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Why Monsanto Will Never Rule the Food World

The Three-Prong Movement That’s Stopping the Beast in Its Tracks
by John W. Roulac

[Originally published in Green Money Journal]

john_lake-webThe issue of how we grow and process our food, while it’s always been important, is now a hot topic both at the kitchen table and on Wall Street. From the recent scandal about a chemical used in yoga mats being found in Subway bread to the rising awareness of GMOs and demands to label their presence in foods, the public is fast awakening to the need for safe, whole, natural nourishment.

In early May 2014, the stock price of Whole Foods Market (WFM) dropped about 20 percent in 24 hours, based largely on fears that Walmart and other grocery giants will overtake WFM’s share of organic food sales. The number of equity funds looking to invest in the next Annie’s or Clif Bar is astounding. Astute investors now understand that food impacts not just waistlines but bottom lines.

The elephant in the room is that agriculture, not transportation, is globally the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases—an issue that gets glossed over by Al Gore and 350.org alike. The media, whether in the recent New York Times food reportage or in the May 2014 National Geographic cover story on “The New Food Revolution,” all fail to mention the three most pressing food issues: the climate change connection; the vast subsidies to corn, soy, and wheat; and the massive increase in the use of Monsanto Roundup with its human health and ecosystem impacts.

Central to the conversation are the questions How do we grow our food in a more sustainable way? and Who decides? Should America lead the world in turning over our heritage of ancestral seeds to Monsanto or DuPont for them to patent as intellectual property? It’s becoming ever more widely known that each firm has a long history of making lethal war chemicals, creating toxic manufacturing sites that leak carcinogens into disadvantaged communities everywhere, and influencing the EPA, USDA, Congress, and the White House so that decisions made—such as the recently passed Farmer Assurance Provision (widely called by its critics the “Monsanto Protection Act”)—favor biotech.

The recent good news is that, on May 8, 2014, per a law signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont became the first U.S. state to mandate the labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms. The Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA) has challenged the new law in court in what is expected to be an epic legal battle of the people vs. corporations. Supporting members of GMA include Starbucks, Kellogg’s, and General Mills.

The Three Ways That Monsanto Is Being Defeated

In spite of Monsanto’s death grip on the food system, important progress is being made in three key areas: (1) public education via social media, leading to (2) wiser food choices and(3) more sustainable investments.

All great movements begin at a grassroots level. Think of the civil rights sea change in the 1960s: the government acted to pass the civil rights bill only after the people had reached a tipping point about racial injustice. Having started in a similar grassroots fashion, the organic food movement is now well on its way to changing the food system worldwide.

Yet Monsanto and Big Ag are much better at crafting propaganda than were the bigots of the 1960s. The three biggest lies: that GMOs will feed the world, that organic agriculture can coexist with GMOs, and that Roundup-tainted GMO foods have been proven safe.

Although tens of millions of Americans might not understand all the complexities, they have a gut sense that something is very wrong with our food system, and little faith that Monsanto should be in charge of a baby’s nourishment. They can’t help but wonder how much Monsanto herbicide content in a mother’s breast milk is safe.

Cheerios Go Non-GMO

Cheerios Go Non-GMO

Some of the biggest news in the food industry this year is the General Mills conversion of Cheerios to a non-GMO cereal. This cultural milestone signals not only the swelling consumer exodus from industrial GMO foods, but also the rise in the use of social media by foodies to educate the public.

The Cheerios conversion is representative of a broad and radical trend in the entire North American food industry, as exemplified by last year’s announcement from Whole Foods Market that GMO foods and supplements must be labeled by 2018—a revelation that the non-GMO movement was becoming big business.

The GMO Inside coalition (of which I’m co-founder and co-chair) had begun to target Cheerios, in part because General Mills, was a big funder of “no” on California’s Prop 37, the failed right-to-know labeling campaign. In subsequent months, GMO Inside got 50 thousand anti-GMO comments placed on the Cheerios Facebook wall.

The startling General Mills announcement was the result of the strongest adverse media coverage in the history of GMOs. And in early 2014, Post Foods announced it was rolling out a non-GMO Grape-Nuts cereal.

Tens of millions are now realizing the stakes of turning over the food supply to a cabal of war-chemical giants that also includes Bayer and Syngenta. In the wake of the Cheerio’s changeover, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Smuckers Jam, Land O’Lakes, and even Starbucks lattes are caught up in an epic fight for public opinion, with Monsanto and friends on one side and the real food movement on the other.

