GMO Free USA: New Group Seeks Change Through Direct Consumer Action

Right to Know GMO protest sign

Earlier this year, Monsanto successfully intimidated VT and CT legislators into dropping GMO labeling bills. California made news this month with a ballot initiative that could require labels on GMO foods, and the biotech giants are chomping at the bit to shoot it down. Consumers want GMO labels by an overwhelming majority, but Monsanto has deep pockets — and so far, sufficient political clout to override the democratic process regarding labels for genetically modified foods.

Nope: Not OK!

In response to this sorry state of affairs, one CT voter turned anger into action and founded GMO Free USA. This innovative grass-roots group seeks to take the issue directly to food manufacturers, through massive consumer action.

Group founder Diana Reeves became interested in food issues related to biotechnology about 5 years ago, but is new to the activism scene. As the parent of a young son who succumbed to cancer, and two daughters also struggling with health issues, Reeves became increasingly interested in the connection between food and health. She was active with the CT Right to Know group, supporting one of the bills Monsanto vetoed this spring.

According to a recent Organic Consumers Association article,

With overwhelming public support for the Connecticut GMO labeling law, Reeves and others were sure it would pass. But at the last minute, under threat of a lawsuit by Monsanto, the bill was eviscerated behind closed doors, and the labeling provision removed before it was voted on by the House.

“I was so angry that our legislators didn’t do their job, that they didn’t stand up to the corporations – especially because the majority of voters wanted this law,” Reeves said.

Just as she had channeled her grief, Reeves now channeled her anger. She decided that if the government wasn’t going to do its job, she would go directly after the food manufacturers.

Will the Real Giant in the Room Please Stand Up?

The biotechnology industry has the bucks and the clout; but pro-labeling consumers have the numbers. Polls consistently show more than 90% support for mandatory labeling of GMO foods. Despite Monsanto’s efforts to suppress labeling efforts, more and more people are becoming aware of the many reasons mandatory labeling for GMO products makes sense.

The FDA and the USDA seem distressingly content to let the biotechnology and other Big Ag interests police themselves, which is just as bad an idea as when any other industry is allowed to do it. Our legislators have so far failed to represent voter interests on the GMO labeling issue, choosing instead to bow before Monsanto’s bluster.

With the rapid decline of pink slime as a so-called food ingredient, we’ve seen the dramatic force and power of consumer demand. When CEO bonuses are jeopardized, we see change! If the regulatory and legislative bodies insist on dragging their feet on the GMO labeling issue, Reeves’ powerful idea is to leave them on the side of the road and drive straight to the source: the food manufacturers who depend on our dollars.

Reeves hopes to build a strong coalition of consumer activists, thousands strong, who will bombard individual food companies with demands for change.

Reeves describes the new group as follows:

GMO Free USA is a national group that supports labeling of genetically modified foods, with the ultimate goal of getting GMO’s that have not been thoroughly tested and determined to be safe out of our food supply.

The first mission of the group is to attract a significant number of like-minded members (say 5,000+), who, on a weekly basis, will bombard a single food manufacturer with individual emails. The purpose and intent of the emails is to inquire as to whether the company is sourcing ingredients that have been genetically modified, express concern about the health risks of GMO’s and ultimately, express the intent to boycott their products if GMO’s are not removed in the interest of the health and well being of the people of the United States and our environment.

Unite and Conquer!

The GMO labeling bills and ballot initiatives popping up like wildflowers across the nation are exciting, and deserve our energy and support. But GMO Free USA represents a powerful new tool for aggregating and amplifying consumers’ voices, creating a shout that even Monsanto can’t silence.

Find GMO Free USA on facebook  or yahoo to get involved. Then share, like, tweet — whatever you do! — to invite other Organic Americans into the fold. When it comes to GMO labeling, we are the majority: let’s act like it!

What else can you do to support mandatory labeling for GMO foods? Glad you asked!

