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AgriBUSINESS is at war with agriCULTURE

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Prop 37 doesn't ban GMOs, but merely requires food corporations that put such altered ingredients into their products to say so on the package labels. This is an easy, non-bureaucratic, honest way to empower consumers in the marketplace, giving us the information we need to make our own choice. And, boy, the corporate powers really HATE that!

To keep their own customers in the dark, brand-name food processors bulldozed tons of money into deceptive and outright false TV ads to kill Prop 37. Since I'm writing this prior to the Nov. 6 vote, I can't tell you who won, but I can tell you which food brands put up between $500,000 and $2 million each to fund this campaign for continued consumer deception:

  • PepsiCo
  • Nestle n Coca-Cola
  • ConAgra n General Mills
  • Del Monte n Hershey's
  • J.M. Smucker Co.
  • Hormel
  • Bumble Bee Foods
  • Ocean Spray
  • Sara Lee
  • Bimbo
  • Dean Foods
  • Campbell's Soup
  • McCormick Corp.

To learn more about which brands are funding the anti-label effort, check out this list of resources.

This cash influx created quite a few family squabbles, for many of the food conglomerates have quietly bought up popular organic companies, practically all of which oppose GMOs and enthusiastically back Prop 37. For example, even though General Mills owns such organic brands as Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, and Food Should Taste Good, it has spent nearly a million bucks to defeat GMO labeling. What a hoot, then, to see the conglomerate's Food Should Taste Good subsidiary (maker of chips and crackers) proudly publicizing its new labels boasting that all of its products are GMO-free.

Meanwhile, many organic companies have pooled together about $4.7 million to back the consumers' right-to-know proposal. Among them are Nature's Path, Dr. Bronner's soaps, Clif Bar, Amy's Kitchen, Organic Valley, Annie's Homegrown, Good Earth Natural Foods, Frey Vineyards organic wine, and Eden Foods.

MEMORIZE THIS WEB ADDRESS. If you're looking for Good Food items -- from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey -- ; can help you find them somewhere near your home. Enter your zip code and this website will search for the small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets, and other resources in your area.

PLANTING SEEDS OF URBAN REVIVAL. For years, media outlets have covered a long list of seemingly endless bad-news stories about Detroit: Drugs, economic collapse, population flight, intractable poverty, corruption, dilapidation, etc. So how about a good-news story from the Motor City?

Though it's largely gone unreported, a quiet, vibrant, populist revival has taken root and is spreading across this hardscrabble urban landscape -- propelled by (of all things) agriculture. Well, agriculture is the means, but it has really been propelled by a sense of justice, sheer necessity, and the inspiring spunk of ordinary, working-class Detroiters who have created and are expanding one of the finest models of a self-sustaining urban food economy in America. 

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Their grassroots network includes such groups as Grown in Detroit (a widely popular cooperative market and professional training center that sells foods produced by gardens and in-city farms located within a mile of downtown); Feedom Freedom, a community garden that supplies local restaurants and supports a hands-on education program called "Youth Growing Detroit" that enlists hundreds of young people; People's Kitchen Detroit, operating a mobile food bus and gardens to supply top-quality, low-cost food to low-income people, while also organizing around local food issues; the Detroit Food Justice Task Force, a consortium of food-focused groups writing a plan for an urban food security system that can deliver sustainable, healthy, affordable food for all, even as it provides good jobs and new economic opportunities.

The future is us

If we are what we eat, shall we eat factory-made widgets -- or put the nurtured and husbanded products of the good earth on our tables? That's the choice that confronts us in today's BIG struggle over the future of food: Agri-culturists concerned about the soul of food production versus agri-business forces concerned only with finding quick technological shortcuts to produce quick profits.

For example, the next technology they dearly want to bring to the table is cloning. Try to find any sense of soul in this rave about the science from a corporate cloner in 2008: "We can make every cow precisely like its progenitor. This eliminates uncertainty in meat production, for every cut can be the exact same texture, taste, and composition. We have achieved the efficiency of the assembly line inside the animal itself."

Contrast that with the perspective of Patrick Martins, co-founder of Heritage Foods USA, who works with small farmers across the country to bring nearly lost breeds of sustainably raised cows, pigs, and turkeys to market. He measures sustainability not just by environmental standards, but also by whether the animals are happy! Yes, tending to their happiness, he says, is both good business and a moral imperative. Asked what makes a turkey happy, Martins said simply: "Room. That's the biggest thing. It can walk around."

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Well, space to walk is reasonable, right? Of course, but visit one of the massive factory feeding operations of agribusiness where the vast majority of American turkeys are raised, and you'll find no such concession to the most basic of creature comforts. Instead, thousands of the large birds are crammed side-by-side in cages, spending nasty, brutish, and short lives with barely enough room to move, much less walk. To true agriculturalists like Martins, these meat factories amount to animal concentration camps. "No living creature should be forced to spend its entire life in a box," he says, genuinely appalled.

What you and I choose to eat, where we choose to get it, what policies and politicians we choose to support or oppose, what groups we choose to help, and whether we even choose to think about the food we eat -- all are choices directly affecting the nature of food production and of food itself. In ways big and small, you and I are central to the struggle. And if each of us does just a bit more for the agri-cultural side, we'll make the difference in America's food culture.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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I suppose you think Seed Saver's Exchange is still... by Ned Lud on Thursday, Nov 8, 2012 at 9:44:03 AM