Rain

How alarmingly efficient our industrialized food system has become! Roundup is now in the rainwater that falls from the heavens, and in the blood and urine of newborn babies. Not a moment too soon, our society is waking up, smelling the Roundup, and choose life-affirming foods grown in a way that honors all the generations to come.

The hippy roots of the nascent organic food movement in the 1970s and ’80s held a vision of a revitalized food system—one that devoutly honors the health of the soil. Today’s devoted organic farmers realize that a healthy society must start with healthy soils.

Americans vote at every meal for their preferred version of a food system. Cost is an issue, largely due to the giant subsidies paid to the GMO industrial-ag corn, soy, wheat, and sugar beets used for cheap junk foods.

GMO Inside’s latest campaign targets Starbucks’ “Monsanto Latte,” due to the fact that their milk is sourced from cows fed GMOs and injected with antibiotics on factory farms. GMO Insiders are also directing their efforts against the factory-farmed “Monsanto butter” produced by Land O’Lakes and Alta Dena Dairy.

Social media has become an effective tool in the creation of a better food system.

A Monsanto Stock Plunge

An Iowa-based group, Food Democracy Now, is calling for all citizens who invest in mutual foods to close their account if their fund is invested in Monsanto. More details at http://bit.ly/1ozgKJo.

“Already, the phone lines at Fidelity, Vanguard, and State Street have been ringing off the hook as thousands have reported calling their financial advisors and discovering that they have inadvertently owned shares of Monsanto’s stock,” comments Dave Murphy at Food Democracy Now. “Unfortunately, if you have a retirement fund, a 401K, or mutual funds you could be profiting from Monsanto’s toxic products.” The movement is aiming for an unprecedented stock plunge for Monsanto.

According to Murphy, Food Democracy Now’s prime reasons for targeting Monsanto include the following: “As the manufacturer of Agent Orange, DDT, PCPs, and dioxin, Monsanto’s toxic legacy of harm to the environment and human health is without parallel. Now Monsanto owns patents on life and is genetically engineering the food that we eat. In the past two years alone, Monsanto has helped fund massive misinformation campaigns to the tune of $70 million to defeat GMO labeling.”

Connecting Carbon, Climate Change, and Food

In our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it’s vital that we reduce the demand for coal, oil, and fracking via wind and solar systems and plug-in hybrids. From the Tesla Company to First Solar, exciting work is being done.

What’s not well understood about climate change is how agriculture is both the number one problem and the number one solution. As we race past carbon dioxide concentrations of 380 parts per million, not only is our atmosphere being overloaded with CO2. The dirty little secret is that the oceans are becoming the carbon sink.

While people debate whether the planet is getting hotter or storms stronger due to climate change, we know for a fact that the oceans are getting very acidic. Not one scientist—not even one on the payroll of the Koch brothers—can refute the fact of the oceanic pH fall. Fast-forward another two or three decades and this will have led to a massive fish and coral reef die-off.

The solution is simple, and already at our fingertips. We need to become carbon farmers, or the customers of carbon farmers. This means ending the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides and growing via the organic methods that build healthy soils. Mainly it means moving from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to pasture-based systems for raising chickens, pigs, and cows. In the process, we’ll lock the massive amounts of atmospheric carbon atoms into the top six inches of our planet’s soil.

This is no pipe dream, but it will require continuance of the major shift in consumer habits that’s already gaining speed. That is, choosing grass-fed meats, with their much healthier omega-3 levels, over CAFO meats. And reducing our overall meat consumption by 50 percent or more is vital. Already many meat eaters are cutting back their total consumption by half or two-thirds and choosing to eat only pastured meats. We need to keep moving away from the carbon-centric, GMO-based industrial farming that releases vast amounts of greenhouses gases into the environment.

The United States also needs to restore the domestic farming of hemp, which locks carbon from the air into its fibrous stalks. Hemp fiber can be grown for construction (it’s more energy-efficient in walls than are wood–based walls), auto parts (it’s lighter in weight than fiberglass, and thus more fuel-efficient), and many other uses.

Another resource is Biochar, a name for charcoal when it’s used for particular purposes, especially as a soil amendment and it also holds great promise as a new tool for carbon farmers. Biochar is being seen as a possible approach to carbon sequestration to produce negative carbon dioxide emissions.

Finally, I am including this link to a recent article from Judith Schwartz on Yale’s Environment 360 website “Soil as a Carbon Storehouse: A New Weapon in the Climate Fight?” It looks at the degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development, which has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change. Read more at http://bit.ly/1j4lTZv.

