Millions Against Monsanto: Five Lessons From the Battle Against GMOs
By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association, Truthout
Monday, 04 November 2013 09:25
There are arguably more important issues facing us today than the battle against Frankenfoods. The climate crisis and corporate control over the government and media come to mind. But the rapidly growing anti-GMO Movement illustrates the powerful synergy that can develop from the combined use of social media, marketplace pressure and political action. Recent developments in this sector indicate that out-of-control corporations, media, politicians and the proverbial “one percent” can be outsmarted and outmaneuvered. And quite possibly defeated.
In the wake of high-stakes multi-million dollar GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California in 2012, and Washington State in 2013, an army of organic food and natural health activists have put Corporate America and the political elite on the defensive. We’ve demonstrated that aggressive populist issue-framing; unconventional “inside-outside” coalition-building; marketplace pressure; and online list-building, mobilization and fundraising – strategically channeled into local and state-based political action – can begin to even up the odds between David and Goliath.
Forty percent of consumers believe that unlabeled genetically engineered foods and crops are unsafe. Another 40 percent are unsure. These numbers terrify large supermarket chains, biotech companies and food corporations. So does the notion that states such as Washington, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont will soon require mandatory labeling of GMOs – which will likely drive these controversial foods and crops off the market, just as labeling laws have already done in Europe.
One of the most important accomplishments of the right-to-know, anti-GMO movement has been to unite the advocacy and fundraising efforts of non-profit groups and health and green-minded for-profit businesses. After 20 years of often operating on shoestring budgets, activist groups (the “outsiders”) are now increasingly joining hands with a number of profitable organic/green/Fair Trade businesses (the “insiders”). This inside-outside strategy has managed to raise a not insignificant war chest of almost $20 million to support the state GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013, while simultaneously pressuring major brands, such as Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle, to embrace GMO labeling.
One important consequence of marketplace pressure and boycotts is their potential to gradually divide our opponents. In the case of the anti-GMO movement, we’ve begun to drive a wedge between the biotech/industrial agriculture corporations, and their erstwhile allies, food manufacturers and supermarket chains. In the wake of the California GMO labeling ballot initiative (Proposition 37), the Organic Consumers Association and our allies launched a nationwide boycott of Traitor Brands, the organic and natural brands whose parent corporations spent $20 million, along with the biotech industry’s $30 million, to defeat Prop 37.
Over the past 12 months groups like the Organic Consumers Association, Mercola.com, Food Democracy Now, Natural News, Alliance for Natural Health, Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, Environmental Working Group, Cornucopia, Friends of the Earth, CREDO, and MoveOn have been able to send out anti-GMO or pro-labeling messages to literally millions of consumers and voters on a regular basis, generating thousands of grassroots volunteers, organizing thousands of local events and protests, and raising over $20 million, mainly in small donations. The anti-GMO movement may not have the deep pockets or the advertising and PR clout of the biotech and Big Food lobby when it comes to the corporate media, but we are rapidly developing our own mass media on the Internet and Facebook.
The anti-GMO movement, like other social change movements, has learned the hard way that corporations and the wealthy elite control not only the mass media, but the federal government, Supreme Court, and regulatory agencies such as the FDA, USDA, and EPA. After decades of sending petitions and lobbying the White House, Congress and the FDA, to no avail, it has become clear that the political elite, including President Obama, care more about their wealthy campaign contributors than they do about their constituents, including the 93 percent who, according to a recent New York Times poll, support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.
As a consequence the anti-GMO movement has moved its focus away from the unfavorable terrain of Washington D.C., and instead turned its attention to marketplace pressure, and state, county and local political campaigns, especially ballot initiatives.
Win or lose in Washington State on November 5, the anti-GMO Movement has evolved into a savvy army of grassroots activists who are committed to the ongoing battle to reclaim our food and farming systems, part of a larger battle to transform the entire political and economic system.