By Dr. Mercola
In the featured TED Talk, Seeds of Our Ancestors, Seeds of Life, environmental activist Winona LaDuke addresses some of the more hidden dangers of global corporate domination by companies such as Monsanto.
“Food for us comes from our relatives, whether they have wings, fins, or roots… Food has a culture. It has history,” Winona says.
Many Westerners may have forgotten any ancestral traditions revolving around food. But for American Indians, Hawaiians, Maori, Mexicans, and many others, food still has a special role within their culture and history.
Genetically engineered (GE) foods, which are not only altered in various unnatural ways, are also patented. Farmers must pay user fees to plant them and are prohibited from saving the seeds for the next season.
This unnatural system threatens not only biodiversity and environmental health, it also threatens cultures and the cultural identity of peoples around the world.
Corporate Domination of Food Threatens Cultural Identities
At present, biotech corporations are fighting tooth and nail to ensure genetically modified organisms (GMOs) gain unrestricted access to the markets around the world, and the food industry as a whole is also poised to achieve global domination via free trade deals that usurp nations’ rights to make and uphold their own food laws.
To the American Indian tribe Ojibwe, wild rice (minoman) is sacred. The tribe was led by the Creator to settle where minoman grew, and wild rice is the first and last food tribal members will eat in this life. It’s featured in sacred feasts and ceremonies, and minoman is grown today in much the same way it was grown a thousand years ago.
Similarly, taro holds a special place in the Hawaiian culture. To the Hawaiians, taro is part of their cosmogenealogy; they consider themselves related to taro—to them, taro is their older brother. To the New Zealand Maori, the peruperu potato is sacred.
All of them have fought to prevent these culturally important foods from being genetically modified (GM) and patented. So far, they’ve all won.
Yet the march of GMOs continues unabated, with more and more “redesigned” crops being released, and with it, biodiversity declines. Not only are GMOs replacing conventional seeds, but GMOs also spread and pollute other non-GMO crops, thereby posing a double-threat to diversity.
Over the past 100 years, we’ve lost an estimated 75 percent of our agro-biodiversity, and this has environmental consequences that many fail to consider. Loss of access to traditional foods also leads to poorer health.
Winona also discusses the economic ramifications of seed patenting. At present, commercially available seeds are owned by seven corporations, and farmers are stripped of the inherent wealth associated with owning, saving, and sharing seeds.
Our current food system is highly concentrated—first, in terms of being a monoculture with very few varieties available, and second, in terms of ownership of these few precious crops. And far from being the answer to the world’s food needs, this concentration actually ensures food insecurity.
Add to that the fact that many of the older varieties of crops were higher in valuable nutrients too. As just one example, work by Dr. August Dunning, chief science officer and co-owner of Eco Organics, shows that to receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples.
Free Trade Agreements are Really Forced Trade…
Free trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which involves the United States and 11 other countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and Europe, have major implications in terms of our economy, our daily lives, as well as our states- and national sovereignty.
While they’re deceptively described as free trade agreements, they’re actually lead to forced trade, and by setting up international laws that supersede national laws, they create a situation in which quality and safety of food is virtually guaranteed to be as low as possible.
Many European countries worry that these trade agreements may undermine or circumvent many of their established laws against GMO’s and other American food practices, such as disinfecting chicken in chlorine and the routine use of hormones in beef production, neither of which is permitted in the EU.1
Based on what has happened with other trade deals, such fears are warranted. The difference between Europe and the US in terms of how farmers and consumers view GE foods is mirrored in the amount of GMO’s grown and used in food.
In the US, 88 percent of all corn, 94 percent of cotton and 93 percent of soybeans are genetically engineered varieties. In Europe, less than one percent of the farmland is dedicated to GE crops—primarily in Spain—and Europeans are strong proponents of the precautionary principle.
In the US, regulators tend to approve new technologies based on short-term studies done by the manufacturer.