In closing, to secure and ensure a vital and livable world, we need to keep shifting from Monsanto-style industrialized farming to the wisdom and foresight of such positive approaches as Biochar. Central to the implementation of this new food system will be the crop rotation, soil-building practices, and pasture systems that are the basis of sustainable organic foods.

ABOUT JOHN
John W. Roulac founded Nutiva in 1999 to create a food system that nourishes people and the planet. As a challenger of the industrial food system, he is a strong advocate for hemp agriculture, GMO labeling, organic farming, and healthy food for all. Through his leadership, Nutiva has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing food companies in America for five consecutive years. He has founded four nonprofit groups, including GMO Inside and the Nutiva Nourish Foundation, which donates 1 percent of Nutiva’s sales to support sustainable agriculture and other environmental programs. John is the author of four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this hopeful and well-outlined message that covers many important bases and bottom lines. Well said, and much appreciated!

    • John Roulac says:

      Dear Rose – Thank you for the support and for sharing in the mission to change our food system.

  2. Well done ! The wife and I marched against Monsanto and was pleasently surprised by the public’s support and knowledge . Lots of horn honking and aware statements from those that stopped to chat . Jim

  3. wow so beautiful pls save mother earth.

  4. While the presence of gmo ingredients in our food is alarming enough, it has never been my primary fear. There are two items that concern me even more than that. The first is of course is the diabolical over use of Roundup and other chemicals. They have saturated the soil, and and are poisoning our water ways. The great Yakima river is virtually devoid of fish now. Chemicals, whether pesticides or “fertilizers” have permeated nearly all of the Pacific Northwest, in the soil and the stream and water system, down to the great Puget Sound. The other item that concerns me is that lack of biodiversity. Monsanto and cohorts may be buying up all the varieties of plant life they can get their hands on, but that is still very limited. How are heirloom vegetables supposed to grow on Roundup saturated soil? That is another basket of worms. Oh yeah, worms. Have you seen any lately?

  5. Tina Nelson says:

    I’m speechless! What a great article:-D All the things I want ro convey to friends and family♡ I may print this article and start randomly leaving around town. I buy Nutiva Coconut Oil/Shortening/Hemp seeds. ThankYou!!!!

  6. Kenny Thor says:

    Great article. Please continue to spread this message. It is critical that this topic become a major focal point for our up coming elections.

  7. thank you for a very well written and informing article~

  8. Thank you so much for wrapping all of this up so clearly and thoughtfully. Re-posted on Facebook.

  9. Bob Cooney says:

    John,
    Great article but here are some of my fears.

    Monsanto and the like at this time seem to be winning and gaining strength. They seem, I mean they do have a bought and paid for Congress working on their behalf.
    Take Sen Roy Blunt, Missouri -he has been bought by Monsanto since he was in the House. Congress makes the laws – they take ‘contributions’ which in the private sector would be illegal and one could serve time for this.

    Blunt is a Republican but the Democrats are not without blame. When Senator Obama was running for President he said if he was elected he would label GMO’s. I understand the issues that face the country and one can make a case that this is not high on Obama’s list. BUT, he has worked on many issues that are not as important as this.
    Also, Google “former Monsanto employees working for Obama” — it is scary. The deck is stacked against us.

    • I’ve closely been following the politics of the food/agriculture system, and those are where my fears stem from, as well. So this piece was much needed. It serves as a reminder that, although we are up against great odds, people are finally becoming aware of the current state of the food industry and are bonding together to FORCE change. Like the above article mentioned, General Mills said in 2012 that they would never remove GMOs from any of their products. But 14 months later, they caved to the pressure because not doing so would have hurt their bottom line.

      A lot of times I find myself thinking, “But Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, ect. have so much financial and political power,” all of which is the result of nothing but human greed. But as we’ve been seeing recently, entire nations are standing up to the pressure put forth by GMO companies, some of them banning them all together, and said companies are backing down. The US is slow to this, because this is where most of the corruption is able to take hold. But as Vermont as displayed, we ARE making progress here, too.

      The only thing holding us back is that not enough people know what is going on yet. But despite the fallacies being spread by the biotech industry, the truth is spreading like wildfire as many of us are doing our part to educate others. We grow stronger everyday while the biotech industries grow weaker. At the end of the day, they can’t profit without us. They need us to buy their products so they can continue to make money. But more and more people are refusing to do so, and thus companies are caving into the pressure.

