By Rady Ananda
Food Freedom News
Note: An earlier version of this article first appeared at Activist Post. This version contains the full speech by Joel Salatin. (You may be able to watch the full debate. I can’t tell if my cookies enable me to see it since I paid for it, or if anyone can watch. Start at ~55 minutes: http://new.livestream.com/ftcldf/joevsjoel) ~Ed.
On Nov. 7, two real-food icons debated whether the federal government should mandate labeling of genetically modified foods: Dr Joe Mercola, who runs the world’s most popular alternative health site, and farmer and author Joel Salatin, who’s been featured in several documentaries including Food, Inc. and Fresh.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and its founder, the Weston A Price Foundation, hosted the fundraiser in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of a weekend long conference. Five hundred people attended the sold-out dinner and debate, and 160 people bought tickets to watch the event online.
Modeled after the Lincoln-Douglas debate style, Joe vs. Joel ran for 32 minutes and delivered far more than the organizers expected when tempers ran high. Highly entertaining and educational, the debate was ruled a tie by food author David Gumpert who moderated the debate in a black-and-white striped referee’s shirt. The resolution debated was worded as follows:
“It is resolved that the federal government should mandate GMO labeling on foods.”
Mercola took the position that labeling GMOs is vital to raising public awareness because GMOs are killing us, and the environment. The federal position that genetically modified foods are “substantially equivalent” to real food, he said, “is legalized fraud.” He sees the 20-year presence of GM foods at a critical stage that must be immediately addressed by federal involvement.
Salatin, more energetic and emotional, opposes federal involvement in GMO labeling, and gave the libertarian take on Big Government. His 9-minute opening argument against federal involvement in food commerce was so profound, so common sensical, so radically free, that it was worth transcribing for those who missed the debate (at bottom).
Salatin’s 7-point argument begins with rejecting government authority over our food, and ends with support for property rights as the proper solution to GMOs. His argument encourages consumers to pursue healthy foods thru self-education rather than demand entitlement from an authority that “has already shown by precedent” that bureaucrats will hold farmers hostage to arbitrary rules, or else be put out of business.
Anyone following the federally-directed state raids on raw dairy farmers over the past several years completely understands this position. Research has shown that humans have been drinking raw animal milk and eating raw dairy for 10,000 years. It’s only in the last 100 that the US government has criminalized fresh dairy, taking a one-size-fits-all solution to ills caused by sick animals kept indoors in crowded, unclean conditions and fed grains instead of grasses, their natural choice.
But Joel’s strongest point was against the “right-to-know”:
“The consumer has no right to know. The founders of our great nation offered the right to pursue happiness. The right to seek is distinctly different than an entitlement. We turned pursuit into entitlement, and that cheapens inalienable rights bestowed by God, not governments….
“I would suggest that this knowledge-entitlement idea led to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Right to know coerces. Right to seek liberates.
“That we the people should depend on the federal government for our knowledge on the morsels our bureaucratic caretakers dispense is profoundly un-American, disempowering, and childish.”
Woven into that argument, he later said:
“How do we stimulate educated consumers? By insisting on personal responsibility. If we shift that responsibility to know to the government, we simply encourage ignorance…. A label mandate dumbs us down. It creates lethargic interest rather than aggressive seekers.”
Citing Smart Shopper guides and new technologies, Salatin added:
“In the not too distant future, consumers will be able to run on-the-spot tests for environmental toxins, GMOs, pesticides, food safety and more with their smart phones. If we patiently wait for marketplace innovation, labeling will probably be moot.
“To suggest that the first and most efficacious remedy for any societal ill is increased federal meddling and police power shows a profound lack of creativity and a prejudicial mindset against personal empowerment.”
Spoken like a true independent, his argument cannot be ignored by anyone who recognizes that the federal government serves only corporate profits, routinely violating basic human rights enumerated in the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights.
Ironically, he points out, GMO advocate Mark Lynas also calls for federal mandatory GMO labeling “as the best way for the industry to tell the story of its marvelous benefits.” I have a great deal of respect for both men, and an appreciation for both their positions.
Stylistically, Salatin was far more charming. He knows how to hold a crowd. His argument against federal labeling won me to his position, while Mercola’s suggestion that Salatin’s position would split the true food movement hits below the belt.
