Volatility

December 22, 2014

We Need GMO Abolition, Not Labeling

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It looks like Oregon’s GMO labeling ballot initiative, after being outspent by Monsanto and its front groups $21 million to $9 million, failed by a handful of votes. There’s controversy over some uncounted ballots which should have been counted, but the vote should never have been so close on such a clear principle. So it also went in California and Washington.
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The electorate’s response to the campaigns has followed the same pattern in each case. Early polls show support by huge margins. But once the campaign advertising where the corporations have a big financial advantage start in earnest, support narrows until election day, where the measure fails by a slim margin.
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The corporate media closes ranks, issuing editorials against the measures focusing on one or more of five basic lies. These quotes are typical and come from the Oregon, Washington, and Colorado Ballotpedia pages.
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1. “GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply.” (the American Association for the Advancement of Science, really a corporate propaganda outlet) This is an undiluted, straight lie. No government or corporation has ever performed a single legitimate safety study on a single GMO. But independent studies have found strong evidence of health hazards, as have even the industry’s bogus studies.
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2. “We did not want the playing field to be uneven for Oregon farmers who could face greater regulation and costs than their peers.” (the Dalles Chronicle) On the contrary, industrial commodification and GMOs are destroying farmers. Farmers are trying to dump GMOs. Any agricultural economy which went all in on non-GM and organic would have a big economic advantage in both cost savings and price premiums. And this is just taking the short run into account. In the long run, all of agriculture will have to deindustrialize. People have the choice of doing it the relatively easy way or the really, really hard way.
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3. “…we support having the issue of GMOs addressed at the federal level so rules are uniformly applied.” (the Dalles Chronicle); “Product labeling is a national and global issue, and that is where the requirements should be established.” (the Statesman Journal) This is obviously a simple delaying tactic in order not to have to do anything oneself right now. More importantly, it’s completely wrong factually, and politically a lie. Agriculture and food are naturally and rationally local/regional sectors, and the states are therefore the highest possible legitimate level for any laboratory of democracy involving them. The FDA is institutionally unfit to preside over any substantive labeling policy, and any federal policy which were to be enacted would be a preemptive sham.
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4. “But mandatory labeling almost certainly will raises food costs as well, which will have a disproportionate effect upon those with the least money to spend.” (The Oregonian) This is the industry’s #1 canned lie. Anyone who thinks about it for a minute can see it’s obviously false, since manufacturers change their packaging all the time in far more extravagant ways than just adding a single unobtrusive line of small text, and this never causes them to raise prices. And in fact all the evidence confirms what common sense already knew.
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5. “It’s too early to stigmatize a new science like genetic engineering before we understand all its positives and negatives.” (the Spokesman-Review); “Real information isn’t a purportedly neutral label attached to vague insinuations of peril. The public deserves the whole truth about biotechnology..” (the News Tribune) This is a new low for Kafkaesque depravity. Government and corporations refuse to test the health effects of GMOs and attack the independent studies which are done. In every way they strive to suppress real information and as much as possible ensure that such information doesn’t even exist. Under these circumstances, the least that reason and simple human decency would demand is that, if the system will continue to refuse to seek the truth about GMOs, it at least must tell people where they are in our food. There’s no conceivable argument on this point. There’s just obvious moral and rational truth vs. the most despicable gutter fraud and lies.
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(On that point, I’ll stress again something we must always keep at the forefront of our minds when we consider this subject: The fact that the US government and the GMO cartel refuse to perform full safety studies upon GMOs is proof in itself that they either know or suspect the results would be bad for them. We can take this ongoing systematic evasion and suppression as among the strongest evidence that GMOs are indeed harmful to human health.)
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We see everywhere the media’s basic fraudulence, dishonesty, and hatred of democracy. For example, “Ballot measures generally are the poorest method for making public policy. Particularly when it comes to a technical matter such as food labeling and GMOs, any measure drafted by passionate advocates is going to have unintended consequences.” – the Portland Tribune. GMOs and food labeling are of course not “technical matters”, but political issues. But one of the basic moves of anti-democracy activists is to misrepresent political issues as technical matters which are the proper purview of “experts”. These pro-GMO paid experts, and everyone involved in the activism of pushing GMOs upon humanity, are of course “passionate advocates” themselves, but it’s another standard media lie to fraudulently represent pro-system activists as not being activists at all; only dissidents can be “activists”. This goes well with the media’s genuflection before the central government and authoritarian cultism where it comes to “prestigious scientific bodies” (the Denver Post) and “respected scientists and organizations that have found GMO processes and products safe.” (the Aurora Sentinel) Again, none of these “prestigious bodies” has ever tested a single GMO for safety, and they are all utterly ignorant about the health effects. These newspapers simply tell direct lies when they issue such citations. In truth all of these media publications and “scientific bodies” are by now de facto industry front groups with zero scientific or political legitimacy. They issue their proclamations and policy recommendations based solely on what’s necessary to the corporate profit imperative, never with the slightest concern for public health or safety. They’re all utterly ignorant of GMOs, except regarding the fact that the government and corporations want to boost them. That’s all any credentialed mercenary needs to know.
