February 15, 2013

GMO Labeling and Movement Strategy and Goals


There’s a growing ambivalence among we who oppose GMOs where it comes to GMO labeling. Most obviously, it implies the continuation of industrial agriculture and food commodification, and globalization as such. It merely seeks Better Consumerism within that framework.
If people saw labeling as a temporary measure within the framework of an ongoing movement to abolish industrial ag and build Food Sovereignty, that could be good. If people saw the campaign for labeling as primarily a movement-building action, an occasion for public education, for democratic participation in a grassroots action, and to help build a permanent grassroots organization, that would be good. (POE as I call it – Participation, Education, Organization.)
But many of the advocates seem see it as a panacea. They at least claim to expect miracles from it: Labeling = the end of Monsanto. This is highly doubtful. Just because a labeling initiative or law is passed doesn’t mean it will be enforced with any alacrity. It’s still the same old pro-Monsanto government which would be in charge of enforcement. That’s why I always said getting the California initiative passed was just the first and easiest step; then the real work of vigilance, forcing the enforcers to follow through, would begin. That, too, was a reason why the campaign needs to be, even more than just an intrinsic campaign, the building ground of a permanent grassroots organization.
Then there’s the fact that most if not all of these initiatives and laws are riddled with loopholes, categories of food which don’t need to be labeled. That almost always includes GMO-fed meat and dairy. Actually, labeling would apply mostly to the same corporate-manufactured processed foods we ought to be getting out of our diets and economies regardless.
When we combine the picayune content of these labeling proposals with the fact that their advocates do often call them a self-sufficient panacea, and with the fact that the California effort was designed like a one-off electoral campaign rather than as a process of building a permanent grassroots organization, we gather a sinister picture of what’s going on here. Namely, GMO labeling often looks like another kind of liberal fenceline patrolling, meant not so much to fence GMOs out as to fence anti-GMO activism in.
States like Vermont and Connecticut have previously been the scenes of a scam. Facing a groundswell of anti-GMO verve among the citizenry, the state government hijacked this groundswell by going through the motions of proposing labeling legislation (which is conceived and drafted in a lame way), then saying, Br’er Rabbit fashion, “please Monsanto don’t sue us!” When Monsanto then made this briar patch threat, the governor, crying crocodile tears all the way, rued how “we can’t pass this law because mean old Monsanto will sue us.” The legislature then quashed the law it had never intended to pass in the first place. The whole thing was just a pantomime. It was the same basic briar patch scam in both cases.
In reality it’s doubtful that Monsanto, 100% government-dependent, without even the slightest iota of a natural base, would actually sue a government that really intended to make life difficult for it. (Although a lawsuit the government never really intends to fight could be the occasion for a different form of the scam.) Regardless, it’s the duty of a government to fight for the public good (so the good-civics textbooks tell me), even if the going gets tough. So no matter how one looks at it, these state governments have abdicated, and intend to continue doing so.
So it follows that getting legislation introduced, and getting initiatives on the ballot, are just part of the time-dishonored, field-failed, disproven set of within-the-system tactics, alongside petitions, “voting” etc. The liberals will keep saying, “that doesn’t work, so let’s try it again, and again, and again, and again, forever and ever!” The goal is to ensure that nothing is done until we’re enslaved once and for all.
The real answer is that we need to build a true Food Sovereignty movement, which is also an abolition movement. No goal short of the total abolition of GMOs will suffice. We know that GMOs cannot be prevented from contaminating other crops and the environment at large. We know that GMO corporations and their government thugs are totalitarian in intent. It’s proven that neither organic agriculture, nor the environment, nor our political and economic freedom, can co-exist with GMOs. But labeling, in itself, is another version of the “co-existence” scam.
I’m not saying all this to oppose labeling activism. But I would be suspicious of anyone who’s implying that it’s a panacea. I’d say, “If we get this passed, then what’s next? How will we organize the necessary public education and government pressure work? How do we prevent ourselves from being co-opted and corrupted like the anti-tobacco groups?” If they have no coherent answer, you know it’s a scam. In that case the goal is just to go through the motions. Even if the thing passes it’s meant just to be cosmetic. In that case the corporate liberals would then say indefinitely, “we got the law passed, now you have to be patient and give it time to work.”
I’d be suspicious of anyone viewing, running, organizing things like an election campaign. I’d say, “First of all we need to use actions like this toward movement-building. In what ways are we building permanent organizational and publicity structures? What underlying principles dictate our support for labeling, and how are we working to propagate those principles?” If they have no coherent answer, or directly say “this isn’t movement-building, this is a one-off campaign”, you know it’s a scam, or at any rate that they have in fact no coherent principle or strategy, just a vague feeling and a handy tactic. Needless to say, this mindset will never win the war of attrition it will take to bring down Monsanto’s tyranny.
Most of all, I’d want clarity on the ultimate goals. Do labeling advocates really support Community Food and Food Sovereignty? Do they really oppose food corporatism? Do they really seek to constitute an abolition movement vs. GMOs and industrial ag as such? Nothing short of this will work for humanity.
Does labeling have a coherent rationale at all? We mentioned how, in itself, it still rationalizes industrial ag, food commodification, unhealthy processed foods, passive consumerism, and the “co-existence” scam. In the end, it still rationalizes food corporatism and “market solutions”. These are all unsustainable evils, politically, morally, and practically. But in itself, the kind of solution labeling purports to be sees these evils as normative.
Once again we see how corporatist “solutions” cannot solve problems generated by corporatism, and are not intended to. If taken as a self-sufficient panacea (and as I said, the evidence is that most of its advocates and organizers see it that way), GMO labeling is part of the same instrumental, non-holistic NPK thinking which is destroying humanity.
The organic place of labeling activism, as part of a movement to restore the primacy of organic agriculture, would be as a movement-building opportunity. It would provide the occasion and the practice to build a permanent movement structure. It would also provide the forum for movement and public education about not just labeling, and not just the evils of GMOs, but about the evils and unsustainability of the entire corporate food sector. It would bring home the need to build Community Food as a full-scale economic and political movement.