      People are already unhappy with the government corruption that has been going on. But many chose to ignore and/or accept it as a fact of life. But now that massive corruption is occurring in regards to food (which, along with water, are the very basic needs of all living things), people are getting angry enough to take action. Scientists are standing up. Farmers are standing up. Nations are standing up. The average American is standing up. The fight will get ugly, but the darkness will pass :)

    • John Roulac says:

      Hi Bob,
      Thanks for sharing your concerns. I believe that the key is education. I agree that Monsanto has captured the political process from the White House to the US Senate. But Monsanto cannot capture free thinking Americans. Monsanto’s GMO corn sales were down last quarter, as were General Mills total sales. We are winning; we need to continue to educate and encourage others to stand up.

  10. Kathleen Milano says:

    One hundred percent of our grandchildren deserve clean air, water and soil = clean food. People over profit. Protect our earth!

  11. Ryan Michael Harlow says:

    Wonderful article. I have an excerpt from T. Colin Campbell’s book, Whole, that I believe may add to this article. It absolutely great that the raising of animals for meat production is staring to see more and more light. However, it is still thought of as secondary to C02. After being made aware, many time and via many separate avenues, of how much of an impact Methane has on the environment, I believe it should be the main priority, instead of C02. **The first 2 paragraphs are LESS impact-ful that the second 2 but I felt it was necessary to include all 4. I have added #’s in quotes for those who skim for info :)

    “In 2006, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization issued a report that highlighted the connection between animal foods and global warming. Its contents are striking because this agency is chiefly responsible for developing livestock operations around the world. being biased, if anything, toward observing the opposite effect, this report still concluded that eating animal-based foods creates 18 percent of global warming, more than the contributions of either industry or transportation. this information, now six years old, is still not widely known.

    On the relatively few occasions that food enters discussions on global warming, this 18 percent estimate is brought up. However, a more recent report concludes that this estimate of food’s contribution to warming may be much higher. Robert Goodland, the longtime senior environmental advisor to the president of the World Bank, and Jeff Anhang, his colleague at the World Bank Group, have determined that livestock rearing contributes at least 51 percent of total global warming.

    The most famous greenhouse gas, the one that gets most of the attention from the media, activists, and policy makers, is C02. But C02 is not the only greenhouse gas, and is not in fact the one most sensitive to reduction efforts. Methane (CH4) offers a more promising lever which to push back global warming. Molecule by molecule, methane is about twenty-five (25) times more potent in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. But more important, methane, with an atmospheric half-life of seven (7) years, disappears from the atmosphere far faster than carbon dioxide, which has a half-life of more than a century. So almost as soon as we eliminate sources of methane, its contribution to the greenhouse effect begins to wane significantly. By contrast, even after we stop releasing C02, the gas that has already been released will contribute to global warming for decades.

    When the amount of methane in the atmosphere is considered over a twenty-year (20) period, its global warming potential is said to be seventy-two (72) times that of C02. And Methane is regularly associated with industrial livestock production. This means that reducing meat consumption, the main driver of livestock industry, may be the most rapid way to affect global warming. It turns out that our present programs focused on carbon dioxide reduction, are mostly a lot of hot air–in more ways than one.”

    Campbell, T. C., & Jacobson, H. (2013). Reductionist Social Policy. Whole: rethinking the science of nutrition (). Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc..

    The following sources are given:
    [H. Steinfield, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, and C. de Haan, Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations: Rome (2006), ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e00.pdf
    [Ibid]
    [R. Goodland, "Our choices to overcome the climate crisis," NGO Global Forum 14 (Gwangju, Korea, 2011)]

    • John Roulac says:

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for sharing that excerpt. I agree that methane from raising animals for meat production is a real concern. One of the most impactful things we can each do to make a difference is eat less meat in general. I also think it’s important for people who do eat meat, to choose grass-fed and pasture-raised options, so as to not inadvertently support GMOs because most animals are given GMO feed.

  12. This is a great article and gives me new hope for our food industry. I advocate on healthy food and against Monsanto daily. I will for sure be passing on this article for others to learn more about Nutiva and what John W. Roulac stands for.