But, Salatin’s “Just Say No” to GMOs advice reveals a level of myopia only wealth can breed. “Food deserts” describe the utter lack of choice for most urbanites in crowded cities where organic simply isn’t stocked. Like a flea on the trunk of an elephant, a strictly bucolic view of the food system fails to perceive what it’s like to be an urbanite who is forced to eat the crap sold at the corner store, or at the local fast-food joint when you have only a 30-minute work break and no way to chill or secure a lunchbox.
While 70% of all US food is genetically modified, in the inner cities, 100% of food sold is genetically altered and/or chemically saturated. Choice simply doesn’t exist for tens of millions of urbanites in the US. I travel an hour to procure raw milk. Most people don’t have that luxury. I do agree, though, that this societal ill, like most others, can and should be addressed by any means other than federal involvement.
It might have been choreographed acting, but Salatin was surprisingly antagonistic toward Mercola, who flustered. Even more surprising, Sally Morell, director of the Weston A Price Foundation (which founded the FTCLDF) rebuffed Salatin in her comments following the debate:
“Joel, you said if you don’t want to eat GMOs, eat organic. How do you know food is organic? It’s labeled. Is the label state or federal? It’s federal.”
Her support of federal labeling contradicts the FTCLDF position that food commerce between consenting adults should be free of government intrusion, as articulated by attorney Pete Kennedy prior to the debate. Sally is Pete’s boss. Whose position will be promoted by these organizations when the rubber meets the road, when donation dollars are collected, when Take Action notices are sent, when client farmers face criminal charges?
Also broadcast was FTCLDF’s presentation of the Never a Doormat Award to persecuted Wisconsin farmer, Vernon Hershberger, who was acquitted on three of four misdemeanor charges for selling fresh food directly to consumers. The jury tossed out the licensing failures but convicted on the hold-order violation. That means when state authorities sealed his food supply ordering him not to touch it, he simply cut the tape and sold, gave away and used the food according to his principles.
Hershberger provides food for a private buying club as well as his own family of 10 children. He paid $1,500 in fines and court costs, as ordered. Even that penalty was extreme, given that his initial crime was raising natural foods for a group of private citizens. None of his product is sold on the open market, and none of it sickened anyone.
Compare his case to Jack DeCosta’s egg operations which have sickened thousands of people and which continue to operate. The only difference is scale; government favors big business over small operations.
Like the legal arguments used in the Hershberger trial, the GMO label issue represents an ideological debate between more government or less. More personal freedom or less. More authoritarian control over our food supply from a government that has seen to the destruction of small farms in favor of large agri-giants. More corporate domination and ecocide by criminalizing private contracts between sustainable producers and educated consumers.
Food freedom advocates less government control and more personal choice.
(You may be able to watch the full debate. I can’t tell if my cookies enable me to see it since I paid for it, or if anyone can watch. Start at ~55 minutes: http://new.livestream.com/ftcldf/joevsjoel)
Joel Salatin’s 9-minute opening argument opposing federal GMO labels, Nov. 7, 2013, Atlanta, GA:
“Should the federal government mandate GMO labeling on our food? No. I’m well aware that this position is contrary to many dear friends in the integrity food movement, Dr. Joe certainly being one of those.
At the outset, let me make two things abundantly clear. I despise GMOs. I do not like GMOs, Sam I am. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere.
Secondly, I categorically reject the notion that being against federal labeling makes me a friend of Monsanto. Everyone who favored [opposed?] prohibition was not in favor of alcoholism. I have seven lines of analysis.
We shouldn’t be asking for federal government authority over our food, period. A mandatory label is a marketing license. Listen carefully, a mandatory label is a marketing license. Only a higher power can license a lower power. Asking for a license concedes authority. Consider this. Do you want the government to have the authority to license your food? Really?
The authority to license is the authority to deny access. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund promotes the idea that food commerce should be able to occur voluntarily between consenting adults, without bureaucratic intrusion. I summarily reject the notion that the government has authority over my food.
Demanding GMO labeling may be exactly what the industry wants. Just a few days ago on October 15, British environmentalist and GMO advocate Mark Lynas addressed the Center for Food Integrity summit in Chicago. He called for federal mandatory GMO labeling as the best way for the industry to tell the story of its marvelous benefits.
Are we being duplicitous?
The consumer has no right to know. The founders of our great nation offered the right to pursue happiness. The right to seek is distinctly different than an entitlement. We turned pursuit into entitlement, and that cheapens inalienable rights bestowed by God, not governments.
