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I hate to repeat the same old topics in these diaries but this is a case where I feel forced to. In New Jersey, a flurry of emails from citizens defeated the all-powerful Monsanto. We need a big push of emails to do the same in Pennsylvania. If Monsanto gets their way in one state, that will help embolden them to come after YOUR state.

The particular Monsanto goal we're fighting: banning "hormone-free" and "rBGH-free" labels in Pennsylvania (and ultimately other states too). We need your help even if you don't live in PA.

To give you a new topic along with an old one, I'll also go into a discussion of where Democratic presidential candidates stand on food issues.

This is hardly the diary I wanted to write this weekend, after overhearing a pretty interesting conversation among several Texans (including a Republican who hates corporate greed so much he said he'd "put up with" Edwards' universal healthcare so long as Edwards went ahead w/ tackling corporate greed like he's promising). Damn you Monsanto for wrecking my diary topic! They ruin everything, don't they?

Background
If you're familiar with rBGH as an issue, just go ahead and skip all of the background information. Otherwise, here's the scoop. Monsanto created a product marketed as Posilac, also known as recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) or recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST), which has been legal since 1994. It's NOT good for cows for a number of reasons, but there are also questions about its safety for humans.

The two main human safety issues I know of are: Drinking milk from cows treated with rBGH 1. increases a woman's chance of having twins and 2. might increase your chance for getting certain types of cancer.

If you hear a claim that rBGH has no effect on humans, that is correct. It does not. However, rBGH drastically increases production of another hormone in cows, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), and IGF-1 is identical in cows and in humans. When you drink milk from cows treated with growth hormones, you also drink much more IGF-1 than you would if the cows weren't treated.

Monsanto's Sleazy Tactics
Monsanto doesn't want anyone to badmouth their product - or even mention its use. An ignorant consumer is a better consumer, in their opinion. When dairies wanted to label their milk "rBST-free" a while back, Monsanto took issue with them and the government agreed that anyone who labels milk as "rBST-free" must include a disclaimer that there is no difference (in the USDA's opinion) between rBST-free milk and milk from cows treated with growth hormones.

The USDA can say it but that doesn't make people believe it. Due to consumer outrage, many companies have told their supplies NO rBGH. This includes even large, totally non-organic companies, all over the country. Several months back, even Starbucks pledged to go rBGH-free (I don't know where they are with it... they pledge to do it but I never saw a timeline on when it'd be done).

Monsanto's pissed. If consumers choose rBGH-free when they have a choice, then why the heck should anyone give them a choice? So they started lobbying various states (notably OH, PA, and NJ) to ban "rBGH-free" labels.

They've gone beyond just requesting the labeling ban. They've also started up astro-turf groups of dairy farmers, encouraging them to protect their rights to use rBGH. I'm going out on a limb here but from what I've anecdotally heard, using rBGH results in fewer pregnancies and deformed calves. I've heard that when you treat a cow with rBGH and then stop using it, the cow's health is basically wrecked for good.

Also, it's so hard on the cows that they typically only go through one (maybe two) lactations before they are turned into hamburgers. A dairy cow can live up to 40 years and I've met an organic farmer who told me he keeps his for about 11-12 years.

(Paraphrasing Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, commercial dairy cows provide some of the nastiest meat out there, since their bodies are so riddled with antibiotics during their lives. McDonald's prefers it for hamburgers because it's cheap and "made in the USA.")

If you were a dairy farmer, would you want your right to use rBGH preserved? I wouldn't. I'd prefer to have everyone on an even rBGH-free playing field. So long as the stuff's legal, at least give me increased sales by labeling my milk rBGH-free.

Monsanto has also gotten lobbyists to pose as "consumer advocates" who think it's misleading and unfair to consumers to have some milk labeled as rBGH-free. They say that all milk is the same, so fooling consumers into believing rBGH-free milk is superior so they potentially pay a premium for it is unfair.

Likewise, they are holding phony consumer focus groups. They get a bunch of the most clueless consumers they can find together and ask them leading questions until the consumers agree that rBGH-free labeling is totally unfair. The argument is the same one as above - that all milk is the same, so why should we be tricked into paying more for rBGH-free labeled milk?

