Nel's New Day

September 27, 2013

Zombie Monsanto Law Must Be Stopped

A piece of good news hiding among the lack of Cruz Control antics this week is the Senate’s decision to drop the Monsanto Protection Rider. Last March Monsanto paid Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) $64,000 to put a rider into the must-pass farm bill to protect companies that sell GMOs from any lawsuits. The Secretary of Agriculture was instructed to allow the cultivation and sale of GMO crops even though they posed a potential risk to farmers of nearby crops, the environment, and human health. Monsanto wrote the language for the rider and then gave it to Blunt. That exemption for companies such as Monsanto, however, disappears in just four days.

The House put the Monsanto Protection Rider back into the House version of the short-term appropriations bill, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that also including the defunding of  Obamacare. But that rider was stripped from the appropriations bill that the Senate returned to the House.  Some of the Democrats who voted against the rider may be hurt in their upcoming elections. For example, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), appointed to the Senate in 2012, knows the danger that genetically-modified crops present to his state.

A new group, the New Democrat Coalition, may be more supportive of protecting Monsanto and GMOs. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) knows how bad GMOs are for his state agriculture. A member of the New Dems, Colleen Hanabusa, plans to primary Schatz and follow the group’s support of big business through lowering their tax rates, eliminating regulations, and establishing the Trans Pacific Partnership described as “the wish list of the top 1 percent.” In their advocacy of big corporations, the New Dems see biotech as the “future of the U.S.,” pushing to extend patents and give corporate welfare to the companies.

GMO companies want to keep people ignorant of the contents of their food. don’t even want to let people know what is in their food. Here’s what many people don’t know:

  • Labeling genetically engineered foods (GMOs) will not cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
  • Buying certified organic products does not let consumers avoid GMOs because food companies are permitted to use the term “natural” for products with GMOs.
  • Labeling laws will not result in new lawsuits against farmers, food producers, and store owners about food label terminology. It’s actually Monsanto that continually sues farmers across the country for growing their own seeds.
  • Labeling GMOs will not create a “bureaucratic nightmare” for grocers and retailers.
  • Genetically engineered do pose health safety risks. A study showed that GMO corn sprayed with Monsanto’s Round Up herbicide resulted in massive tumors, organ failure, and premature death in rats. Other studies link these foods to allergies, organ toxicity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, birth defects, high infant mortality rates, fertility problems, and sterility.
  • GE foods are not as, or more, nutritious than organic foods that contain higher levels of beta carotene, vitamins C, D and E, health-promoting polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants, flavonoids that help ward off heart disease, essential fatty acids, and essential minerals. GMO corn has 14 parts-per-million (ppm) of calcium while non-GMO corn has 6130 ppm, or 437 times more. Non-GMO corn also has 56 times more magnesium and seven times more manganese than GMO corn.
  • The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and other respected medical and health organizations do not conclude that GE foods are safe.
  • We do not need GMOs to feed the world because GE crops don’t lead to greater crop yields. Conventional plant breeding, not genetic engineering, is responsible for yield increases in major U.S. crops.
  • The creation of GE seeds is not comparable to the cross-breeding that our ancestors did to create hardier versions of heritage crops. Cross breeding is the product of guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are created in a laboratory using high-tech and sophisticated techniques. One of these techniques involves gene-splicing which is used to cross a virus or a bacteria with a plant. These untested, unnatural creations are the antithesis to what our ancestors did, and what responsible farmers do: cross-pollinate different varieties of the same plant to help naturally bring forth desirable characteristics.
  • GE crops do not reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides. In fact GE crops greatly increase the use of these toxic chemicals. According to a new study by Food and Water Watch, the “total volume of glyphosate applied to the three biggest GE crops — corn, cotton and soybeans — increased 10-fold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012” with the overall pesticide use rising by 26 percent from 2001 to 2010. The use of GE crops are now driving up the volume of toxic herbicides needed each year by about 25 percent.
  • GE crops are harmful to the environment. In addition to polluting the environment with herbicides and pesticides, GE crops lead to biodiversity loss and the emergence of “super bugs” and  “super weeds” that threaten millions of acres of farmland, thus requiring the need for even more dangerous and toxic herbicides. GMO use endangers many critical species, including the honey bee, frogs, birds, fish and the Monarch Butterfly. The island of Molokai in Hawaii has had its air and water quality destroyed by Monsanto’s almost-2000-acre test facility. Worldwide, people in areas around GMO farms report horrific bloody skin rashes, an uptick in asthma, and toxic pesticides that leach into the groundwater.