Right to know cannot be guaranteed by anyone or anything any more than a right to be educated, a right to good medical care, or the right to good food. These cannot be guaranteed as entitlements.
I would suggest that this knowledge entitlement idea led to prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. Right to know coerces. Right to seek liberates.
That we the people should depend on the federal government for our knowledge on the morsels our bureaucratic caretakers dispense is profoundly un-American, disempowering, and childish.
Asking for federal intervention in this matter is not superior to a hodge-podge of state initiatives. Too many of us quickly arrogate to a centralized federal level every societal remedy, routinely abandoning state diversity in favor of a one-size-fits-all approach.
Will the agencies overseeing GMO labeling be more righteous than the overseers of the national organic program? Or the Food Modernization Act? Of course not. They’ve already showed us by precedent that they’re going to hold a farmer in some sort of little itty bitty compliance hostage with a 20-day response period and embargo everything that he does. Joe says it’ll probably be the same way.
The individual patchwork of state initiatives gradually develops the wording, protocols and oversight that work, and that’s the best way to arrive at the solution. Let innovative states jockey for the most functional system. The cream will rise to the top.
Labeling to reduce GMO consumption is a cure worse than the disease, like banning cars to eliminate drunk driving. Are you really going to put your faith in labels?
Our farm uses completely bogus nutrition labels, some are incorrect by a factor of a thousand. The regulators don’t care about truth; they care about checked boxes and placating the peasants. Government regulated labels are a joke, and that’s the truth.
Who’s going to decide what it is? Who’s going to decide? Yeah, you’re really going to put your faith in a bureaucracy to come up with some integrity definition of whatever.
Federal labeling is the poorest way to remediate the GMO problem. Let’s list some of the other remedies: Buy organic; just buy organic. Know your farmer. Look for non-GMO labeled products. How about using the Weston A Price Foundation Smart Shopper Guide? There’s more on the way.
Dillon Charles, writing in the Waking Times May 27 edition, gives this prophecy: “In the not too distant future, consumers will be able to run on-the-spot tests for environmental toxins, GMOs, pesticides, food safety and more with their smart phones.” If we patiently wait for marketplace innovation, labeling will probably be moot.
To suggest that the first and most efficacious remedy for any societal ill is increased federal meddling and police power shows a profound lack of creativity and a prejudicial mindset against personal empowerment. Nobody has to eat GMOs. Nobody is holding us hostage. The only thing hostage is our mental freedom to government nannyism.
How do we stimulate educated consumers? By insisting on personal responsibility. If we shift that responsibility to know to the government, we simply encourage ignorance. We don’t exercise the servant muscles unless and until we have to. A label mandate dumbs us down. It creates lethargic interest rather than aggressive seekers.
After all, if the government is watching out for us, our mental acuity can focus instead on the latest Kardashian excitement.
Mandatory labeling is chasing the wrong solution. The right solution is a return to reverencing property rights. Think about the massive investment of time, money and effort expended in this labeling exercise. Now imagine if all that energy had been invested in demanding that district attorneys and state attorneys general simply enforced basic, common law property rights. Under trespass law, if my bull wanders onto your property and tramples your flowerbed, I’m liable. I’m liable! Any district attorney in the land will help you help me understand that my fist ends at your nose.
In today’s America, however, these life forms that Monsanto owns, these alien, patented beings (let’s call them Monsanto’s bulls), these promiscuous beings run willy nilly to my farm, trampling my life, my property, committing sexual orgies in my fields and not only is Monsanto not liable for trespass but our nation is so convoluted that I must pay Monsanto for the privilege of their bulls trampling my flowers.
Folks, where are the caretakers of our Rule of Law? Where is this outrage? You see, unfortunately, this issue can’t even raise a whimper because as a culture, we’ve drunk the Socialist Kool-Aid that private property is not worth defending, that my farm is really yours to control. My creek is yours to canoe on. My cheese is yours to regulate. My farm is yours to license. My body is yours to own.
We have so eroded and abandoned the most fundamental virtue of Americanism that every person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that we no longer reverence personal stuff.
And now with Obamacare, I don’t even own my own nose.
For all these reasons, federally mandated labeling is a bad idea. Momentum and truth are on our side. Let them grow organically through freedom.”