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Politics, Pseudoscience and Corporate Cash: The Defeat of Oregon’s Measure 27 (Requiring Labeling of Genetically-Modified Foods). Martin Donohoe , MD, FACP Old Town Clinic Portland State University Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. Measure 27. November, 2002 Oregon ballot

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Politics, Pseudoscience and Corporate Cash: The Defeat of Oregon’s Measure 27 (Requiring Labeling of Genetically-Modified Foods)

Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP

Old Town Clinic

Portland State University

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility

measure 27
Measure 27
  • November, 2002 Oregon ballot
  • Required labeling of genetically-engineered foods sold or distributed in the state
  • Wholesale and retail, e.g., supermarkets
    • Not cafeterias, restaurants, prisons, bake sales, etc.
measure 271
Measure 27
  • Defeated 73% to 27%
  • Surprising, since multiple polls conducted by the news media, government and industry show from 85-95% of US citizens favor labeling
    • 2008 NY Times/CBS News poll: 53% of Americans would not eat GM foods
measure 272
Measure 27
  • Opponents outspent proponents $5.3 million to $200,000
  • Vast majority of opposition funding from corporations headquartered outside state:
    • Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenia, Dow Agro Sciences, BASF, Aventis, Hoechst, and Bayer Crop Science
measure 273
Measure 27
  • Aided by PR and political professionals
  • Hid behind scientific-sounding “advocacy” groups – e.g., The Council for Biotechnology Information
corporate opposition to measure 27
Corporate Opposition to Measure 27

Vested interest in spreading deliberate misinformation about the initiative to keep the public ignorant of the adverse consequences of their profit-driven manipulation of the world’s food supply

