You Don’t Matter—GOP House Votes for Monsanto’s Right to Deceive

DARK-ActToday, 275 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599, the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act. By voting for the DARK Act, these politicians (including  all of Nevada’s GOP Representatives—Amodei, Hardy and Heck) voted AGAINST truth and transparency, AGAINST science, AGAINST your right to know, and AGAINST the more than century-old right of states to legislate on matters relating to food safety and labeling. If this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law, it will nullify laws in states like Maine, Connecticut and Vermont where currently, GMO products are required to be labeled as such.

They voted against the 90-percent of Americans who are in favor of mandatory labeling of GMOs. They voted against the producers of non-GMO foods. The voted against States’ Rights.  They voted against you.

Whatever your views on GMOs, there is no Constitutional justification for the federal government to preempt state laws in this area. There certainly is no justification for Congress to preempt private sector efforts to meet consumer demands for non-GMO foods, while allowing those who support the use of GMOs to do so.

H.R. 1599 was sold to Congress via multi-million dollar public relations and lobbying campaigns built on lies and deception. Rumored to have been written by Monsanto themselves, the bill’s sole purpose is to support one industry—Monsanto’s poison-peddling industry—that was founded on lies and deception from the get-go. Monsanto—that same corporation who sold Agent Orange to our government as “safe” to use on our nation’s soldiers.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo, the DARK Act gives consumers what they want: the means to know whether or not their food contains GMOs: “Consumers can choose to presume that all foods have GMO contents unless they are labeled or otherwise presented as non-GMO.  Meaning that it is knowable and it is known by the public which products have GMO and which don’t.”

Government regulation should NOT be an iffy, maybe they will, maybe the won’t kind of thing.  But, the DARK Act turns regulation upside down.  It would create a VOLUNTARY, government-run non-GMO certification program. Unless every producer of non-GMO products pays to have those products certified as non-GMO, consumers will still have no way of knowing which products contain GMOs, and which don’t. And why should the burden of labeling fall on the producers of non-GMO foods, when the risk factor is associated with those foods that do contain GMOs?

Did our Congress members vote against us because they were fooled by Monsanto’s slick, deceitful packaging of this so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”? Or did they simply vote with their wallets, stuffed full of biotech and junk food industry cash?

We don’t know. Given the Citizens United ruling, we’ll probably never know.  But we better know this: We can’t let this bill get through the U.S. Senate. We need to target Senator Heller and let him know this bill is unacceptable.

16 Legislative Calendar Days left and …

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The 2015 fiscal year ends on September 30, 2015 and we do not yet have a 2016 budget, a transportation bill, nor a resolution to Veterans Administration shortfalls which may shutter a number of VA hospitals.  And if that isn’t enough on their plates to handle when they only plan to actually work 16 days between now and then, they also need to resolve their issues with the Iran Nuclear Deal.  AND … there are no plans to cancel their August recess.


Iran Nuclear Deal

Last week, the United States along with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China signed a deal with Iran to substantially limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the removal of international sanctions.

Under the framework for an Iran nuclear deal Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon will be shut down

Under the new nuclear deal, “Iran has committed to extraordinary and robust monitoring, verification, and inspection,” according to the White House. “International inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will not only be continuously monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but they will also be verifying that no fissile material is covertly carted off to a secret location to build a bomb. And if IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which will allow inspectors to access and inspect any site they deem suspicious. Such suspicions can be triggered by holes in the ground that could be uranium mines, intelligence reports, unexplained purchases, or isotope alarms.” (Please take the time to read more here.)

Under the framework for an Iran nuclear deal Iran's uranium enrichment pathway to a weapon will be shut down

Congress must now review the deal—and decide whether to pass a resolution to disapprove the agreement. The entire process could take up to 82 days, and during that time, the President cannot lift sanctions on Iran until the review and voting period is over. The law also requires the Administration to provide detailed reports to Congress every 90 days to ensure that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement.

Here’s how that review process should work, according to legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President in May: The White House delivered the agreement to Congress on Monday—five days after the signing of the Iran deal. Now, Congress has 60 days to review it, or until mid-September. (Keep in mind that Congress will be in recess from August 10 – Sept. 7.)  Congress then has 12 days (by the end of September) to vote on a joint resolution approving or disapproving the deal. Or Congress could opt to do nothing.

