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Monsanto’s Minions in California
(Photo: mike / Flickr)

Monsanto’s Minions in California

(Photo: mike / Flickr)

Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman with the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition, says requiring labels on genetically engineered food would increase food prices. What she doesn’t say is that she’s being paid by the trade association that represents both the biotech behemoths like Monsanto that engineer the GMO crops and the food industry giants like PepsiCo. that use ingredients made from these crops in their products. PepsiCo., Kraft, Kellogg’s and other top food processors market so-called “natural” protects at a premium that rivals what consumers pay for non-GMO and organic foods – even though these so-called “natural” foods contain unlabeled GMOs. The money these companies swindle from us as they trick us into paying top-dollar for GMO foods disguised as “natural” dwarfs the miniscule 0.01% of food costs attributable to GMO labels. Would it surprise you to learn that anti-right-to-know spokesperson Fairbanks has spent most of her career helping corrupt insurance companies increase premiums on vulnerable customers?

Maryann Marino, Southern California regional director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says GMO labels will make family farmers and small businesses vulnerable to lawsuits. Her organization is a state chapter of the American Tort Reform Association (funded by Monsanto) which thinks it’s okay for Monsanto to sue farmers in 143 different patent infringement lawsuits when their crops are unintentionally contaminated with Monsanto’s GMOs, but it isn’t okay for farmers to get together and bring one lawsuit against Monsanto to stop the harassment. Think they really care about family farmers or small businesses? Their only interests are protecting Monsanto’s market share and helping companies sneak Monsanto’s ingredients into their products without letting consumers know.

GMO Labels Will Not Significantly Increase Food Costs – And Could Even Lower Them

A 2002 Oregon State University study reviewed the true costs of actual laws requiring labels on genetically engineered food in other countries. According to the study, a law in the UK, like the one proposed for CA, increased food spending by only 0.01%. The most any GMO labeling proposal was projected to cost was 1.8%. (This was from a Canadian study where, the authors note, the costs of segregating crops, changing processing procedures and changing the label were exaggerated and came only from expectations expressed by industry spokespersons.)

The 0.01% to 1.8% increase in the cost of labeling GMO foods must be put in perspective by looking at what companies already spend and consumers currently pay to avoid genetically engineered ingredients. A 2005 University of Delaware study showed that consumers would pay 20-30% more for non-GMO or organic. The so-called “natural” food industry has taken full advantage of consumer interest in avoiding GMOs and consumer ignorance in where those GMOs may be lurking. A review by the Cornucopia Institute of “natural,” non-GMO and organic cereals showed that so-called “natural” cereals that contained unlabeled GMOs were sometimes more expensive than real non-GMO and organic cereals.

Once GMOs are labeled, consumers will easily be able to substitute products that contain non-GMO cane sugar for products made with GMO sugar beet sugar or high-fructose corn syrup and change from vegetable oils made from GMO canola to non-GMO sunflower or olive oil. They’ll be able to eat more non-GMO wheat and rice and less GMO corn and soy. They can choose non-GMO fruits and vegetables and avoid the few that are GMO. Eating non-GMO won’t involve paying a premium, just making a choice between the foods that are genetically engineered and the ones that aren’t. Foods that are GMO won’t be able to be falsely labeled as “natural.”

The GMO Labeling Law is for PepsiCo. Not Family Farmers or Small Businesses

The CA Right to Know ballot measure language is very clear. It requires the labeling of foods that contain ingredients made from genetically engineered crops. Since each of these crops must be deregulated by the USDA on an individual basis, they are very easy to keep track of. Under the proposed law, foods with these genetically engineered ingredients cannot be labeled as “natural.” Food packers and processors have 18 months to comply with the law. (This time frame was chosen because it is generally the period within which labels are routinely updated.) It is very unlikely that food packers and processors will have trouble complying.

Only food packers and processors will be effected. Farmers and grocers are not responsible for food labels. Farmers of crops that can be genetically engineered are already aware of what they’re growing. Genetically engineered seed is patented, branded and marketed as GMO. Food packers and processors may decide to seek non-GMO sources to avoid the law’s labeling requirements, and that may increase markets for farmers who grow non-GMO crops, but that is a different issue than simply complying with a new labeling requirement. As far as grocery stores go, unless they are knowingly complicit (for instance, in falsely labeling a store-brand product), they cannot be held responsible for the failure of a food packer or processor to follow the law.