European regulators tends to be far more cautious, and acknowledge that what they don’t know is perhaps more important than what little they do know about the product in question, so they’re less likely to approve items that are poorly studied.
As noted in The Washington Post:2
“Genetically modified crops are broadly unpopular in Europe, and farmers and environmentalists fear that if trade restrictions are lowered, both genetically modified seeds and U.S.-grown genetically modified products would quickly take over European farmland and grocery stores.
Some farmers are hoping to stop the talks if rules that govern their work are thrown into the mix, and they are determined to keep U.S. industrial farming an ocean’s-length away…
“We will fight this until we cannot fight any more” if it appears that restrictions on growing genetically modified crops are about to be loosened, said Reinhard Jung, the head of the Brandenburg Farmers’ Federation.”
Why are Free Trade Agreements Negotiated in Secret?
Free trade agreements really do little to boost local economies; they simply empower corporate superpowers to become even more dominant. Unfortunately, trade agreements are poorly understood by most people, which isn’t surprising considering they’re negotiated in secret, and the public is rarely engaged in the process.
If you missed my interview with Ben Lilliston, Vice President of Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, in which he discusses the workings of international trade agreements, I highly recommend taking the time to listen to it now. These agreements really do little to boost local economies; they simply empower corporate superpowers to become even more dominant.
Trade agreements are poorly understood by most people, which isn’t surprising considering they’re negotiated in secret, and the public is rarely engaged in the process. If you missed my interview with Ben Lilliston, vice president of Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, in which he discusses the workings of international trade agreements, I highly recommend taking the time to listen to it now.
You can also learn more about these and other trade deals on the Public Citizen’s Globalization and Trade website.3 They also have a page dedicated to the issues relating to the TPP,4 where they note that this trade deal could:
Offshore American jobs and increase income inequality5 Introduce SOPA-like threats to Internet freedom6 Increase cost of medicines7 Empower corporations to attack US environmental and health safeguards8 Expose Americans to unsafe food and products9 Undermine Wall Street reforms10 Ban Buy American policies needed to create green jobs11
Bad News: Industry ‘Bought’ TPP Fast-Track Approval
At present, the TPP and the TTIP are under negotiation, and the stakes include rules relating to medicines, local food programs, food safety programs, and even labor rights. Unfortunately, the US Senate recently voted to give President Obama the authority to fast-track the TPP. Fast-tracking means Congress will not be able to debate or amend the agreement; it can only vote yes or no on it, as is.
As noted by The Guardian,12 there was a lot of public resistance against fast-tracking the TPP, but corporate money won at the end of the day. On May 14, 62 senators voted yes on the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA); 38 voted no.
“Those impressive majorities follow months of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by the world’s most well-heeled multinational corporations…” The Guardian13 writes. “Using data from the Federal Election Commission, this chart14shows all donations that corporate members of the US Business Coalition for TPP15 made to US Senate campaigns between January and March 2015, when fast-tracking the TPP was being debated in the Senate:
- Out of the total $1,148,971 given, an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes.
- The average Republican member received $19,673.28 from corporate TPP supporters.
- The average Democrat received $9,689.23 from those same donors…
- Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who is the former US trade representative, has been one of the loudest proponents of the TPP… He received $119,700 from 14 different corporations between January and March…” [Emphasis mine]
Trade Agreements Weaken Health and Environmental Protections and Destroy Regulatory Standards
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are largely focused on creating “regulatory harmonization” among participating nations. Basically, they seek to set up the same regulatory infrastructure in all countries involved in the agreements. This means participating countries must have similar if not identical (aka “harmonized”) rules and regulations for food safety, chemicals, GMOs, intellectual property, medicines, and finance, for example. The ones benefiting from this “harmonization” are the multinational corporations that came up with and negotiated the rules in the first place.