If Congress passes a resolution disapproving the deal, the President will most likely veto their disapproval. Congress would then have 10 days to override the veto, which would require a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House. (If Congress were to override a veto, the President would lose his ability to waive sanctions on Iran, which would cause the current agreement to fall through and destroy our nation’s credibility with our negotiating partners.)

Resolution Disapproving the Deal

Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL), Chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus introduced legislation expressing the sense of the House of Representatives in disapproval of the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. The resolution is “intended to build support for an expected vote on a formal joint resolution of disapproval in September.”

RESOLUTION DISAPPROVING THE IRAN NUCLEAR AGREEMENT (HRes 367)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL)  Per Rep. Roskam, this resolution “sets the stage for the 60-day lead up to a vote on this agreement by allowing Members to express their disapproval of the accord. The unprecedented outpouring of support for this resolution proves that Congress will not rubber-stamp a deal that severely threatens the United States and our allies by paving Iran’s path to a bomb.” He went on further to state, “This agreement fails on every level to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran is allowed to keep much of its nuclear infrastructure intact and rewarded an $150 billion cash infusion from sanctions relief. The so-called ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections regime in reality provides Iran nearly a month’s notice on inspections. And, in an unprecedented last-minute concession, the U.N. arms embargo and ban on ballistic missiles will be lifted in just a few short years. This is a bad deal, and it must be stopped,” according to the sponsor. (Read resolution text)

Worth Noting:  Two Representatives from Nevada Mark Amodei and Joe Heck have signed on a co-sponsors of this resolution of disapproval.

Federal Budget and Appropriations

The House has been working on appropriations bills for FY 2016. Thus far, they’ve passed Commerce, Justice and Science (HR 2578); Defense (HR 2685); Energy and Water (HR 2028); Legislative (HR 2250); Military and Veterans (HR 2029); and Transportation and HUD (HR 2577) appropriations bills.  But when they got to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill (HR 2822) last week, they had to pull it from the floor after a series of amendments were introduced regarding whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed on public lands. Three amendments, introduced by Democrats, had been passed on July 7th that would block the National Park Service from allowing private groups to decorate graves with Confederate flags specifically in cemeteries in Georgia and Mississippi and would bar the Park Service doing business with gift shops that sell Confederate flag merchandise. Unhappy with those passed amendments, a Republican sponsored amendment was introduced essentially nullifying the passed amendments. To keep from seeing everything degenerate into a total brouhaha over the Confederate Flag, Speaker Boehner pulled the bill from the floor.

Senate Democrats have blocked consideration of appropriations bills until a new budget agreement is negotiated that will mitigate the sequestration budget cuts since 2013. Congress aims to complete the appropriations process by the end of the fiscal year, September 30. If they don’t, then they’ll need to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution to prevent yet another government shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration has put Congress on notice that they have a $2.5B shortfall that if not resolved will force them to start closing some VA hospitals beginning in as early as August.

Highway Trust Fund Extension

Both the Highway Account and the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund are nearing insolvency, according to the Department of Transportation.

As Congressional committees met to discuss ways to keep our country’s Highway Trust Fund (HTF) solvent, Secretary Foxx urged them to adopt a long-term transportation bill with increased funding:

“The state of our nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan talking point; it is a problem facing all Americans. So I am encouraged that Members of Congress are asking the tough questions about how we will find solutions together. As I have said many times, we cannot build tomorrow’s transportation system with yesterday’s policy and yesterday’s funding; I look forward to working with both parties to pass a long-term bill that aggressively boosts investment and changes outdated policies so we can build for the future.”

With a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund approaching, cash management steps are not far away.  Because the HTF supports critical roadwork by State DOTs, these cash management procedures will slow improvements and basic repairs on roads across the U.S.   With the Highway Trust Fund authorization set to expire on July 31, the House did pass an extension through December 18. You’re going to love this.  The claim is that the extension would provide $8 billion in new money – $5 billion from tax compliance measures, and $3 billion in reduced spending.  But true to form, it includes no new revenues, and is partly funded by a two-year extension of fees that would have sunsetted (passenger airport security fees collected by the TSA).