  1. forums take and will do what I can to direct attention towards a future where labeling shouldn’t be necessary.

    Just based on my gut, I trust the Rural VT folks, but I have less warm feelings about VPIRG.

    Over at JMGreer’s joint, much has been written recently about the Commons. Genetically-Modified Organisms (in combination with other intellectual property rights assigned to food material) are a wholesale destruction of the world’s commons of genetic heritage and diversity. For some organisms, like corn, it seems—practically—too late to recover the Commons even if we were to be successful in convincing the world that it was a Commons worth having back!!

    Comment by Lidia — February 16, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    • Oops, that first line was supposed to read:
      “Russ, thanks for your thoughtful reply earlier which gave rise to this new post. I’ll see what guise the forums take…”

      Comment by Lidia — February 16, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

    • Good wishes for the forums. (Meanwhile our sustainability group will be screening “Genetic Roulette” later this month. We’ll see what kind of discussion that triggers.) I don’t know RuralVT, but if it’s a local/regional group, I too would consider them more likely to be trustworthy than the state branch of a national organization, which is likely to be more centralized/top-down than a soil-up confederation.

      I have confidence in nature’s stabilizing mechanisms, which make it unlikely that a temporary contamination would permanently damage or degrade. Of course this assumes that active GMO contamination will in fact be temporary. While nature’s limits to industrial ag’s domination (peak oil, peak phosphorus, peak aquifers, soil exhaustion, crop structure exhaustion, other ecological tipping points) will help with this, our chosen political actions, namely whether or not humanity builds movements to resist and reject Big Ag and to nurture and defend and extend Community Food, will be critical.

      Comment by Russ — February 17, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    • Of course I would never trust anyone unless they had a long-running, solid record justifying that trust.

      Comment by Russ — February 17, 2013 @ 7:10 am

  2. Hi Russ, I wanted to update you on the forum I attended sponsored by the coalition called VT Right to Know (http://www.vtrighttoknow.org/).

    I was quite impressed with the clear writing of your posts about this matter, so I took the opportunity of printing them out as a small pamphlet. I arrived to the forum on the early side, and started handing these out as well as leaving a pile at the entry alongside the material offered by the coalition (I asked the woman behind the entry table if this was ok, and she did not have a problem with it). However, within a few minutes the head organizers confronted me and asked me (politely) not to continue distributing material about “abolition” because it took away from what they were trying to do re. labeling. They said they personally agreed abolition was appropriate, but that they needed to focus on labeling and did not want the labeling movement to be derailed. I took back the remainder of the pamphlets (35 out of the 50 I brought) and sat out the rest of the meeting as an observer.

    Aside from a brief overview of GMO issues, the organizers, in their presentation (which was just outlines and talking points on a flip-pad), encouraged people to: contact legislators, write letters to the editor, bring up the issues in your community, and be prepared to make strategically-timed phone calls as the matter comes to a vote (peculiar to VT, I believe, where child pages run real-time messages from constituents to members on the floor).