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It’s clear that although the people overwhelmingly support the idea of GMO labeling in theory, their commitment to it is skin deep. As I wrote last year, as soon as the money starts flying and the propaganda noise starts booming, people are easily thrown off balance. They focus pre-existing feelings of dread on the controversy and recoil from such a picayune thing as labeling, which seems to offer only a greater sense of helplessness.
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A survey done in California in September 2012 prior to the vote found that even the mention of an increase in food prices would “slightly diminish support”. This was prior to the big propaganda surge which hammered away with this lie. This musters every kind of inchoate fear. Since these days people are fearful and conservative, they shy from stimulation and don’t want anything to change, since they’re easily convinced that any change will only make things worse. At any rate, they’re disinclined to undertake any change themselves. It’s clear that to undertake a one-off political campaign, which is prone to muster such elemental anxieties – about poison in our food and the food we’re feeding to our children, about our ever more beleaguered personal financial position, about corporate power over us – and which becomes the scene of a media firestorm, where people are asked, as consumers, to do nothing but vote a certain way and then implicitly to lapse back into their usual passivity, with the only payoff for having had all these fears aroused is to gain even greater knowledge of what there is to fear, but with no greater sense of what to do about any of it – is it any wonder that so many people choose to believe the lies and vote No?
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People don’t really believe the propaganda, but are numbed into passivity by the volume and omnipresence of it. This is part of the job of the corporate media, to instill a sense of hopelessness in the individual, and a false sense that she’s all alone with whatever objections she has, alone with whatever dissent and activism for change she’d like to undertake. The labeling campaign also instills fear about the safety of the food, but doesn’t offer a productive context and course of action for this fear, but implicitly wants to leave you alone with your Yes vote and your new information.
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This is why many consumers don’t want to exercise their right to know. They’re settled in certain habits, have so many other stresses, they already know their food is poisoned and try to exist in a precarious psychological complacency about that. So they’d rather not hear about GMOs on top of everything. This supposition fits the data, that as the No propaganda surges and the noise level of the whole fight escalates, the weakly committed Yeses and the Undecided move toward No. If you’re going to stay within the bounds of passive consumerism, then does a GMO label really give you much of a new choice? Especially if you suspect, in most cases correctly, that the only result will be to discover that all your available choices have GMO labels, so that you really didn’t get more choice anyway, merely more stress.
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I agree – how’s a label in itself supposed to help change anything? If that’s all there’s going to be, I too might rather not know. And some of the panacea advocates have been clear that they view labeling as nothing more than a kind of “co-existence”, which is impossible.
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Labeling advocates point out that there is an individual, consumerist course of action available – change your eating habits, shun GMO products, petition manufacturers to purge them, retailers not to carry them. (Here we’re talking about doing these in an individual consumer context, not as part of a movement context.) According to what I call the panacea view of labeling, this consumer action would likely cause manufacturers to reformulate their products and/or retailers to stop carrying GMO-labeled products. They cite the example of Europe, where products have to be labeled for GMOs, and where only a miniscule amount of such GMO products are on the market, because European consumers shun them.
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But is this the likely result here in America? What about the opposite possibility – that if labeling is enacted, people will just shrug and not change their buying and eating habits?
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The oft-supplied analogy with Europe isn’t quite right. In Europe there was labeling from day one, before GMOs were firmly entrenched. People had a clear choice from the start and they consistently chose non-GM products, which mostly drove GM products out of the market. That’s not the same as it would be in the US. Here GMOs are deeply entrenched. What happens when people learn that the products which are part of their daily habits, which they’re used to, which are in their comfort zone, part of their routine amid the increasing pressure and stress of their lives, are of a certain nature? If they receive full knowledge that these are GMO, they may just shrug and not make any big change. Besides, it’s not like there’s going to be a big neon “GMO!” label emblazoned across the front of the package. It’ll be understated, and you’ll have to go looking for it. The big neon blaze could only be the campaign itself, not the eventual label.
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Indeed, it might even help normalize GMOs.
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Since consumerism is inherently passive and not active, since “choice” is a pseudo-ideal that few people really want (their political and economic actions prove it), and since fear-itself induces conservatism in the choices people make, the campaign to label GMOs is bound to be at a disadvantage as soon as it becomes embroiled in a struggle. People naturally support the idea, but not enough so that they don’t abandon it as a kind of “rocking the boat” the moment they’re given a reason to fix their fears upon it.