If PepsiCo. continues to sell unlabeled genetically engineered food in CA once this law is passed, we’ll definitely sue them (we’d rather see them comply), but this law creates no incentive to go after small businesses.

Look Who’s Spreading Monsanto’s Lies

Fresh from fights on behalf of the tobacco companies and big oil, Tom Hiltachk is now Monsanto’s man in California. Hiltachk, a partner at the Sacramento-based lobbying firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, has formed a front group, the Coalition Against the Costly Food Labeling Proposition (CACFLP), to fight the November 2012 California ballot initiative to label genetically engineered foods.

In early March, CACFLP revealed its first two contributions. Both came from Washington, D.C.-based industry groups, including $375,000 from the Council for Biotechnology Information, whose members include the engineers of GMO seed, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, and $250,000 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, whose members also include Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta, as well as the largest food processors, many of whom are currently cheating consumers by marketing high-priced so-called “natural” products that contain unlabeled GMO ingredients. For example, PepsiCo., the country’s largest food processor and a board member of the GMA, markets many foods that contain GMO ingredients as “natural,” including several under the brand Frito-Lay.

Monsanto made the following statement in support of CACFLP:

“Monsanto is part of a growing coalition of California farmers, food producers, grocers, retailers, and others which has been formed to oppose the California measure. As a member of both GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) and BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization), we support the organizations’ involvement in the California campaign to oppose the costly and extreme measure.”

Kathy Fairbanks is CACFLP’s spokeswoman. She has a long history of representing corporations against the public interest, as a PR flack for the California Chamber of Commerce and corrupt auto insurance industry billionaires.

Tom Hiltachk has used his ties to Big Tobacco to enlist another industry-backed front group in the fight against our right to know: California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA). CALA’s Maryann Marino is acting as a spokesperson for the anti-labeling side, doing her best to misinform and confuse the more than 90% of voters who want genetically engineered foods labeled.

Read on to learn more about Tom Hiltachk, Kathy Fairbanks and CALA, Monsanto’s minions in California.

Tom Hiltachk

So, what do we know about Monsanto’s hired gun, Tom Hiltachk? Few have kind words for this “million dollar consultant.” He was badmouthed by Ted Costa, a veteran right-wing activist behind many conservative initiatives and head of the group People’s Advocate. Initially allies in the Proposition 23 effort to repeal California’s clean energy and climate laws, Costa soured on Hiltachk when he realized that his main motivation was to funnel the $50 million that he hoped would be raised from oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce to himself and his friends. Read more at

Kathy Fairbanks

Kathy Fairbanks has a long history of representing corporations against the public interest. A few of her past public relations gigs include:

The California Chamber of Commerce – Causes Fairbanks stumped for at the Chamber include urging Gov. Davis to veto bills to: limit the expansion of Big Box stores; bar businesses from using revenues from state contracts for anti-union activities; require a “Buy America” and “Buy California” preference in state contracts; and increase workers compensation benefits. At that time (1999), the Chamber was spending $2.4 million a session on lobbying. In opposing a bill to allow employees to use up to half of their annual sick leave to stay home and care for ill family members, Fairbanks warned that if the bill was signed by the governor, “some employers may decide to cut back or drop those benefits altogether.”

Steve Poizner’s Campaign for State Insurance Commissioner – Fairbanks was the spokeswoman for a campaign fund controlled by Steve Poizner, a wealthy Silicon Valley Republican running for state insurance commissioner, in 2005, when it had to return $1.75 million in illegal donations made by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his campaign committee.

Californians to Stop Unfair Rate Increases – Fairbanks was the spokesperson for this front group for the insurance industry in 2006 when it was accused by State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi of trying to blackmail and bribe him by threatening to run a $2 million ad campaign against him in his bid for lieutenant governor if he didn’t drop his pending auto insurance regulations.

No on 82 (2006 – Los Angeles) – Fairbanks helped defeat Proposition 82 which would have provided credentialed teachers to 150,000 4-year-olds living in the city, funded through tax increases on individuals earning more than $400,000 a year, and on couples making more than $800,000 a year.