    The talking points to hit were offered as:
    – Safety and health risks
    – Right to Know
    – Environmental Risks (those did not get elaborated upon, but then everyone in the audience knew what GMOs were)
    – 50 countries already label GMOs
    – one other I could not read, which they may have skipped

    The tactics were offered as:
    – Host educational/social events to build the movement
    – Legislation
    – Re-direct markets
    – Something or other I couldn’t read
    – Professional networking
    – Legal defense support (in case of agri-biz. lawsuits)

    Audience questions brought out the following comments from the VPIRG organizer (paraphrased from my notes, words in quotes should be accurate):

    • the language of the bill is what it is because they want “uniformity of what is being passed across the country”

    • the bill does not deal with animal products (meats, milk, cheese, eggs etc.) from animals fed GMOs, only directly-modified organisms as ingredients.

    • does not address health and beauty products, just food

    Similar laws did not pass the VT legislature last year, in part because the governor and legislators claimed to be fearful of a Monsanto lawsuit. When this was brought up by an audience member, the VPIRG organizer said that the argument was that “food companies have constitutional rights” (hoo boy!), and that “compelled commercial speech” would “violate their First Amendment rights”. Now, I don’t know whether these comments were offered merely CITING previous legal challenges and pro-corporate propaganda OR whether this organizer (a lawyer) has himself INTERNALIZED these arguments; I couldn’t tell.

    The Rural VT spokeswoman made the points that:

    • “the Feds have not and will not” take action on GMO labeling, so it is
    • “it’s up to the states to take matters into our own hands”
    • “Don’t hold out hope that the fed. gov. will step up to the plate.”
    • Common language among all the state bills will offer “as level a playing field as possible” for food companies to comply
    • They “didn’t want retailers to have to be responsible” under the law (instead, producers)

    After a 99% GMO-free snack of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cascade Farms granola bars, unlabeled cheese, and apple cider, we were directed to break into three discussion groups: 1.) visual presence, 2.) making contacts, and 3.) other new ideas. I joined “other new ideas”. The only new idea I had was one I had already come across online: what the facilitator called “self-labeling”, but he seemed to want to gloss over that as a tactic. I should note that the facilitator (from VPIRG) was a lawyer. In our group (the smallest) there was a young IT guy already working with the coalition, who didn’t offer anything, two women from the midwest who seemed energized around the tactics of 30 years ago like frankenfood costumes (seems as though this was a new arena for them), an older guy who claimed to be the head of “Vermont Thrive” (based on the film–Thrive–that’s all he had to offer), another quiet gentleman, a supposed activist with some group of his own which I did not catch. And us, the ones who thought “self-labeling” was a good idea (you take stickers that say “WARNING: MAY CONTAIN GMOs” and put them on processed food in stores to raise awareness). The funny thing about the “new ideas” group is that the subtitle on the flip-pad said “take it to a new level”! They really didn’t want to take anything to a new level that I could see. They are really afraid of putting people off.

    They are committed to “Right to Know” as the most workable line of attack, which may indeed be the case. Only they know the politicians and the legal lay of the land.

    A Ben&Jerry’s person was there, as his company is a sponsor of the coalition. Started as a counter-culture-type enterprise, this ice-cream mfr. grew successful enough to finally be bought out by Unilever. More than one person in the audience wanted to know what the parent company’s motives were and what Unilever dollars were doing elsewhere, perhaps to combat labeling. The B&J guy and the organizers pled general ignorance on the Unilever front and defused the issue by saying that we had to appreciate the support that WAS there and the commitment from B&J, along the lines of: don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. The organizers seemed sincere about the legislation being worthwhile and a step in the right direction rather than just a fig leaf.

    If you would like a PDF copy of the brochure I assembled, “We Need the Abolition of Genetically Modified Organisms”, you can find it here:

    The “booklet” version has imposed pages for double-sided printing as a booklet. There is something screwy about Scribd, though, because it says my docs were published by a person I never heard of, plus the tags and categories I added did not appear. The links seem to work, however. I hope you don’t mind that I put your work out there in printed form (to a whopping 15 people so far, 16 counting my mom’s hospice nurse).

    Comment by Lidia — March 1, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

    • Thanks for the update, and sure you can distribute my stuff. Thanks for that too! I don’t have time to reply to this right now, but I’ll do so tomorrow.