A recent study shows that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, may be “the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment” because it damages cellular systems throughout the body. It’s also the most popular herbicide on the planet and therefore likely to be pervasive in the world’s food supply. Scientists reported “signature of sarin” in Syrians who died several weeks ago, the same signature as the contents of Roundup.

A 2012 study published in the journal Archives of Toxicology shows Roundup to be toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications. Industry regulators and long-term studies look at glyphosate in isolation, instead of looking at Roundup’s full formulation, which includes secret added ingredients. These “confidential” and unlabeled ingredients, when measured as a whole, affect all living cells, including human cells.

Genetically-engineered seeds are available for three of the four major crops in the U.S.: corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Planting GE wheat seeds is illegal, but an Oregonian farmer found GE wheat growing in his fields last June, 12 years after Monsanto stopped its field trials. That one discovery risked the possibility of wheat farmers in Oregon not being able to export any of its crops because other countries such as Japan and China don’t want GE crops. The farmers could lose up to $3 million.

This month, a broker rejected an alfalfa crop in Washington state after testing positive for the genetic presence of Roundup Ready. The fourth-most widely grown crop in the United States, alfalfa has a value of about $8 billion; exports hit a record high of $1.25 billion last year. Washington is one of the nation’s biggest export alfalfa producers. In addition to being unable to export alfalfa to many countries, farmers may not be able to sell the crop for feed to domestic livestock because of GM contaminants.

Jack Heinemann, a New Zealand scientists, thinks that people may not be able to contain GE crops. A GE rice variety never commercialized was exported to France in 2006, and GE corn unapproved for human consumption showed up in Taco Bell taco shells.

The FDA reported that Monsanto concluded the wheat it tested was safe. With the reemergence of the wheat, Monsanto assures consumers that the FDA declared the safety of this wheat over a decade ago. In essence, Monsanto told FDA that the wheat is just fine so they are now saying that the FDA says that the wheat is safe.

Another danger comes from pharma crops, those engineered to produce pharmaceuticals or a toxic industrial compound. The USDA approved almost 400 field tests of these crops starting in 1991. In 2002, stalks of corn designed to produce a pig vaccine were mixed with $2.7 million worth of Nebraska soya beans for human consumption.

Large GMO companies such as Monsanto don’t want people to know that rat poison is an ingredient in their food products, and they don’t want people to file lawsuits against them if someone accidentally finds out. The House has voted to let Monsanto put poison in their seeds with impunity. Tomorrow they will probably hold the country hostage so that GOP House members will continue to be paid for their GMO support. Monsanto also spent $4.5 million to defeat an initiative to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods—in just one state.

For the past six months, no farmer could sue Monsanto for the damage to their crops, but Monsanto was able to sue farmers if seeds accidentally migrated into their fields. This has to stop. Zombie bills are those that seem to have a life of their own, that keep rising up. The zombie bill of the Monsanto Protection Rider needs to be eviscerated–permanently.

April 8, 2013

Can Monsanto Be Stopped?

Over four decades ago I went on a free ride at Disneyland called “Adventures thru Inner Space” sponsored by Monsanto. Forty years, I didn’t know anything about the company—just that it provided a “free ride” once I paid to get inside the amusement park. Little did I know that Monsanto, that started as a small chemical company in 1901, would grow into a huge biotechnology seed company that would be destructive to our environment and our food supply.

Monsanto originally made its fortune selling saccharin to Coca-Cola before it moved on to producing DDT (now banned in the United States) and Agent Orange, an herbicide and anti-defoliant that killed or maimed 400,000 people and caused another 500,000 children to be born with birth defects after its use during the Vietnam War. Its most recent money-maker is selling genetically-engineered seeds complete with herbicides and pesticides. Because of its dangers, people have tried to legislate ways to label food as genetically engineered, for example the failed California’s Prop 37, but Monsanto has been successful in defeating these efforts.

rootworm-300x203Monsanto spent $4.2 million last year to kill the ballot initiative that would bring California’s laws in line with those passed in Japan, China, the European Union, and Australia, which already require labels on genetically modified foods. In the United States, 91 percent of voters support GMO labeling, yet the FDA does not require safety studies before approving genetically-modified foods. Because of the danger of these GM foods, the EPA decided to look into the problem of “superweeds” and “superworms” that resist Monsanto chemicals.

The latest species of worm that has evolved to withstand pesticides are called “armyworms” because their infestation is like a military onslaught. The only answer farmers have at this time is to drastically increase the use of toxic chemicals on their crops.