They want a regulatory system that makes it as easy for them to operate across borders as possible. For example, if their product is approved for sale in one country, it’s automatically approved in the partnering countries. Or, if they’re granted a patent in one country, their patent is protected under the agreement in other countries as well. The problem with harmonizing regulations across borders is that, as a rule, the common standard ends up being the lowest possible standard. Repeatedly, we’ve seen that trade agreements push regulations down, rather than up; weakening rather than strengthening environmental and health protections.
Harmonization creates a race to the bottom in terms of both quality and safety.16 The lowering of regulations is of particular concern when it comes to environmental and public health safety. If the standard is lowered via a trade agreement, a country must lower its current regulations or potentially face legal challenges.
According to Sebastian Pfotenhauer, a science policy researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):17 “TTIP really falls squarely within the domain of science and technology policy. What is at stake is the sovereignty of countries to interpret scientific data and regulate risks in the way they choose.”
According to EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, the TTIP would not permit companies to circumvent EU food standards, particularly those relating to GE foods. But, as reported by The Guardian18 last year:
“[D]ocuments from various US and Canadian government agencies and business trade bodies suggest strong pressure is being brought to bear from US industries to allow GM products and other foods into EU markets that would violate the EU’s current standards, in the name of free trade.”
Indeed, a 2013 article in The Hill19 noted that:
“[T]he US Senate Finance committee has recently stressed that any agreement must also reduce EU restrictions, among others, on genetically modified crops. Reaching consensus on this contentious issue is vital to successful negotiations of the TTIP… [W]hile the differences in transatlantic approach towards GM foods pose a concrete threat to the conclusion of the trade agreement, the trade talks themselves provide the ultimate opportunity to enable the authorization and cultivation of GM crops in Europe.”
It’s important to realize that both the TTP and the TTIP grant corporations special legal rights under the Investor-state Provision, and if a corporation feels a nation’s regulation violates one of these trade agreements, they can legally challenge the regulation. As noted by Scientific American:20
“The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other such agreements is littered with such cases… The pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly is currently suing Canada under NAFTA after the government invalidated patents on two of the company’s drugs in an argument over interpretation of clinical-trial data. Companies have also tried to use NAFTA to force Canada to allow toxic-waste exports and to include an additive in petrol that the nation’s regulators claimed was dangerous.”
TTIP Already Used as Leverage to Lower or Eliminate Regulations for Toxic Chemicals
Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to expect regulations of toxic chemicals and other consumer dangers to proliferate under these trade agreements. A story in the Guardian21 offers yet another example. In the summer of 2013, EU trade officials were visited by a delegation from the American Chambers of Commerce, insisting the EU ditch its plans to regulate dozens of pesticides containing endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). According to the article:
“Minutes of the meeting show commission officials pleading that ‘although they want the TTIP to be successful, they would not like to be seen as lowering the EU standards…’ In a high-level internal note sent to the health commissioner, Tonio Borg, shortly afterwards, his departmental director-general warned that the EU’s endocrines policy ‘will have substantial impacts for the economy, agriculture and trade…’
The series of events was described as ‘incredible’ by the Green MEP Bas Eickhout. ‘These documents offer convincing evidence that TTIP not only presents a danger for the future lowering of European standards, but that this is happening as we speak,'” he told the Guardian.” [Emphasis mine]
Trade Agreements Usher in ‘Corporate Fascism’
Another major issue in these trade agreements relates to rules of procurement. For example, the US has many farm to school programs in place to support local farmers and local businesses, but public programs like these can be challenged by a foreign corporation because they’re not eligible for that program, and that could be considered illegal under the trade rules.
As noted by Lilliston, “The ‘Buy American’ provisions, which are very common in public procurement programs right now, could be under threat under trade rules.” Many states also have their own environmental regulations in place to protect human and environmental health, and these too could be challenged under these trade agreements. This is particularly concerning as it applies to state initiatives to label GMOs. As explained by Lilliston:
“These trade agreements want to set one standard, so they’re not going to have any state-based standards that are stronger than the national standard. This particularly comes up in the case of GMO labeling where we’re seeing all these states in United States pushing for GMO labeling…
These agreements say, ‘No, you can’t do that at the state level. Sorry. We need one standard through all the countries involved.’ Basically, it’s kind of an end run around those state-based [initiatives] that have been very important in pushing for GMO labeling.”