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In itself labeling is a meager, insufficient measure. Most importantly, it’s conceptually wrong, as it frames this critical political, socioeconomic, environmental, agronomic, and scientific issue as a matter of consumerist choice. Finally, the labeling idea is ripe to be hijacked by corporate interests or preempted by the central government.
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We can’t expect people to rouse themselves and go against the grain of their mass consciousness in any kind of ad hoc way, let alone in a way which they’ll have strong psychological reasons to resist. In order to get organic change, we first need to build an organic movement. We need to take the time and put in the work to build a movement culture where individuals find themselves as citizens, community members, members of a movement. We need to build a movement where people develop the individual self-respect to know that their action which seeks change will bring them a better world, and where they develop the political self-confidence to know that their collective action will work to bring about this bountiful change.
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Once we have a movement whose members and sympathizers see the world with the eyes of active citizens of a community, rather than with the eyes of atomized passive consumers among an unfathomable mass, then we’ll have the social foundation from which to launch any kind of political campaign. The campaigns will be organic, they’ll be part of an ongoing social and political context, and they’ll be waged and supported by citizens speaking to potential citizens who can see the living reality of the movement before them, rather than just a seemingly disposable campaign and stand-alone ad hoc policy proposal with no context for systemic change or human hope.
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If we want to do what’s necessary and do it right, in the process inspiring people to join a movement or support it (and this is what’s needed, rather than any quick fix electoral solution), we need to build a true movement toward a goal that’s necessary and great. The great goals available to us are the complete abolition of GMOs and breaking the power of corporations over our agriculture and food, in the process putting an end to their onslaught poisoning our food, water, soil, and air. The companion goal is to rebuild our community food economies on the basis of agroecology and food sovereignty, thus combining the best of freedom, health, democracy, and science. There’s no substitute for the patience and hard work required to build this new anti-corporate movement from outside the system. Along the way this movement can absorb whatever existing forces are available, so long as they’re compatible with the stark and non-negotiable goal of the abolition of corporations. But its inception and the main thrust of its action must always be toward building a new human world.
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There’s a reason why labeling initiatives continue to fail while county-level GMO bans have been successful in Maui, Hawaii (the big island), Humboldt County in California, Jackson and Josephine Counties in Oregon and, while towns across America have passed anti-corporate Community Rights statutes, fracking bans, and similar measures. It’s because unlike the consumerist preoccupation with labels, these measures arise from a comprehensive understanding of the corporate onslaught against us all and seek to fight the corporations just as comprehensively. One of the corporate media editorials cited at Ballotpedia called the supporters of Measure 92 “dishonest” because they claimed not to be anti-GMO in general and to care only about the right to know within a consumerist context. Where it comes to this lie, I can only say that I wish it were true and that more labeling advocates had such a consciousness. The labeling campaigns can indeed serve as excellent vehicles for public education, getting people involved in political participation, and organizing toward a full-scale abolition movement. But so far very few participants seem to see it that way. One of my commenters said she printed out copies of one of my abolitionist posts and brought them to a pro-labeling meeting, where the organizers asked her not to distribute them because this wasn’t the message they wanted to emphasize. So far that attitude is prevalent, and it has something to do with the overall pattern of failure for the ad hoc electoral campaign mentality.
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We need to build a true grassroots movement, this movement has to be affirmative, and it has to seek the stark goal of total abolition. If we can offer people the opportunity to fight to abolish GMOs, or to support this abolition movement with money, a vote, etc., and to do so toward affirmative goals like food freedom, food sovereignty, this offers vastly more on a psychological level than labeling by itself, which is more like yet another annoying consumer “choice”.
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In making these criticisms, I’m not disputing the basic truths of the pro-labeling argument. On the contrary, I avow these myself. I’m pointing out why, where labeling is presented as a typical ad hoc consumerist electoral campaign, rather than from within a movement context, the labeling campaigns are ineffective politics.
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At the moment the labeling campaigns comprise the main anti-GMO vehicle, and they can serve as good occasions for participation, organization, education – POE, as I call it. In principle and in action abolitionists should support and join the campaigns. But we insist that labeling is insufficient, is no panacea, and that the fight for labeling is just one step toward building the consciousness toward building what’s great and necessary, a true abolition movement.

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2 Comments

  1. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by If the DARK Act Passes, What Then? | Volatility — July 25, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

  2. […] panacea. Especially the claim that we can expect miracles from it: Labeling = the end of Monsanto. This is highly doubtful. GMO labeling only indirectly tells us some things about the pesticide content, which is a far worse […]

    Pingback by What if They Pass the DARK Act? | Volatility — February 24, 2016 @ 4:46 am


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