Thanks to an anomymously-added rider to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, now signed into law, Monsanto is immune from any lawsuits against its poisoning the public. Nicknamed the Monsanto Protection Act, this law was even written by Monsanto and then slipped in with neither hearing nor review. President Obama signed the protection for Monsanto into law because it was part of the federal budget Continuing Resolution, necessary for continuing the government operations. Members of Congress who might have opposed it have said that they were unaware that it was part of the bill.

More people are familiar with the new law thanks to a segment on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, in which he said that these lawmakers operate “with the same level of awareness as a flatulent grandpa.” He further quipped, “The laws in the most powerful nation on Earth are written with the same level of accountability as Internet comments.”

Section 735 of the Continuing Resolution states that a seed approved by the USDA but challenged by a court ruling can still be used and sold until the USDA says otherwise. A USDA spokesperson said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked for a review of section 735, “as it appears to preempt judicial review of a deregulatory action, which may make the provision unenforceable.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) proposed an amendment to remove the rider out of the CR, but it never came to a vote. He slammed the House of Representatives for “slipping  ‘corporate giveaways’ into a must-pass government funding bill.” He wrote in a statement:

“Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals and to make government work better. These provisions are giveaways worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country and deserve no place in this bill.”

bluntRep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is taking credit for the biorider, saying that he “worked with” Monsanto to craft it. Monsanto’s office is located in Missouri, and the company has contributed generously to Blunt’s campaigns.

A serious problem of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds is that farmers cannot use seeds from their crops in the next year. Because Monsanto has patent rights, they are claiming—in the U.S. Supreme Court—that farmers that buy previously harvested soybeans for planting are infringing on Monsanto’s rights. Approximately 90 percent of the country’s soybeans are subject to this ruling because of being genetically modified, giving Monsanto a virtual monopoly to control access to this crop.

The case of Monsanto v. Vernon Hugh Bowman, an Indiana soybean and wheat farmer, surrounded the issue that all Monsanto seed buyers must sign a “Technology Agreement,” prohibiting them from saving and replanting the seeds or doing research on the seeds, and pay a technology fee.

As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself although he is a former Monsanto lawyer.  Bowman got his seed from his local grain elevator to plant as a high-risk crop after he harvested his wheat. Losing in two lower courts, Bowman is the using the argument of patent “exhaustion,” meaning that the patent owner has no rights to an item after an initial authorized sale of that patented item.

Monsanto also claims that it controls the pollen from Monsanto corn, also dominant in U.S. crops, and seeds distributed by animals, winds, or waterways and mixing with non-GMO plantings. The company maintains that the seeds of Monsanto seeds retain the company’s exclusive patent rights until perpetuity. If Monsanto wins its case—and with its money it is likely to do so—then almost all farmers will be forced to pay Monsanto for all their seeds. Monsanto has the ability to sell seeds that cannot re-propagate, meaning that farmers cannot use its existing crops to plant seeds during the next year.

Monsanto doesn’t stop there. Their products include herbicides, pesticides, and biocides that make soil toxic and water poisonous. Their genetically-modified products have not had enough testing on the health impacts.

Bill Maher put it well in his “New Rules” section: “If you are one of the millions of Californians who voted against labeling genetically modified food, you can’t complain when it turns out there is horse meat in your hamburger.” In his description of mislabeled foods, he said:

“Did you know your Chilean sea bass is neither Chilean, nor bass, nor from the sea? …. And your Mahi-Mahi is really made of mercury drenched bottom feeders like tile fish …. And if you like sushi, you really don’t know what you are eating because those fish are mislabeled 74% of the time.”

If there is any good news about this whole debacle, it is that the Monsanto Protection Act has been passed for only six months because the budget bill is in effect for only six months. It’s up to the people in the United States to stop this from happening again.

Other countries are fighting back against Monsanto’s control:

Five million farmers in India are suing Monsanto for as much as $7.7 billion for taxing the farmers to financial shambles with ridiculous royalty charges for “renewal” seed harvests, crops planted using seed from the previous year’s harvest.

Hungary destroyed 1000 acres of maize after the country found that it was grown with genetically modified seeds. Genetically modified (GM) seeds are banned in the country.

Peru has passed a 10-year ban on GM foods.

Argentina‘s tax agency is holding Monsanto responsible for  “slave-like conditions” among workers at a Monsanto contractor. Rural Power SA hired all its farmhands illegally, prevented them from leaving the fields, and withheld their salaries.

Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland have removed Monsanto seeds and banned them.

Poland is also taking action against Monsanto.

Congress is due to return after its latest two-week recess, and the Senate may begin debate on gun legislation tomorrow. Let’s hope that they decide to protect the people in the United States as much as they protect Monsanto.