HIGHWAY AND TRANSPORTATION FUNDING ACT, PART II (HR 3038)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)  Extends the authorizations of the federal surface transportation programs as well as the hazardous materials transportation program and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act through Dec. 18, 2015. Funds the surface transportation programs at the level authorized for fiscal year 2014. Would transfer $6.068 billion from the General Fund to the HTF’s Highway Account, and would transfer $2 billion from the General Fund to the HTF’s Mass Transit Account. (Read bill summary.) – Passed by the House; now goes to the Senate —

This is the 34th short-term extension in the last six-years—and many in Congress are urging that they work on a comprehensive long-term bill. In past decades, Congress routinely passed six-year surface transportation bills.  To that end,  other bills have been proposed:

  • GROW America Act (Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America Act) [HR2410] sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).  This is the Administration’s long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. Provides a total of $478 billion over six years, a 45 percent increase for highways, bridges, public transportation, highway safety, and rail programs.
  • The DRIVE Act (Developing a Reliable and innovative Vision for the Economy Act) [S1647]  sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).  It’s a 6-yr surface transportation  reauthorization bill sporting a “new” freight program to prioritize federal spending.

Food Labeling and GMOs

Currently, the US Department of Agriculture has no authority over labeling food for the presence or absence of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). This week, House will be voting on a bill mandates a national standard for labeling laws related to GMOs and that would nullify any state standards that might exceed the national minimum standard established by this bill:

Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599)
  • Sponsor: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) In his introduction of the bill, Rep. Pompeo indicated this bill “would establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if they are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients.” He went on to say that “under SAFLA, the FDA will conduct a safety review of all new plant varieties used for genetically engineered food before those foods are introduced into commerce. This will ensure that consumers get scientifically accurate, and relevant information by allowing the FDA to specify special labeling, if it believes it is necessary to protect health and safety. In order to provide even greater transparency, my legislation includes a provision to allow those who wish to label their products as GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.”

NOTE: The bill, purported by some to have been written by Monsanto, prohibits States from enforcing any bills addressing GMOs that exceed the requirements of HR1599 effectively nullifying existing legislation in a number of states (Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, where foods containing GMOs are required to be labeled).  If passed, the FDA would be the sole authority to require GMO labeling.

Coal Ash Regulations

According to the EPA, “coal combustion residuals are byproducts of the combustion of coal at power plants, and includes fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization (FGD) materials. CCR contain contaminants such as mercury, cadmium, and arsenic which are associated with cancer and other serious health effects. When improperly managed, CCR can leak into the groundwater, blow into the air as dust, and be released to surface water and to the land in the event of a catastrophic failure.”

The House has scheduled a vote on HR1734, a bill that would set rules governing the management and disposal of coal ash.

IMPROVING COAL COMBUSTION RESIDUALS REGULATION ACT (HR 1734)
  • Sponsor: Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)   According to the House Majority Leader, this bill will “provide job-creators, and over 300,000 workers, with certainty by putting states in charge of the enforcement to implement the standards set by EPA regarding the safe disposal of coal ash,”  It would authorize States to set up permit programs for coal ash, as well as allow the EPA to offer permits in States that don’t establish their own permit programs.

Really?  (1) Not all States have the funding/expertise/organization to provide for enforcement, and (2) we all know how well that worked in North Carolina when they had a massive coal as spill.  In addition, some Democrats in Congress believe that the bill would undermine tougher coal ash rules the EPA finalized in December 2014, which “establishes the first ever nationally applicable minimum criteria providing for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals in landfills and surface impoundments.”


That is a seriously overloaded plate and with only 16 legislative days left in this fiscal year, that doesn’t appear to be near enough time for this unproductive Congress to resolve those issues.

Out of the Kitchen and On Capitol Hill: Chefs Speak Out for GMO Labeling

‘Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.’

— by Deirdre Fulton, CommonDreams staff writer

More than 700 chefs and restauranteurs are calling on Congress to support legislation to mandate labeling of genetically modified foods and to oppose efforts to block state GMO labeling laws.

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Chef Tom Colicchio testifies before Congress in 2010. (Photo: House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats/flickr/cc)

Advocates from Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, and other national groups joined high-profile chefs—including Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, Art Smith, and Sam Talbot—on Tuesday for meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to deliver a petition in favor of a GMO-labeling bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon).

“As chefs, we know that choosing the right ingredients is an absolutely critical part of cooking,” reads the petition. “But when it comes to whether our ingredients contain genetically modified organisms, we’re in the dark. The simple truth is consumers have the right to know what they’re feeding their families, and as chefs we have a right to know what we’re feeding our customers.”

Further, the petition points out that while 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, the U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries in the world without labeling laws. GMO labeling laws have passed in Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut; an Oregon ballot measure requiring labels on all genetically modified food sold in the state will be recounted after falling just shy of the votes necessary for passage in the November election.