  1. Vote your dollar! Buy organic or ‘Non-GMO’ labelled food every chance you get, until we see change on this issue. Reward producers who aren’t trying to trick you into eating stuff you wouldn’t buy if they labeled it. Go here to learn more about avoiding GMOs.
  2. The only thing legislators hate more than lawsuits is bad press. Write a letter to the editor of your favorite local publication, and share information about this issue (and about GMO Free USA!) on all your social networks — the more people who know about GMO labeling issues, the harder it is for politicians to crumple like wet paper bags before Monsanto’s legal foot-stomping.
  3. If you live in a state with pending GMO labeling legislation, agitate! Call, write, and generally pester your representatives to demand accurate labeling of genetically modified foods. Volunteer with a local Right to Know Group. Vote! And bring people with you!
  4. Wherever you live, sign this to show support for California’s GMO labeling initiative. And don’t stop demanding GMO labels until we get them!

“We’re going to hit them from every angle. It’s going to be thousands of people speaking directly to food manufacturers.” — Diana Reeves

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Image credit: Creative commons photo by Millions Against Monsanto.

  1. Teresa

    I live in California and I am really confused over this GMO labeling measure set for November. My dad operates a 5,000-acre ranch in Yolo County and he grows many different crops, including GM corn. Me and my family have eaten this for years with no ill effects. My dad tells me it is safe because big medical groups like the American Medical Association and the U.S. EPA say there’s no difference between biotech crops and other crops. I have done a lot of research but can’t find any examples of people dying or getting sick from eating biotech foods. I don’t want to vote for the measure if it is only a perceived threat by the general public because people will be afraid to buy my dad’s corn. Also, it seems to give the organic industry an advantage because if people read on the label that it includes GMO ingredients maybe they won’t buy it, even if there is no risk. However, my dad grows both conventional and organic crops. Would you please supply me with a bona fide instance in which GMOs make people sick and even lead to death. I want to make sure in my own mind that GMOs are dangerous and harmful to my children, but I don’t want to overreact if they are safe. Please send me links to peer reviewed research so that I can vote with a clear conscience. Thank you.

    1. Tanya Sitton

      Hi Ms Cornett! Glad to see you commenting here. Interestingly, I know of a Mr. Richard Cornett who works as a media consultant for Monsanto/ Dow/ Bayer etc… oddly enough, he was just saying almost the exact same thing on some other articles here… coincidentally he also lives in California… just out of curiosity, any relation? What a coincidence that would be!

      To answer your questions, there are several good reasons to label GMO foods. The basic issues are consumer choice, scientific transparency, and environmental impact/ sustainability.

      I’ve summed up these reasons in greater detail here: http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2012/01/31/gmo-food-labels-progress-in-2012/, with links to relevant studies and such.

      But quickly:
      1. People have the right to choose what to buy, what to eat, and what to feed their families. It doesn’t matter whether GMO producers agree with consumers’ decisions or not. For whatever reasons, many people simply don’t want to buy genetically modified food — and shouldn’t be forced through deceptive labeling to do so, solely for the benefit of the biotechnology industry. The right to choose what food goes into your own body is a fundamental freedom, one that corporate interests simply do not have the right to supersede.

      2. Despite claims by GE proponents, many consumers find existing GM food safety research inadequate and inconclusive. To be clear, existing research does not prove GMO foods to be harmful; the problem is that neither does it prove them to be safe for long term production and consumption. The biotechnology industry itself is in charge of all safety research for GM foods and farming techniques, and has fought tooth and nail to prevent non-industry researchers from studying potential health risks related to transgenic food crops. In some cases industry has actively attempted to keep consumers from hearing about GM problems, by trying to bribe public officials or suppress media reports when harmful effects of genetically engineered food products were identified.

      Biotechnology proponents like to frame GM labeling advocates as ‘anti-science‘– but industry’s deliberate experiment manipulation and data suppression is the very antithesis of good science, making any kind of meaningful GMO risk assessment difficult if not impossible.

      The biotechnology industry– Monsanto especially– has systematically and consistently attempted to suppress, omit, and avoid research data that paints anything but the rosiest possible picture of their products, and those who benefit most from GM foods’ approval are themselves in charge of health and safety testing.