measure 27 opponents other activities
Measure 27 Opponents’ Other Activities
  • Chemical weapons:
    • Hoechst (mustard gas), Monsanto (Agent Orange), Dow (napalm)
  • Pesticides:
    • Monsanto (DDT)
  • Ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons:
    • Dupont and Hoechst major producers
  • Agricultural Antibiotics:
    • Many companies
opposition tactics
Opposition Tactics
  • Claimed measure would unfairly hurt Oregon farmers, grocers, restaurants, schools and non-profit groups
    • No commercial GE crops grown in Oregon
    • Grocers, restaurants, schools and non-profit groups not affected
opposition tactics1
Opposition Tactics
  • Funded commercial diatribes describing increased, onerous and complicated government oversight
  • Frightened public with unfounded fears of tax increases of up to $1500 per family
    • Realistic estimates $4 - $10/person/year
opposition tactics2
Opposition Tactics
  • Accused Measure’s supporters of being “against national policy and scientific consensus”
  • Argued that labels would provide “unreliable, useless information that would unnecessarily confuse, mislead and alarm consumers”
opposition tactics3
Opposition Tactics
  • Claimed USDA, EPA and FDA evaluate safety of GE products from inception to “final approval”
    • USDA deals with field testing, EPA with environmental concerns, FDA considers GE foods equivalent to non-GE foods
    • FDA (1992): Declared GM foods “substantially equivalent to regular foods”
opposition tactics4
Opposition Tactics
  • All rely on safety tests done by companies making GE products
    • Corporations are not required to report results to government
corporations dominate oregon politics
Corporations Dominate Oregon Politics
  • Second lowest corporate taxes of all US states
  • Oregon corporate income taxes have decreased by 40% over the past 12 years
    • Large cuts in public services
  • Corporations outspend labor unions 5-1 and massively outspend all other progressive groups and causes put together
  • Oregon is one of only six states to allow unlimited corporate campaign contributions
post measure 27 activities
Post-Measure 27 Activities
  • Ongoing vigorous lobbying campaign to pass bill pre-empting any locality in Oregon from passing a labeling bill
  • Nationwide: lawsuits against farmers
    • Supported by 75 employee, $10 million legal division at Monsanto
    • Most farmers settle; settlement terms often sealed
food labeling in the u s
Food Labeling in the U.S.
  • Vitamin, mineral, caloric and fat content
  • Sulfites (allergies)
  • Source of proteins (vegetarians)
  • No labeling required for GM foods, products from animals fed GM foods
ge food labeling worldwide
GE Food Labeling Worldwide
  • Most processed foods available in the U.S. today come from GM crops
  • European Union has required labeling since 1998
    • European Court of Justice rules public must have access to information re the location of GM crops (2009)
ge food labeling worldwide1
GE Food Labeling Worldwide
  • Japan, China, Australia, South Africa, and many other countries also require labels
    • Yet Japan allows 5% GMO contamination, loopholes exempt 90% of Australian foods from labeling, etc.
  • Many countries ban the planting and/or import of GE foods from the U.S. and elsewhere
    • EU considering lifting ban; U.S. suing E.U. through WTO
benefits of labeling ge foods
Benefits of Labeling GE Foods
  • Prevent allergic reactions
    • Soybeans modified with Brazil nut genes
  • Allow vegetarians to avoid animal genes
    • Tomatoes with flounder genes
  • Permit concerned individuals to avoid milk from rBGH-treated cattle
    • Risks to humans, cattle and the environment
benefits of labeling ge foods1
Benefits of Labeling GE Foods
  • Heighten public awareness of genetic engineering
    • Millions of Americans eat GM foods every day without knowing it
    • Only 24% of Americans believe they have eaten GM foods
benefits of labeling ge foods2
Benefits of Labeling GE Foods
  • Grant people freedom to choose what they eat based on individual willingness to confront risk
  • Ensure healthy public debate over the merits of genetic modification of foodstuffs
health and environmental risks of ge foods
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • Allergies and toxicities from new proteins entering the food supply
    • EMS from GE-L-tryptophan supplements in 1980s
      • FDA covered up
    • Bt corn increases sensitivity of mammals to other allergens
    • GM peas cause lung inflammation in mice – trial stopped
    • New, allergenic proteins in GE soy in South Korea
    • Soy allergies jumped 50% after introduction of GE soy into UK
health and environmental risks of ge foods1
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • Secret Monsanto report found that rats fed a diet rich in GM corn had smaller kidneys and unusually high white blood cell counts
    • Monsanto UK employee cafeteria GM-free
    • Monsanto CEO eats organics
  • Russian Academy of Sciences report found up to six-fold increase in death and severe underweight in infants of mothers fed GM soy
health and environmental risks of ge foods2
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • Altered nutritional value of foodstuffs
  • Transfer of antibiotic resistance genes into intestinal bacteria or other organisms, contributing to antibiotic resistance in human pathogens
health and environmental risks of ge foods3
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • Increased pesticide use when pests inevitably develop resistance to GE food toxins
    • Reproductive and neurotoxic effects
  • Greater herbicide use – confirmed by multiple studies
    • Glyphosphate and Roundup toxic to placenta
gm crops and pesticide use
GM crops and Pesticide Use
  • Overall pesticide use up 4.1% (122 million pound increase since 1996)
      • Pesticide use down in Bt crops, herbicide use up in herbicide-tolerant (e.g., Roundup Ready) crops
bt plants
Bt Plants
  • Bt cotton destroyed by mealy bug; harvests in India decline dramatically, leading to rash of suicides among farmers
  • Bt corn more susceptible to aphids
  • Monsanto pays fines for bribing Indonesian and Turkish officials to accept Bt plants
health and environmental risks of ge foods4
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • Acrylamide released from polyacrylamide (added to commercial herbicide mixtures to reduce spray drift) = neurotoxin, reproductive toxin, and carcinogen
  • Non-target insects dying from exposure to pesticide-resistant crops
    • Ripple effects on other organisms
  • Bt crops may contribute to colony collapse disorder among honeybees
health and environmental risks of ge foods5
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • Genes, initially designed to protect crops from herbicides, being transferred to native weeds
    • Create herbicide-resistant “superweeds” (8 species identified by 2005, 5 in the U.S.)
      • Herbicide-resistant oilseed rape has transferred gene to charlock weeks in U.K.
      • Glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant pigweed in MO and GA, ryegrass in CA, maretail in multiple states
health and environmental risks of ge foods6
Health and Environmental Risks of GE Foods
  • GE plants and animals interbreeding with wild relatives
    • Spread novel genes into wild populations