ACTION: Monsanto in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania's the state at stake right now, but we need people from ALL OVER AMERICA to send letters, faxes, phone calls, and emails to the governor. The governor is the only one who can stop it at this point.

Email Governor Edward Rendell

To write a letter to the Governor send to:
Governor Edward G. Rendell's Office
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120

To telephone the Governor's Office call:
(717) 787-2500.

As I said before - even if you don't live in PA, we need you. Also, I sat next to a DC lobbyist on the plane this week and I asked her which is the best way to contact a legislator. She said: Write a letter. Still - an email or phone call or fax is better than nothing, so if you don't have a stamp handy, do whatever you can do.

The Democratic Candidates on Food Issues
Tom Philpott (a speaker from Yearly Kos 2007) weighed in on this here.
I honestly found his analysis inconclusive, although he has admitted that it's Part 1 and there's more to come. He's only looking at Obama and Clinton. As he shows, Clinton gets more money from Agribiz, but he also admits that it could be just that agribiz sees her as inevitable so they want to make sure the Democratic candidate and/or next president is friendly towards them.

I'm much more interested in another facet of the Hillary '08 campaign. Check out this article by Philpott:

On Monday, Clinton named Joy Philippi, the former president of a the National Pork Producers Council, the main trade group representing CAFO operators, as co-chair of Rural Americans for Hillary.

Yuck. That pretty much cements my opinion of Hillary on food issues. She won't be getting my vote. (CAFO, if you're unfamiliar with the term, stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. In other words - factory farm.)

From what I've heard from farmers and pro-family farm activists, Edwards is the best on food issues. Well, best of the "big three" candidates. I have a hunch that Kucinich would be amazing on food issues if anyone asked him about it. I wish I had more details on what makes Edwards so appealing on food issues and on where Obama stands (not as bad as Hillary, not as good as Edwards, I'd assume) but that's all I know for now.

One last quote from the Philpott article re: Hillary...

"A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield's efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That's a remarkable achievement, a prolifigacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations."

   -- Jeff Tietz, "Boss Hog," Rolling Stone, Dec. 14, 2006

Do you really want someone who thinks a lobbyist for highly toxic pig shit should be on her campaign staff as president?

Update on Netroots Nation & Food
We're at the point where we're ready to propose a panel with 4 excellent panelists (including a Kossack!) to the Netroots Nation board. A few of us are also working with the Netroots Nation people and with Austin locals to bring local/sustainable/edible food into the convention.

One idea from an Austin local is to invite local farmers, food activists, chefs, etc, to an exhibit hall table to talk one on one with convention goers. We'd make a schedule of our guests to hand out so everyone will know when to stop by to see the guests they'd like to meet.

That idea comes courtesy of Marla, the editor of Edible Austin. She's a lurker on dKos right now so I aim to get her diarying on here within the next few months so you can all "meet" her. We had a fascinating discussion about preserving genetic diversity of food crops when I met her, one of the many issues she's tackling with her magazine.

In terms of actually bringing in food, it depends on the convention center rules. The Austinites I met believed the rules are pretty strict so we'll have to either serve food in the hotel or direct Kossacks to sustainable food outside of the convention.

If the convention center is an absolute dead end, I see a few possibilities:

  1. Arrange for local restaurants to contribute a percent of sales to the Sustainable Food Center. In return, we'll guide Kossacks to eat at those restaurants during the convention.
  1. Pre-sell food boxes with an assortment of local food that Kossacks can pick up when they check in. That way you'll have some delicious local snacks. We'd probably want to do this in partnership with the Sustainable Food Center so they can provide literature on the food in the boxes and the farms where they come from.
  1. Provide local food at parties in the evenings, working in conjunction with the Drinking/Eating Liberally folks. Last year Drinking Liberally collected donations each night and used it to buy drinks for the next night. We could probably arrange something like that and serve the food at their parties.

We've finally gotten a fundraising link up on the Recipe for America website (here - scroll down a bit) so if you'd like to help us get the cash for an Exhibit Hall booth where we can bring in local food guests and provide scholarships for Kossacks who blog about food but can't afford NN'08 on their own, $5 or $10 would go a long way.

Originally posted to OrangeClouds115 on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 05:47 AM PST.

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