      3. Despite claims by GE proponents, there’s reason for concern about the environmental impact of genetically modified crops. Transgenic crops have the potential to impact complex ecosystems in ways that laboratory models cannot predict. Once a new gene or gene combination is released, there is no way to call it back to the lab if problems emerge. For this reason, in 2009 a federal judge in Missouri ruled that the US Fish and Wildlife Service should not have allowed GE crops to be planted in a national wildlife refuge. In his decision, the judge chastised the Fish and Wildlife service for failing to conduct thorough environmental impact research before planting GE crops in the refuge; and for ignoring the data submitted by their own biologists regarding potential problems related to the GM plantings.

      Unfortunately that’s the norm rather than the exception, regarding GM crops and environmental impact studies. As with health and safety research, the biotech industry is in charge of evaluating their own products for environmental risks– what could possibly go wrong?! Many consumers would prefer not to find out, and would choose non-GM food for environmental reasons if given a fair choice.

      If you’ve had exposure to training in any of the science fields, you know the importance of skeptical research. For example, you wouldn’t want to FIRST decide penicillin does (or doesn’t) kill bacteria, and then discard all test results not supporting your chosen conclusion. Another key part of the scientific process is the ability for other independent researchers to reproduce your results, using the same methods. The problem with GMO research is that it’s been pursued very unscientifically, in terms of independent inquiry. If (for example) Monsanto benefits from ‘x’ conclusion, goes behind closed doors, and emerges a month later saying ‘what a surprise! we got ‘x’ conclusion, it’s perfectly fine!… BUT DON’T LOOK!!! and NO you can’t test it to check our results!!!’… well, that’s scientifically problematic, and throws any resulting data into question. For further discussion of this problem, see Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-seed-companies-control-gm-crop-research.

      Here’s another problem: American health has changed dramatically in some ways over the last 30 years — since introduction of widespread GMO foods, though no one knows if that’s coincidental or not — diabetes, food allergies, obesity, some cancers, autism, and some other health problems have experienced sharp spikes in incidence since GMOs flooded the US food market. Is that caused by GMO foods? (shrug) No one knows. No one can check. Without labels, it’s impossible to know how much GMO foods people are eating — which makes it impossible to spot correlations between eating them and any health problem — which makes it impossible to design research studies even beginning to assess cause and effect relationships.

      The biotechnology industry wants to say their products are safe, but fight tooth and nail to prevent any labeling that would make it possible to know whether that’s true or not. If there’s no problem, that’s the way to prove it; 30-90 day tests for acute toxicity are meaningless. Go here for a better understanding of how to test for safety w/ foods: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Toxicity_testing_methods.

      Again — and oddly enough, I was just making this exact point to Mr. Cornett the other day! — if you have any kind of science background, you know it’s meaningless to apply population studies to an individual, or vice versa. Smoking increases cancer risk, but not everyone who smokes get cancer; saying ‘I have a family history of diabetes, but I don’t have diabetes, so there is no link between family history and diabetes’ is faulty logic. Saying ‘I ate ‘x’ and didn’t get sick’ is scientifically meaningless, which is why PR guys like to say it — ‘I ate TONS of GMO food and I haven’t grown a third nostril!’ and silly things like that. The reality is that to discover an etiological link between any dietary factor and any health problem, you have to (a) be able to quantify how much of a given substance a person eats; and (b) design studies looking for relationships between consumption of (whatever you’re testing) and disease incidence. Labels would make that feasible; if there are no health risks associated with GMO foods, the industry should love the idea of GMO labels: because that’s the only way anyone could even begin to ask (let alone answer) those questions.

      The argument that ‘it’s too expensive’ fails, considering the industry’s record profits during a serious recession; and it hasn’t given organic markets unfair advantage in Japan or the EU or anywhere else GMO labels are mandatory. I think the argument that ‘consumers are too stupid to shop’ is a weak one, and it’s pretty sad that this is the best they could do. Right now many people avoid GMO foods because they’re (justifiably) skeptical of the methods by which industry manipulated the safety testing process, and of the industry’s insistence on fighting viciously to prevent unbiased independent research, at all costs. Labeling GMO foods would force scientific transparency, and if no problems come to light (with either health or environmental research conducted by non-industry-owned scientists), consumers would have no reason not to buy them.

