciting to be able to work with you and to catalyze our viewers to participate in this project because I think we can really make a difference. We'll have really specific detailed information on this page for those who are watching this so they can contact and participate in and hopefully join you in the volunteer effort in California. Also to encourage the industry to really make some donations here that it can make a big difference in this field. Thanks again Ronnie.
RC: Thank you.
A Special Interview with Ronnie Cummins
Webnote: The 2012 California Ballot Initiative for mandatory GMO labeling papers are being filed the third week of October with the California Attorney General's office and the official petition gathering of 550-700,000 registered voters will begin at the first of December.