Organizing a Grassroots Truth-in-Labeling Campaign in Your Community
By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, 1/12/11
"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."
Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994
After decades of chemical assaults and biotech bullying, Monsanto has earned its reputation as one of the most evil corporations on Earth, sharing this distinction with America's chemical and energy-intensive industrial food and farming system, "Food Inc." Monsanto and their Evil Axis are clearly worried about their public image. They're worried even more about their shaky bottom line--their accelerating loss of market share to a $30 billion organic and local food and farming movement.
Monsanto and Food Inc. are uneasy that North American consumers, like their European and Japanese counterparts, are wary and suspicious of Genetically Modified (GM) or engineered (GE) foods; as well as the filthy, disease-ridden animal factories (typically maintained by exploited immigrant labor) where GM grains and drugs are forced-fed to most of the nation's livestock and poultry. The biotech industry and the industrial agriculture lobby are painfully aware that every poll over the past two decades has shown that 85-95% of American consumers want mandatory labels on GM foods. They are also aware that most consumers are disgusted and alarmed once they get a glimpse in the media of the animal prisons and torture chambers the EPA euphemistically calls CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).
This is why Monsanto, grocery store chains, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association adamantly oppose labels on GM foods or foods that come from CAFO animal factories. They know, just as we do, that millions of consumers are still "in the dark" about how "conventional" foods--especially the cheaper brands of animal products, processed and fast food--are produced. They know, just as we do, that millions of American consumers will shun or boycott products that are truthfully labeled in grocery stores as "May Contain GMOs" or "CAFO."
Unfortunately we can't depend on an indentured Congress to take a stand for us in regard to truth-in-labeling. Especially since the 2010 Supreme Court decision that gave big corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers the right to spend unlimited amounts of money (and remain anonymous, as they do so) in order to buy elections and politicians. As long as Big Money controls the media and the elections, our chances of passing federal GMO and CAFO labeling laws over the objections of Monsanto and Food Inc. are all but non-existent.
Therefore we need to shift our focus away from Washington and the White House and go local. We need to concentrate our efforts where our leverage and power lie, in the marketplace, at the retail level--educating the public, gathering thousands of petition signatures, generating phone calls, organizing picket lines and pressuring retail grocers to voluntarily label GM and CAFO-tainted products. Then, once we reach a critical mass in our local efforts, we can mount a grassroots lobbying campaign to pass mandatory GMO (and CAFO) labeling laws, at the city, county, and state levels. If local or state government bodies refuse to listen to us, in those cities, states, and counties where the law permits, we will then need to gather petition signatures of registered voters and place these truth-in-labeling initiatives directly on the ballot.
We should not kid ourselves. We are up against powerful and ruthless adversaries who understand that truth-in-labeling poses a mortal threat to Business as Usual. Truth-in-labeling will no doubt require a protracted struggle. But restoring consumers' right-to-know is well worth the effort, since once the thin veneer of "normalcy" or acceptability is lifted off of Monsanto and Food Inc's products, millions of consumers will demand non-GM, organic, local, and non-CAFO products.
Groundwork: Organizing a Truth-in-Labeling Petition Drive in Your Local Community
(1) Register your local Truth-in-Labeling campaign with the Organic Consumers Association. Send an email with your full contact information to information[a]organicconsumers.org. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and give us an idea of how much support you believe there is in your local community. Designate yourself or a group of volunteers as local coordinators. OCA staff can let you know how many people have already signed labeling petitions in your local community. Once you are ready, OCA will set up a Truth-in-Labeling "listserv" or email communications network for your local area. Set a preliminary goal for the number of petition signers (OCA suggests a minimum of 1,000) that you need in order to move forward. Stay in touch with campaign developments by regularly visiting our Millions Against Monsanto page.
(2) Educate and mobilize a thousand or more petition-signers in your community. Get volunteers to circulate online petitions to their personal or organizational email lists. See if you can set up a petition table at your local health food store, or at community events or locations. Circulate by email, or download and print hard copies, of the GMO/CAFO Truth-in-Labeling petition.
Circulate by email or download educational materials, and sample Letters to
the Editor from the OCA website.
(3) Order "Millions Against Monsanto" bumper stickers or T-shirts from the OCA national office. Use these tools to create visibility for the Truth-in-Labeling campaign in your community. To place your order, send an email to information[a]organicconsumers.org or call the OCA national office at 218-226-4164.
(4) Stay tuned for an OCA webinar or online seminar for more tips on how to organize a Millions Against Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling campaign in your community.