      Comment by Russ — March 1, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

    • Hi Lidia, I thank you for positive participation at the meeting, and your interesting report. I like your idea of self labeling. We can’t fight the against TPTB using their channels. One Love, tawal

      Comment by tawal — March 2, 2013 @ 12:50 am

    • Thanks for the report, Lidia. I think you did a great job there.

      I don’t know if they’re sincere about this. The fact that they’re already flouting the boycott of the corporations who gave money to defeat Right to Know doesn’t bode well. Nor is their evident place as part of the industrial organic complex. I don’t doubt that they’ve internalized much of the system mindset. Thus they’ve unilaterally dumbed the bill down to comply with central government directives, voluntarily racing to the bottom. (In California they did the same thing, and then added stupidity to timidity by saying stuff about THEIR OWN BILL like “loopholes are good”! I’d almost have wanted to vote No just out of contempt for such a lame campaign.)

      It’s Politics 101 that you demand far more than you really want to achieve, and that where you’re trying to get Better Elitism (and begging the elites for labeling is certainly an elitist strategy; indeed, here it’s not even a ballot initiative, but trying to get a law passed), you supplement it with as much grassroots direct action as possible. Therefore anyone sincere and competent would encourage direct labeling in the supermarkets, as one example of the kind of things citizens of a real democracy can and will do, as their right and responsibility.

      The strategic principles you listed contain one good point – they acknowledge that the central government won’t do anything (I hope they acknowledge that anything the central government does would be a scam). So they’re capable of digesting the evidence that far. Maybe it’s possible for people to do so about state governments as well.

      There’s also several moronic points:

      “Common language among all the state bills will offer “as level a playing field as possible” for food companies to comply”

      As I said, voluntary racing to the bottom. And why would the people want to “offer a level playing field” to criminal organizations that never offered it to us? That have done all they can to deprive us of any playing field at all, let alone a “level one”. And why should we want to “play” this game at all, and with such cheaters?

      “They “didn’t want retailers to have to be responsible” under the law (instead, producers)”

      Why not? Is there a tactical rationale for this, or is it some idiotic moral misguidance? Retailers had their chance to strangle GMOs in the cradle and chose instead to join the conspiracy against humanity. They’re enemies, not bystanders. As for what’s good tactics, I haven’t thought it through completely, but my first thought is that targeting the weak link, the most publicly exposed and vulnerable link, is often a good tactic. Supermarket chains are far more vulnerable than Monsanto. (Not to mention all their other bad effects.) It’s worked well in keeping most GMOs out of Europe. Perhaps the winningest union going, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (one of the few that’s been winning at all), has based its strategy on targeting one retailer after another.

      Most of all, it’s up to the people to take matters into our own hands, not “the states”. But that truth may be frightening for some of these cadres, who by training and temperament may identify more with Monsanto than with small farmers, indigenous peoples, and true democracy activists (that is, active participatory citizens).

      But here’s the core question to ask any advocate of system reformism, i.e. Better Elitism – When this fails, THEN what do you want to do? If the answer is vague, or boils down to, “keep doing what’s already failed, ad infinitum and ad nauseum”, then we know we’re dealing with con artists whose only real agenda is to keep dissent firmly within system-endorsed bounds.

      The right question would be, “If this doesn’t work, will you then convene a conference dedicated to enshrining abolition as the only goal, and working on strategy only toward this goal?”

      We already have the fact that this was already tried in Vermont and already failed, for one reason and one reason only, because the state government doesn’t want to do it. So why would that same government change its mind? The same has been true in every other state where the legislative route has been tried. How much evidence will be needed? The fact is, where the propagators of the “co-existence” scam (of which labeling is a part) aren’t conscious liars (I think the likes of WFM, Hirshfield, etc. certainly are), they’re still acting according to indelible system-compliant limitations. Like you say, they’ve internalized the rules of the criminal system, and by now voluntarily collaborate with it. The real goal is to try to prevent a real anti-GMO and anti-corporate food movement from cohering and gathering force.

      I think the answer is that no existing groups will be significant parts of the real wellspring which shall surge to a purifying Flood.

      Comment by Russ — March 2, 2013 @ 3:44 am

  3. […] Lidia posted an excellent report on her experience at an organizational meeting for Vermont Right to Know.   Here’s my […]

    Pingback by GMO Labeling Vis the True Food Sovereignty, GMO Abolition Movement | Volatility — March 2, 2013 @ 5:37 am

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