World Trade Organization Rules US Country-of-Origin Labels Are Illegal
Another example of how trade agreements destroy the very transparency consumers everywhere want: On May 18, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled US law requiring country-of-origin (COOL) labels on meat is illegal,as it discriminates against Canadian and Mexican meat companies and give advantage to national meat producers.22
As noted by Blue Oregon:23
“In other words, profits of foreign corporations trump your right to know where your meat is coming from. So much for the 92 percent of American consumers who want country of origin food labeling…24
Mike Conaway [R-TX, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee] took all of 48 hours to introduce legislation repealing the labeling law, which covered beef and pork. He even added poultry for good measure. His bill in the House Agriculture Committee passed 38-6, with the blessings of most Democrats. This wasn’t the first time that a trade agreement rescinded a popular food labeling law. In 2012, the WTO also ruled against the voluntary labeling of ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna…”
Compared to the WTO, the TPP actually makes it even easier for a corporation to eliminate laws that cut into profits, as it does not require the company to be backed by government. The TPP’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals allow corporations to sue governments directly, without a middleman. And, instead of the case going before a nation’s judges, the arbiters tend to be corporate lawyers, and their decision is final… There’s no appeals process.
The Rise of Global Corporatocracy—Where Will It End?
At a time when consumers are demanding transparency, corporate fascists are racing to remove all of your rights, and do whatever it takes to control food and economy. At all levels, corporations and industries are writing its own laws, and the running thread is the removal of transparency, loosening of regulations against toxic and hazardous products, and the increasing of corporate control.
As Rick North writes in Blue Oregon:25
“…[T]he Fast Track bill itself takes dead aim on GMO labeling. It’s an official negotiating objective to oppose lsquo;trade restrictions on commercial requirements, such as labeling, that affect new technologies, including biotechnology.’
This, said Peter DeFazio, is ‘the smoking gun… Proof that fast track and massive free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are written by and for multinational corporations such as agriculture giant Monsanto…’ Instead of corporations promoting the well-being of society, society is now employed (at race-to-the-bottom wages) to serve corporations. The means has become the end…”
Another example of this rising “corporatocracy” where corporations rule the world is the creation of laws criminalizing whistleblowers. Last year, Idaho passed an “ag-gag” law outlawing photography and videotaping at agricultural facilities. A records request reveals the legislation originated with dairy industry lobbyists.26 Idaho was the seventh state to outlaw whistleblowers’ attempts to expose inhumane and/or unsanitary or dangerous farm practices—a law that clearly benefits no one except the industry. North Carolina is also considering passing a similar legislation.
Also remember, it was a US diplomat who threatened Europe with pain lest they allow Monsanto’s GMOs into Europe. It’s quite clear that the US government, which is closely tied to Monsanto, has been aiding and abetting Monsanto’s tireless and often ruthless quest to control the world’s food crops. This pattern can still be seen with Pompeo’s bill, “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” better known as the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know” (DARK) Act, which is exactly what the bill does. It’s nothing if not a gift to Monsanto and its industry cohorts.
The DARK Act (HR 1599), introduced by Koch-sponsored Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS4), effectively removes citizens’ right to know about genetically engineered foods by trumping state law and resolutely strippingstates of the right to pass GMO food labeling bills. The bill also allows unscrupulous food and beverage companies to continue mislabeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural.”
While trade agreements may still thwart US states from labeling GMOs, stopping the passing of the Pompeo bill is crucial if we want to have even a glimmer of hope to get GMOs labeled. So please, contact your federal representatives, and demand that they vote NO on the Pompeo bill!