      • Herbicide-resistant oilseed rape genes found in turnips
    • 21% of U.S. farmers in violation of EPA rule requiring GE fields to contain at least 20% non-GE crop
    • ¼ to 1/3 of Mexican corn samples contaminated; Columbian coca plants
failure of regulatory oversight
Failure of Regulatory Oversight
  • “The Department of Agriculture has failed to regulate field trials of GE crops adequately”
    • Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, 1/06
2007 gm crop incidents
2007 GM Crop Incidents
  • 39 contamination incidents
  • 11 illegal releases
ge crop failures
GE Crop Failures
  • Bt cotton in India, leading to epidemic of suicides
  • Three varieties of Monsanto’s GM maize failed to produce crops in 2008/9 in South Africa
    • Commercial farmers compensated, but barred from speaking to media or public
  • Others
  • The engineering of plants to produce pharmaceuticals such as enzymes, antibiotics, contraceptives, abortifacients, antibodies, chemotherapeutic agents, other medications, and vaccines
  • Other organisms
    • Fish: tilapia/clotting factor VII
    • Cattle: biopharming via milk
  • 400 products under development
  • Over 300 open-air tests
  • USDA conceals crop locations from public and neighboring farmers, in most cases hides identity of drug or chemical being tested, citing trade secrets
  • Even state agriculture regulators often unaware of info re drug or chemical involved
  • HI judge ordered USDA to disclose location of biopharmed crops as part of lawsuit
  • 10 states + Puerto Rico; others soon
  • Hawaii – most tests; most fragile ecosystem
  • Cases of food crop contamination reported
famine and ge foods
Famine and GE Foods
  • Food dictators who control GE seeds and plants attempted, through the UNFAO and the WHO, to use the famines in Zambia and Angola to market GE foods through aid programs, even though…
  • More than 45 African (and other) countries expressed a willingness to supply local, non-GE relief
famine and ge foods1
Famine and GE Foods
  • Zambia and Angola did not wish to pollute its crops with GE foods, which would have prevented it from exporting home-grown crops to many other countries which do not accept GE imports (further weakening its already fragile economy)
  • Zimbabwe and Malawi have also refused GM food aid
ge foods and world hunger
GE Foods and World Hunger
  • GE foods promoted as the solution to world hunger
    • No commercially available GE crop that is drought-resistant, salt- or flood-tolerant, or which increases yields (USDA)
ge foods and world hunger1
GE Foods and World Hunger
  • UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (2008): Poverty exacerbated by GM seeds
  • UN International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (2008): “GE crops are unlikely to achieve the goal of feeding a hungry world”
ge foods and world hunger2
GE Foods and World Hunger
  • GE crops undermine food and nutritional security, food sovereignty and food democracy
  • Increasing reliance on GE food
    • Consolidates corporate control of agriculture
    • Transmogrifies farmers into bioserfs
ge foods and world hunger3
GE Foods and World Hunger
  • World food prices rising dramatically
    • US food bank demand up, supplies down
    • Future wars
  • World hunger will not be solved through large-scale molecular manipulation of food crops whose cultivation has been carefully perfected over 10,000 years
ge foods and world hunger4
GE Foods and World Hunger
  • There is already enough food to feed the planet
    • UN FAO: Enough food to provide over 2700 calories/day to every person
    • Feeding everyone requires political and social will
    • Irony that the U.S., home to many GE firms, has rates of child poverty and hunger among the highest in the industrialized world
2008 us farm bill
2008 US Farm Bill
  • Cost = $289 billion over 5 yrs.
  • Most goes to large agribusiness
  • Crop subsidies ($43 billion) allow land to lie fallow, artificially inflate prices
2008 us farm bill1
2008 US Farm Bill
  • Crop insurance ($23 billion)
  • Foreign food aid < $200 million
    • US total just over $2 billion (half of all international food aid)
monetization and food aid
Monetization and Food Aid
  • US food aid purchased from already-subsidized US agribusiness
  • US shipping lines transport food to aid organizations in developing countries
  • Undermines local farmers and destabilizes local agriculture
monetization and food aid1
Monetization and Food Aid
  • EU has almost entirely phased out monetization
  • UN World Food Programme (the world’s largest distributor of food aid) has rejected monetization and refuses monetized food aid
  • Outlaw GM crops
  • Labeling laws
    • Allow informed consumer choice
    • Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s House bills to require labeling, expand FDA oversight, increase regulations re biopharming, and expand research to help developing nations feed themselves
  • Expose and oppose industry attempts to pre-empt labeling initiatives/laws
  • New ballot initiatives and legislation
    • Marin, Mendocino and Trinity Counties (CA) ban GMO crops
    • Vermont now requires manufacturers of GM seeds to label and register their products
    • ME enacts moratorium on outdoor planting of biopharmed crops (2009)
  • New ballot initiatives and legislation
    • Ireland pledges to go GM-free – 2007
    • Scotland, Austria and Greece prohibit planting of GM organisms
    • Moscow now requires labeling of GM foods
    • Hawaii County Council moratorium on GE taro and coffee
  • USDA is considering blocking imports of GMOs into US (even though many are the same products of US and multinational corporations already planted in the US)
    • Reasons:
      • Foreign GMOs would threaten US agriculture
      • They may affect the health of US citizens
      • The may affect the environment
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Public education
    • Sound environmental education to counter corporate-sponsored curricula and greenwash
  • Activism
    • e.g., Oregon PSR’s Campaign for Safe Foods – Biopharm Bill, rBGH Campaign
    • Religious opposition: e.g., GM one of “seven modern deadly sins” per Catholic Church
  • Support local, organic agriculture and patronize farmers’ markets
  • Consumer-supported agriculture co-ops
  • Consumers willing to pay substantial premiums to avoid GE foods
  • Oppose IMF, World Bank, and WTO structural adjustment programs which exacerbate hunger in the developing world by forcing debtor nations to restructure their agricultural base toward export crops and away from nutritional foodstuffs for local consumption
  • Support increased research and subsidies for alternative agriculture
  • Support equitable distribution of agricultural resources among populations worldwide
  • Support increased, non-GM agricultural aid to developing nations
reference website
  • Donohoe MT. Genetically-Modified Foods: Health and Environmental Risks and the Corporate Agribusiness Agenda. Z Magazine 2006 (December):35-40. Available at
  • Campaign for Safe Food, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility:
  • See also slide show entitled GMOs, biopharming, and rBGH for a more comprehensive review
contact information
Contact Information

Public Health and Social Justice Website