“As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables,” said Colicchio, the owner of Craft Restaurants, co-founder of Food Policy Action, and head judge on Top Chef, who authored the petition. “Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.”

Culinary insiders are increasingly flexing their advocacy muscles outside the kitchen and in Washington, D.C.—a phenomenon explored at Politico last week.

“Colicchio is part of a growing army of chefs across the country looking to channel their growing celebrity to influence food and agriculture policy in Washington, from school nutrition to the farm bill to animal welfare and even fisheries management,” wrote Helena Bottemiller Evich. “Their number is legion, their ranks full of names like Rachael Ray and Mario Batali along with scores of local celebrity chefs and restaurateurs—and their increasingly organized effort backs up some of the Obama administration’s sweeping food policy agenda right as it faces down an adversarial Congress.”

“Chefs are among the most influential advocates I’ve ever lobbied with,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, told Politico. “They bring a business perspective to food policy that a traditional advocate might not bring and they rise above the partisan divide.”


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Second Discovery of GMO Wheat Reveals ‘Failed Policy’ That Threatens Farmers

USDA says genetically engineered wheat discovered on Montana farm

by Andrea Germanos, CommonDreams staff writer

“Coexistence between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. (Photo:  luke chan/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday revealed that it was opening an investigation into the appearance of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Montana.

It marks the second time the USDA is issuing notice of a discovery of rogue genetically engineered (or GMO) wheat. There is no commercially-approved GMO wheat.

According to a statement issued by the USDA, the discovery of the Roundup-resistant GMO wheat was made in July at Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana. That location was the site of Monsanto-led GMO wheat trials, approved by the USDA, from 2000 to 2003.

The agency stated that the GMO wheat found at the Montana site is different from the rogue GMO wheat spotted in 2013 on an 80-acre Oregon farm which was not the site of trial tests. That discovery sparked international backlash, with Japan and South Korea suspending some imports of U.S. wheat and the European Union calling for more testing of U.S. wheat. It also sparked a class action lawsuit by U.S. wheat farmers against Monsanto, charging that the GMO wheat finding caused them economic damage.

In the same announcement issued Friday, the USDA states that it is ending the investigation into the Oregon GMO wheat discovery, stating that it “appears to be an isolated incident,” and that the Oregon wheat is “significantly different” from the Montana wheat.

It states that there is no evidence that there is now GMO wheat in commerce and that it is unclear how the GMO wheat ended up on the Oregon farm.

Watchdog group Center for Food Safety, however, charges that the new discovery poses a threat to farmers and should be a call to stop open-air field trials.

“Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “Coexistence between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.”

“USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GMO crop technology,” he added. “USDA should, at a minimum, immediately place a moratorium on open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops.”


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Advocacy: Stop the Approval of GMO Apples

The USDA is poised to approve the first genetically modified apple.

Tell the USDA to say no to GMO apples.

If approved, these genetically engineered apples could end up everywhere from school lunches to grocery stores, posing risks to our health, our environment and apple farmers across the United States.

This new GMO Arctic Apple® was engineered for purely cosmetic reasons — it lacks the enzymes that cause apples to brown when cut. However, browning in apples can be prevented naturally by applying lemon juice or another source of vitamin C, making this new risky genetically engineered apple unnecessary.

Thanks to the help of thousands of people like you, McDonald’s and Gerber recently confirmed to Friends of the Earth that they have no plans to sell the GMO Arctic Apple® — wisely siding with consumers and apple growers that are rejecting this risky, unnecessary, unlabeled apple.

Tell the USDA that the GMO Arctic Apple® should not be approved.

The GMO Arctic Apple® is a problem masquerading as a solution. Without natural browning, apples may look fresh when they are actually decaying. Scientists believe apples’ natural browning enzyme may help to fight diseases and pests, meaning that farmers may have to increase their pesticide use on these new GMO apples. Apples already carry some of the highest levels of toxic pesticide residues, many of them linked to hormone disruption, reproductive harm and even ADHD.

Like other GMOs, it won’t be labeled and won’t have undergone independent safety testing — regulators will rely on the company’s sole assessment that the apple is safe for human consumption.

Worse yet, this GMO apple was genetically engineered via a new, virtually untested experimental technique called RNA interference, which many scientists are concerned may have negative, unintended impacts on human health and the environment.