      Industry can SAY they have no reason to buy them now, but we have to accept their hardly-unbiased word for it: without labels and independent research, that’s nothing more than the self-serving opinion of those who benefit from GMO seed/ GMO food sales.

      I hope that’s helpful food for thought. In good conscience, I do need to let you know that EDB commenters are asked to disclose any relationships they have with, say, industry media relations companies — any tie by which you directly profit from the biotechnology industry in general or Monsanto (Dow, Bayer, etc) in particular. It helps EDB readers to know if, for example, someone’s income depends on saying nice things about Monsanto.

      If there’s anything like that you’d like to disclose, please do: we’ve had some trouble lately with shameless use of this site for free industry marketing services, which isn’t really what EDB is for. Anyway, Ms. Cornett, I appreciate your honest and heartfelt investigation of this issue. It is an important one, worthy of our most sincere appraisal and critical reasoning skills.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. Roger Hall


      A study of science and history should reveal at least two things: the natural world around us is very complex, and humans have a long history of hubris (or, “sinful pride”). We not only have a very bad habit of underestimating the consequences of our actions, but are also constantly redefining our understanding of ourselves and the living things around us.

      In fact, we have just very recently discovered that the genetic material of the food we eat *does* effect our bodies. We didn’t even know that for sure when GMO testing was done, so it has never been tested. Of course there is no peer reviewed research on studies that were never performed. As of now, the mechanism is only demonstrated, and not completely understood yet, so any tests in this area are not likely to be conclusive within our lifetime. Even then, not all GMO is created equal; even if some modifications are eventually proven safe, the specific nature of RNA means that every modification has a new risk. (Just because a cockroach gene in your wheat is safe doesn’t mean the spider gene is your corn is safe.)

      Do you think your computer would still work if you put car parts in it? Probably not! While we are not certain that GMO crops are the “wrong parts”, it is currently impossible for anyone to say they are the “right parts” (unless they have “sinful pride”, which is sometimes true even of scientists and doctors).

      I am glad you and your family are not sick, but I recommend that you be cautious. We already know that some pathogens take decades to present as disease. To think that GMO foods are safe when we have eaten them for less than one generation is … hubris. Within our lifetime, there will always be a potential risk to GMO foods. The more freely GMO is adopted, the more risk we will have.

      Your family is lucky to be farming in such a great place. I am glad your Dad has the choice to grow the crops that he thinks are best for his business and your family. Perhaps it would be best if organic produce did have an advantage. Then your Dad could make the choice to grow organic, and make even more money! I’m sure he would like that.

      As a Dad myself, I am also sure he is worried about you and your kids. He probably wouldn’t like it if I put some mystery chemicals in your well. He might worry about whether or not those chemicals would be the “wrong parts” for your body. Would you think he was overreacting?

      I’m also sure you can understand that I have the right to be worried about my own children. I want my children to be as safe as possible until they are adults and can make their own choices. Of course, a choice isn’t really a choice unless you have a choice.

      Heck, we label a t-shirt with the amount of cotton that’s in it. We label milk with the amount of fat that’s in it. If we can do those things, and still have affordable t-shirts and milk (and synthetic fiber t-shirts and alternate milks from beans and nuts), it seems clear that GMO food labeling is a fine idea that only increases American freedom. You don’t hate freedom do you?