  13. I’m a mom with a kid who has food intolerances. I’m a niece of a Vietnam Veteran who spent a year on the ground in all the foliage doused with Agent Orange, who drank from the ground water wells sprayed with the same which took the federal government 40 years for them to recognize that his injuries and health condition among other things, cannot walk 100 feet before the vessel constrictions surrounding his heart gets the best of him. Finally, I am a grand aunt to children whose dad is a GMO corn farmer that’s in denial that his children’s health issues have anything to do with all that Roundup being sprayed on his crop fields. His youngest child (of no relations) have terrible bouts of seizures since she was a baby, now a toddler & the seizing hasn’t let up. There are children exposed to the GMO experiment crop fields on the island of Kauai, Hawaii who are being born with birth defects, who wake up with blood on their pillows, who have unexplained seizures, and this is just scratching the surface. AND these are just a few more reason why Monsanto, et al., will never rule the world. We are making the connections, and raising awareness for others to do the same. Thank you for writing this piece. I happen to support Nutiva products, especially since learning about GMOs. It is my hope that others will learn so that they too will choose cleaner foods and help make change happen quicker for the good, for everyone.

  14. Ilse Aschenbrenner says:
    • John Roulac says:

      Hi Ilse,
      Thanks for sharing that link. I agree that using non-sustainable fibers for Bio-Char is not a good path. There are many excess carbon materials such as almond shells, saw dust, rice straw, and so forth that can be used to safely build our soil.

  15. Well-written, although I wish Chipotle would also have been recognized in this article seeing as they are the first major US restaurant chain to not only voluntarily label GMOs, but they have also committed to removing all GMO ingredients from their food. And following that announcement, their stock price increased by 30%. That right there shows that people believe in and support the changes they are trying to make to the food industry.

  16. Thanks John,
    I will pass this along to Anna Marie. We have been working on this for decades. Might be in your best interest to read this on biochar.
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/bewareTheBiocharInitiative.php
    Mae Wan is a physicist who has also been working tirelessly on gmo issues for decades.
    Best to you

  17. Very well presented John. Just wondering if the pre-Columbian/Spanish etc wise use of Biochar buried in gardening spots all over the Amazon flood plains? Seems that these were raised above the flood waters. Many had canals connecting them for travel etc.

  18. Grace E. Simshauser says:

    It needs to be brought up over and over again that poor people and those that are not poor cannot afford to buy organic this and organic that. WHY is all this organic foods vitamins ect have to COST SO MUCH. And how are you going to convince people with low incomes to buy healthy better tasting organic foods? There are people with low incomes that are handicap one way are the other, lots and lots of people are handicap from all the chemicals and stuff in the food ect. I no this is not all worded right but it all fits into, WHY IS ORGANIC HIGH HIGH PRICE? WHO CAN AFFORD IT. I have a VERY LOW INCOME. But I eat mostly organic. You should do a survey on the people in the stores and ask this question to them. Do you think organic food, vitamin, cleaners ect cost to much and give out organic samples LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of samples OF ORGANIC FOODS PRODUCTS VIDAMINS. It don’t cost much to the companys to pass out there pasty chemical breads ect. Hope this mix up statement helps. Thank you God Bless

  19. In response to Bob Cooney above – Best not to let your fears govern your thoughts because then you do feed the energy that Monsanto and the quack Congress men do have. Instead, if we focus on what we innately know to be right, have faith that this movement against the Giants of GMO’s and CAFO’s, etc. is spreading across the globe and uniting We The People. I trust that by each of us doing our part to educate ourselves, our family and community we will bring about the necessary changes (witness this already taking place) and restore balance and right relations to our soil, our animals and plants, and with each other.

    Thank you John R. for your leadership and efforts towards this goal.

  20. Thank you for writing and sharing an expansive, and inspiring message that helps us understand the true state of affairs with Monsanto and chemicals and the keys we hold to reverse some of the damage. This is an ambitious issue you take on and explain well. Carbon Farming, Bio char, Free range, Organic, and Hemp are just beginning to take root and each one deserves so much thought leadership education.

  21. Neil Blomquist says:

    As a 40 year veteran of the organic food movement, I applaud John for his work in keeping the dream alive that we can overcome the degradation of the food system that began in in the mid 20th century with a cultural shift away from family farms and traditional agriculture and animal husbandry methods – remember the mantra of the time? “Better Living Through Chemistry”. The threat from corporate control of our food system and politicians is real and the changes in climate and our eco system are accelerating. It will take the continued vision, innovation and leadership that John Roulac, Nutiva and many entrepreneurs and organic companies are bringing to the market to provide the planet a degree of balance that can have a positive impact for us all.

  22. Hi John. I now have a broader base of good information to share. The global community seems to grasp these ideas faster than our corporatocracy. I believe that a lot more great ideas are floating around out there – and that gives me hope and peace about the future. Thank you.

    P.S. I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to be a member of the HIA. I’d love to catch up with you sometime. I’m living in Alameda these days.

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