February 12, 2012

Obama Changes Birth Control Rule

Besieged by mostly male Catholics for his recent mandate that their schools, hospitals, and charities must provide insurance that gives free birth control to their employees, President Obama move the requirement last Friday to insurance companies, mandating that they provide free contraception to any women contacting their providers. Companies should be delighted to provide the medication because the alternative—pregnancy—costs them far more money. Catholic leaders are still screaming about it because they don’t want women to have any contraception.

President Obama’s new policy contains the following:

  • Contraception will be available to women at no additional cost beginning August 1, 2012.
  • Insurance companies will reach out directly to employees of religious organizations who object to coverage contraception. The contraception will then be provided to the employee at no additional cost.
  • Religious organizations who object are not involved in providing or paying for contraception in any way. Since contraception helps save on overall health care spending, it is a benefit that comes at no net cost, meaning that religious organizations are not subsidizing it any way by merely providing health care coverage for their employees.
  • Churches and organizations that primarily employ and serve members of their own faith would still be excluded from coverage under the plan.

Enraged by the possibility of women getting birth control—or maybe just pushing for conservative votes—Sen. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has proposed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act allowing any employer or insurance company to “exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it.” If this were passed, an insurer or an employer could claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests, or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. A health plan could also refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer. Lung cancer might not be covered even if the cause were second-hand smoke. Insurance companies could make a fortune because they wouldn’t have to pay for anything!

Rick Santorum, who stated that the requirement of free birth control for women will lead to people’s beheading in this country, has said that no insurance plan should pay for birth control because it’s so cheap.  In reality, a woman who wants oral contraceptives must pay from $35 to $250 for the provider visit; the medication costs between $15 and $50 a month, depending on medical coverage. Without insurance coverage for contraception, women may pay over $850 the first year of their prescription. Contraceptive patches cost from $15 to $80 dollars per month, possibly costing a woman over $1,200 dollars in the first year. That may be peanuts to Santorum, but for women at the poverty line, it’s unaffordable. For Santorum this may be a small part of his personal budget.

Bishops and conservatives pointing their fingers at President Obama and his so-called “war on religion” ignore the fact that the mandate to require most employers to cover contraception for women went into law over a decade ago and peacefully stayed there during all eight years of George W. Bush’s two terms. In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that companies violated the sex anti-discrimination Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act if they provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control. For the past 12 years that ruling has applied to all employers with 15 or more employees.

To gain birth control access for women, reproductive rights groups and employees sued employers who were not in compliance. In 2001’s Erickson v. Bartell Drug Co., a federal court ruled with EEOC. Other court decisions echoed Erickson while others disagreed, but, with no U.S. Supreme Court ruling, 90 percent of employer-based plans offered birth control. Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center said, “It has been in active use all this time. [President Obama’s] policy is only new in the sense that it covers employers with less than 15 employees and with no copay for the individual. The basic rule has been in place since 2000.”

Not even religious employers were exempt from the impact of the EEOC decision. Title VII allows religious institutions to discriminate on religious grounds, but it doesn’t allow them to discriminate on the basis of sex. DePaul University, the largest Roman Catholic university inAmerica, added birth control coverage to its plans after receiving an EEOC complaint several years ago.

New York began requiring prescription contraception coverage in 2002 after Catholics groups sued and lost in the state’s highest court. The Supreme Court refused to take on the case. To avoid covering contraception, Catholic institutions in New York would have to drop all prescription drug coverage—including Viagra.

Letters to the editor in my part of the country have said it better than I can. Barbara Scarff Minckler writes, “I find it ironic that the old men who run the Catholic Church, neither husbands nor fathers, who didn’t have the decency to control the pedophiles in their own ranks, think they should have something to say about the most private of women’s concerns, i.e., their reproductive health.” (Meanwhile the Catholic Church is also trying to prevent groups such as Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests from stopping pedophilia.)

Lisa Cannon adds, “Are we really still talking about making birth control available to everyone? Which decade is this? If the people who run Catholic hospitals and universities feel so strongly about denying access to birth control to their employees, then they should refuse to accept federal funds.” She goes on to explain that most Catholics are not opposed to birth control and finishes, “So unless we decide we also want to allow every religion to ignore the laws of our country because they don’t agree with them, this is a non-issue. If prominent Republicans defend this, then I expect to see them defend the rights of Native American to take peyote at religious ceremonies as well.”

Cannon’s last comments refers to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement in writing for the majority decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that  the State is free to regulate.” People whose religious beliefs oppose war are also still forced to pay for war.

Janie Malloy finishes her letter by stating, “Respecting employers’ religious beliefs does not require allowing them to make health care and reproduction decisions for us.” Amen.


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