Naomi Klein on GE Thrust to Deny Consumer Choice & Pollute theWorld

Naomi Klein on GE Thrust to Deny Consumer
Choice & Pollute theWorld

Subject: How Magic Markers Are Messing Up Our Food System

Published on Wednesday, June 20, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail

How Magic Markers Are Messing Up Our Food System
by Naomi Klein

In the aisles of Loblaws, between bottles of President's Choice
Memories of Kobe sauce and Memories of Singapore noodles,
there is a new in-store special: blacked-out labels on organic foods.
These boxes used to say "free of genetically modified organisms,"
but then Canada's largest grocery chain decreed that such labels
were no longer permitted.

At first glance, its decision doesn't seem to make market sense.

When the first frankenfoods protests came to Europe, chains such
as Tesco and Safeway scrambled to satisfy consumer demand by
labelling their own lines GMO-free. And when Loblaws entered
the health-food market with its line of President's Choice Organics,
it seemed to be going the same route. In ads, the company proudly
pointed out that certified organic products "must be free of genetically
modified organisms."

Then the about-face, made public last week: Not only won't Loblaws
make the GM-free claim on its own packages, it won't allow anyone
else to make the claim. Company executives say there is just no way
of knowing what's genuinely GM-free -- apparently, it's too confusing.

The Loblaws argument points to a much broader strategy that North
American food and agriculture giants appear to be using to take on
anti-GMO forces. The goals seems to be to mess up the food system
faster than consumers can demand labelling.

Political will is pitted against nuts-and-bolts practicality, so that by the
time the political will arrives, effective labelling is no longer a pragmatic

More than 90 per cent of Canadians tell pollsters they want labels telling
them if their food's genetic makeup has been tampered with, but Galen
Weston, chairman of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., has publicly warned that "there
will be a cost associated" with such an initiative. This, in part, explains
the magic markers: If Loblaws carries organic products that are labelled
GMO-free, it weakens attempts to block GM labelling for the roughly
70 per cent of Canadian foods that contain GM ingredients. So the grocer
has made a rather brutal choice: Rather than give consumers some of the
information they are demanding, it will provide none of it.

And this is only one salvo in a war being waged by the agribusiness
industry on consumer choice in the genetic engineering debate -- not just
in Canada but, potentially, around the world. Faced with 35 countries
that have developed, or are developing, mandatory GE labelling laws,
the industry seems to be doing everything it can to make those European
and Asian labels as obsolete as the ones that have been scratched out at

By polluting faster than countries can legislate.

A few reports from the front lines:

One of the companies forced to remove its labels is Nature's Path, an
organic food firm based in Delta, B.C. Earlier this month, company
president Arran Stephens told The New York Times that GM material
is, indeed, finding its way into organic crops. "We have found traces in
corn that has been grown organically for 10-15 years. There's no
wall high enough to keep that stuff contained."

Some organic food companies are considering suing the biotech industry
for contamination, but the law is going in the opposite direction. Saskatchewan
farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto after its patented genetically
altered canola seeds blew into the farmer's field from passing trucks and
neighbouring fields. Monsanto says that, when the airborne seeds took root,
Mr. Schmeiser was stealing its property. The court agreed and, two months
ago, ordered the farmer to pay the company $20,000, plus legal costs.

The most well-known contamination case is StarLink corn. After the
genetically altered crop (meant for animals and deemed unfit for humans)
made its way into the food supply, Aventis, which owns the patent, proposed
a solution: Instead of recalling the corn, why not approve its consumption
for humans? In other words, change the law to fit the contamination.

Around the world, consumers are exercising a renewed political power,
demanding organic options at the supermarket and asking their governments
for clear labelling of GMO foods. Yet all the while, the agribusiness giants --
backed by predatory intellectual property laws -- are getting the global food
supply so hopelessly cross-pollinated, contaminated, polluted and mixed up
that legislators may well be forced to throw up their hands. As biotech critic
Jeremy Rifkin says, "They're hoping there's enough contamination so that
it's a fait accompli."

When we look back on this moment, munching our genetically modified Natural
Valuestm health-style food, our human-approved StarLink tacos, and our
mutated-farmed Atlantic salmon, we may well remember it as the precise point
when we lost our real food options.

Perhaps Loblaws will even launch a new product to bottle that wistful
feeling: Memories of Consumer Choice.

Naomi Klein's website is

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