  2. Kev_C

    Well impressed with the comment from Roger. Nice work. It said a lot about the real issues surrounding GMO’s and as has been said many times recently elsewhere it is about choice. I have a choice about what I eat and thankfully I don’t have to worry too much about GMO’s as I live in the UK. However if the biotech industry which is currently trying to force GMO’s into our agricultural system under the auspices of ‘we need to keep up with the rest of the world’ then I may well find that despite my continued opposition that some Loony politicians will sell my freedom of choice down the river for a pocket full of GMO beans. Sad ignorant fools that they are.
    Keep up the fight and don’t stop until you secure your freedom of choice.
    I will keep sending letters and supporting petitions etc from my side of the pond along with a heap of my friends over here who are doing the same.
    Best wishes
    Kev C
    PS I got blocked from the ‘Truth About Trade and Technology’ website which specialises in pro-GMO articles because I told them the facts a couple of times about the problems with GMO’s (politely of course) and now I am regarded as a spammer. So you can see they don’t like it when you hit them back with the facts.

    1. Tanya Sitton

      Facts and skeptical inquiry do seem antithetical to the biotechnology industry, in its current form. Unfortunately (for them), there’s a fundamental difference between fact and fiction, between reality and marketing. I think they’re frustrated with the fact that people are realizing that truth. I think they’re gonna have a hard time putting that squirming genie back in the bottle, now that the issues surrounding GMO foods have reached critical mass in mainstream awareness.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Good to hear from those watching this issue around the world. You guys have been way more on top of this issue than we have in the US (though we’re trying to catch you up!)… good work! :-)

      1. Kev_C

        Only have one question/request. Do you have any way for us to subscribe to your newsletters/updates etc? I looked around the website but couldn’t find anything to sign up to. I don’t do Facecrook or Twitter as I have reservations about the privacy issues. Any help would be appreciated.

        1. Tanya Sitton

          I’ll find out, and report back! You’re right: there are trolls everywhere, b/c they know the arguments don’t stand on their own merits — and that the issue will be won or lost on the internet, in the court of public opinion. Let me see what I can find out for you!:-)

            1. Tanya Sitton

              Awesome! Thanks Becky! Kev, I hope that’s what you needed… Thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful comments. :)

  3. Teresa

    Dear Ms. Sitton:

    My, you did spend a great deal of time in your very comprehensive explanation and I really do appreciate that. You really are a great writer and I enjoy your website very much. And, as far as my last name, there’s a funny story about it. My husband plays the coronet in a community orchestra in the Los Angeles area. But he couldn’t get an e-mail address unless he used coronet with a bunch of numbers behind it. So he chose cornett and we have been kind of stuck with it since. Anyway, you have made my voting decision much easier. In your comments you point out that it is clear that biotech crops have not yet been proven harmful, but the jury is still out on the unforeseen future developments in their consumption. You know, I often worry about the same thing about my cell phone. Even though millions of us use them, I can’t help but fear that the warnings of “brain tumors” from their emitting small amounts of radiation will sooner or later catch up with me – if that new technology also proves hazardous in the future. So, upon your honest and convincing comment that currently there is no evidence that biotech foods are dangerous, I have decided to vote against the labeling law. My dad will be happy and my kids will remain safe, and I figure why cry fire if there isn’t any smoke. Thank you for spending your time with me. You are a knowledgeable and valuable journalist.

    1. Tanya Sitton

      Humans are diverse, and the odds of universal agreement among all of us are nil. I’m glad for the opportunity to explain the way it looks to me.

      Based on your (seemingly deliberate) ignoring of the issues I and others raised, and your mischaracterization of my argument, it seems a lot like you had already decided what to conclude — which begs the question of why you asked about the issue in the first place. If I had a more cynical nature, I would suspect that you sought out this platform simply to state that opinion. I’ll leave it to EDB readers to apply critical reasoning to the GMO labeling issue, and separate wheat from chaff.

      I think it’s unproductive to simultaneously say ‘you can’t prove harm’ and ‘under no circumstances will anyone be allowed to test for harm’… and I don’t see how labeling GMO foods affects those who don’t mind eating them. If you don’t wish to avoid them, with or without labels, that’s your choice. I do; I should have the same right to decide NOT to consume GMO food, if I’m unconvinced they’re a good idea (which, obviously, I am). Labels help me, and take nothing away from you.

      To each her own; I think you’re in the minority, but time will tell. Thanks for your comments here, and do keep reading about all the issues involved from all sources, with an open mind. Keep learning and keep questioning.