No on Proposition 7 (2008)Fairbanks was the spokesperson for opposition to a California ballot measure to require half the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates
– C-FAIR, another insurance industry front-group, was set up by billionaire Mercury insurance executive George Joseph to launch a California ballot initiative to raise rates on those who have gone without coverage – despite a voter-approved law banning the practice. Fairbanks’ work on the 2010 ballot initiative was investigated in a San Francisco Bay Guardian piece called “Buying Power: How PG&E and Mercury Insurance Are Spending Millions to Try to Trick Californians into Voting for Corporate Interests,” and a San Diego Union Tribune article, “Insurer Veils Its Funding of Measure: Literature for Prop. 17 Omits Mercury’s Millions.” During the initiative battle, the state Department of Insurance accused Mercury of illegal practices, including unfairly denying coverage
and charging discriminatory rates to motorists who were not at fault in accidents, were members of the armed forces or worked in certain professions. It found Mercury had a “lengthy history of serious misconduct” and an attitude of “contempt toward and/or abuse of its customers, the [insurance] commissioner, its competition and the Superior Court.” Mercury paid $300,000 to settle the allegations.


CALA is a “grassroots” group created by corporations to support changes to the legal system to make it harder to bring lawsuits for injuries and illnesses caused by hazardous products.

CALA is part of a national, corporate-backed network of front groups coordinated by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) which receives substantial financial and strategic assistance from the tobacco industry and America’s biggest corporations, including Philip Morris, Dow Chemical (currently seeking approval for Agent Orange Corn), Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico and Nationwide.

ATRA now keeps its membership secret, but according to a 1993 American University Law Review article by PR Sugarman, “As of January 1989, the General Membership and Steering Committee of ATRA included hundreds of trade associations and corporations, including such representative organizations as Allstate Insurance, American Trucking Association, Chemical Manufacturers Association, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, Exxon Company, U.S.A., General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Monsanto Chemical Company, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, National Association of Manufacturers, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, Procter & Gamble Company, RJR/Nabisco, Inc., and Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association.”

According to “Justice For Sale: Shortchanging the Public Interest for Private Gain,” a 1993 report by the Alliance for Justice, “The ATRA is made up of corporation trade groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association — thus giving corporations a decoy and accomplice group two full steps removed from their board rooms.”

In 2008, the last time they made any of their members public, a list of “sample members” included Kraft Foods Inc., the 3rd largest packaged food company in the U.S. Kraft opposes GMO labels, but defends its use of GMOs.

In return for Monsanto’s support, ATRA has been a relentless cheerleader for the company’s lawlessness.

ATRA applauded Monsanto for skirting plaintiffs’ claims for medical monitoring after Monsanto was found to have been knowingly polluting the small town of Anniston, Alabama, with dangerous levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). (The residents surrounding the Monsanto plant were predominantly minorities. The first lawsuit, brought in state court, went to trial and the jury found Monsanto guilty of a variety of torts, including negligence, nuisance and trespass. This case was eventually folded into a similar federal case, concluding in a global settlement fining Monsanto 700 million dollars for its egregious behavior toward the Anniston residents.)

ATRA’s publication, Judicial Hellholes, in a post titled, “Food Eaters 1, Uncompetitive Organics Industry 0,” calls atrazine, the infamous endocrine disrupting pesticide, “a safe and widely used weed killer,” and characterized the non-GMO farmers’ lawsuit against Monsanto to stop the company from pursuing patent infringement claims when their crops are contaminated with engineered DNA, this way:

  • Why, if one were to ingest too many organic soybeans, one might deliriously imagine a conspiracy of trial lawyers, self-proclaimed consumer advocates and failing organic farmers trying desperately (and transparently) to raise the costs of more conventional farming by any means necessary — including wave after wave of meritless lawsuits, all designed to make relatively high-priced organic food products more competitive in the marketplace.

This one lawsuit bothers ATRA, but it has no problem with Monsanto, which, by its own admission, has “filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States”?!

Read more about California CALA’s initial funding, in this report by the …Center for Justice & Democracy and Public Citizen from 2000.

Monsanto has funded numerous front groups, including the American Council on Science & Health, American Tort Reform Association, Compliance Management and Policy Group, Council for Agricultural Science & Technology, FoodWatch, the National Institute for Chemical Studies, and the Pacific Legal Foundation. Reporters should be skeptical of spokespersons with ties to these groups who claim to represent farmers and small business owners.

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