      “Reason is the slow and torturous method by which those who do not know the truth discover it.” — Blaise Pascal

      1. Dee

        personally, my vote is for teresa being an industry troll, coronet-playing husband (which IS funny, as in does this smell funny to you) or no. it also seems clear that sitton and her articles becoming targets of these condescending and persistent (albeit unconvincing) attacks by industry minions indicates that she has struck quite a nerve, that is, that she is shining a light on truths which from monsanto’s perspective are terribly unprofitable. monsanto’s bottom line, however, is synonymous neither with public good nor citizen choice, as sitton has so eloquently explicated. so well done, madam, and keep on keepin’ on, i say! it’s the right side of the debate, and the majority of americans seem to be behind you on this one, too. the beast is going down, it’s just a question of how much damage its death throes will cause. you’re not fooling us, teresa, et al; the days of monsanto fooling us are over.

  4. Teresa

    Dear Ms. Sitton:

    I feel I do have to push back a little on your comment that my mind was already made up on the issue of GMO labeling before I asked you about it. As I stated initially, I had done a lot of research on the subject and could find no proven examples anywhere in the world of GMO foods making anyone ill, even though commercial GMO foods have been on the commercial market for at least 15 years and have been consumed by millions of people. I asked you if you could confirm this for me. You did and here’s your quote: “To be clear, existing research does not prove GMO foods to be harmful.” These are your words, not mine. So, you confirmed my research findings. Yes, you were kind enough to provide me with other information that make GMOs “suspect,” but no hard proof that they are dangerous. So I find it a bit odd that you fault me for agreeing with you. I am voting against the GMO labeling measure because bioengineered foods have been unfairly stigmatized by certain groups having their own agendas … i.e. calling them “Frankenfoods” and scaring consumers. Therefore, the organic industry would benefit from this unfair labeling that we both agree presents no danger at this time. My dad should not lose money on selling his GMO corn because of a fearful consuming public that perceives a threat when there is none. Lastly, when “existing research” does prove that GMO foods are unsafe then please let your readers know. Thanks again for your comments.

    1. Dee

      “no hard proof that they are dangerous”: right, because the arguments for gm labeling revolve around this, because most consumers are only concerned about whether this is true, because this is all that matters, because there are NO other good reasons to label gm food products. and, if there were, those reasons certainly haven’t been explained extensively and indeed almost argued to death by the myriad commenters on this blog, on this one particular thread, even, nor, surely, have they been gracefully and exhaustively delineated, at various points in time and with various degrees of detail, by the author herself. surely, too, those reasons aren’t being deliberately ignored and misrepresented by you, teresa, et al, in your comments here, because you have ties to the industry.
      right. to quote the muppets, who do you think you’re foolin’? (yeah, right, sure!)

    2. Tanya Sitton

      Mmmmkay, yawn. You’re ignoring huge swaths of the debate, in efforts to frame the issue the way you want to. That’s not some ‘confused’ average-jane voter, trying to sort through the issues at hand. We’re not stupid; though that is a real cute li’l story.

      More than 90% of US voters support labeling; an estimated 4% are against it. So, vote away! Your logic is weak, and will not sway anyone without the use of, say, Rohypnol. I’m not going to keep trodding the same ground with you; I trust EDB readers to glance over things and use good old-fashioned everyday reasoning skills to decide what’s up.

      If you come up with any new points that actually answer any of the arguments I’ve raised, feel free to drop back by.

  5. scott cooney

    Hi guys,
    One of the issues with GM stuff is that it is so heavily dependent on chemicals. It’s in fact engineered to be dependent on chemicals, so that Monsanto not only makes money on selling seeds to farmers, but then also sells chemicals that those GM plants are resistant to but that other plants are not. Those chemicals are increasingly proving to be harmful to everyone’s health.

    Thus, while it’s, for all intents and purposes, impossible to really test GM food’s health effects on humans (any volunteers for this study? Right…that’s what I thought), we do know that at the very least by killing our soils and making our farmlands dependent on their chemicals, Monsanto is, in fact, poisoning us all.

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