‘Corporate Influence Has Won’: House Passes Anti-GMO Labeling Bill

Legislation dubbed the DARK Act had backing of powerful groups who poured money into defeating state-level GMO-labeling efforts

by: Andrea Germanos

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would block states from requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods, or GMOs—a move that consumer rights groups decried as corporate power defeating Americans’ right to know what’s in their food.

The bill, H.R. 1599—dubbed the “DARK Act” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) by its critics—passed 275-150. (Click here to see the roll call…)

It was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, a group that opposed the bill, explains: “The bill that passed includes provisions that would preempt states from labeling GMOs or enforce already passed GMO labeling provisions (like Vermont’s Act 120), and would prohibit states from having any oversight of GMO crops, for example, a county-wide ban on growing GMOs or GMO-free zones in certain organic seed-producing areas. Instead, this bill would create a voluntary federal GMO labeling standard for companies, weakening already deficient regulations.”

It was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who said following the vote that bill “provides needed clarity in food labeling.”

Among those disappointed in the passage of the legislation is the Center for Food Safety.

“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) was also opposed to the bill, and cited widespread public support for labeling GMOs. 

“It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for EWG.

The outcome of the vote was a “foregone conclusion,” he continued, because “this House was bought and paid for by corporate interests.”

But Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, stressed that the fight is far from over—so expect resistance.

“We are committed to stopping this outrageous, anti-consumer, anti-democracy legislation from succeeding,” Cummins said. “We will do so by mobilizing a massive opposition movement that transcends political party affiliations, and that unites consumers of all ages with organic farmers and retailers whose livelihoods are threatened by this legislation, and with the medical and scientific experts who are outspoken about the potential health and environmental risks associated with GMO crops and foods.

“It’s time to hold every member of Congress accountable. Either they stand with Monsanto and Big Food in support of the DARK Act, or they stand with the overwhelming majority of their constituents for truthful labeling and consumer choice,” Cummins stated.

Instead of H.R. 1599, hundreds of farm, public interest and environmental organizations have urged (pdf) passage of bipartisan legislation that would require labeling of GMOs.

For now, the battle moves to the Senate, where, as the Des Moines Register reports, no similar legislation exists.  EWG’s Faber says his group is “confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act.”

Kimbrell expressed optimism as well, stating, “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”

Source: ‘Corporate Influence Has Won’: House Passes Anti-GMO Labeling Bill | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Healthcare ‘Oligopoly Wave’ Continues As Anthem Gobbles Cigna

Human rights campaigners say mega consolidation will erode health care access and hike prices, illustrating deep problems with for-profit model

by: Sarah Lazare

The health insurance giant Anthem announced Friday that it is buying its behemoth rival Cigna for $54.2 billion, launching the largest such merger the country has ever seen and reducing the number of major U.S. insurers to a paltry three.

Analysts and human rights campaigners warn that the move is poised to further slash access to health care and hike prices across the country, illustrating the problems with the for-profit model in terms of delivering vital services.

The mega deal comes less than a month after insurance giant Aetna acquired Humana for $37 billion, part of a nationwide push to consolidate in what the Wall Street Journal referred to earlier this year as an “oligopoly wave.”

The Anthem and Cigna merger is expected to be finalized in 2016, after which the joint company will provide coverage for at least 53 million people.

Numerous studies show that insurance mergers lead to higher premiums, including a 2012analysis of a 1999 merger between Aetna and Prudential, as well as a report released in February which showed having more, not less, insurers in the insurance marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act leads to lower premiums.

Moreover, the mergers are taking place in a country that already has a dismal record with providing real care. A report (pdf) released last year by the Commonwealth Fund finds that the U.S. health care system is already the most expensive in the world yet delivers the worse care among 11 industrialized nations.

Cait Vaughan, a Health Care Is a Human Right organizer with the Southern Maine Workers Center, told Common Dreams that Friday’s merger underscores the fact that the Affordable Care Act model “is still a for-profit system that is not determined by our needs, but determined by the desires and profit margins of huge conglomerates.”

Vaughan continued, “In the medical-industrial-complex, people are made incredibly wealthy off of us being sick and limiting very basic access to health care while increasingly shrinking our ability to make choices.” In a presidential campaign cycle where we are “hearing a lot about how rich people control policy and elections,” Vaughan emphasized that it is vital to talk about the control of the wealthy over one of the most basic human rights: health care.

The growing nationwide movement for publicly-funded, universal health care is calling for a single-payer system in which the profit motive is cut out of the equation, and everyone is included.

But Brian Quinn, a law professor at Boston College, told the Washington Post that the frenzy of mergers could signal that the country is moving in the opposite direction: “It’s a little ironic I suppose that—over time—we may find ourselves moving towards a single payer healthcare system, but rather than it being government run, it may well be a small number of private, highly-regulated insurance companies.”

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Source: Healthcare ‘Oligopoly Wave’ Continues As Anthem Gobbles Cigna | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

‘Fight for $15’ Tallies Giant Win in New York As Movement Marches On

Latest victory for low-wage workers, declared one McDonald’s worker, ‘has showed me what’s possible when people stick and work together.’

by: Jon Queally

Fast Food workers and economic justice advocates across the country, but especially in New York, had much to celebrate on Wednesday as a state panel announced its recommendation that all employees at chain restaurants  should be paid at least $15 per hour by the year 2018.

The announcement by the New York’s Fast Food Wage Board followed an energized campaign by workers and progressive allies who said the $6.25 increase to the minimum wage was necessary to lift employees who work at McDonald’s, KFC, and other regional and national chains out of poverty.

NPR reported:

“It’s a victory! We have been fighting, and today we have made history,” said Alvin Major, a 49-year-old cook at a KFC restaurant in Brooklyn. He said a $15 minimum wage would mean that he could stop relying on food stamps to feed his family of six.

“This will help me to take care of my kids, send them to the right school and put food on the table,” he said.

The bump to $15 an hour in New York, which would affect workers at chains with 30 or more stores nationally, would match recent increases in San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. It would take effect over the next three years for the New York City, and over the next six years for the entire state.

“This is a historical moment. We did it,” Jorel Ware, a McDonald’s worker, told theGuardian at a rally celebrating the wage board’s recommendations. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with both “I can’t breathe” and “Fight for $15,” Ware said fewer people would live in poverty thanks to the wage increase. “It’s wonderful. I get to live on my own again. I am telling you it’s a wonderful thing. When I started the fight, I just wanted something better for myself,” he said. “The Fight for $15 has showed me what’s possible when people stick and work together.”

In an op-ed in the New York Daily News that appeared on Thursday, three members of the wage board—Byron Brown, Michael Fishman, and Kevin Ryan—explained why the personal testimony of people like Yancy Rivera, a single working mother, was emblematic of why they ultimately made their recommendation:

Yancy testified at the hearing of our board in Albany that after 11 years at McDonald’s, she makes $9.50 an hour. Her 17-year-old daughter is not home as much these days because she’s working, too, trying to help her mom pay the bills. Even with both incomes, the two of them and Yancy’s 5-year-old son are squeezed into a studio apartment.

Over four days of hearings in Manhattan, Buffalo, Albany and Garden City this May and June, these are the stories we heard-from hundreds of fast food workers. Women and men. Young and old. Black, white, Latino and Asian.

Their stories were sobering evidence that families across our state are hurting. Boosting pay for fast-food workers will strengthen their purchasing power, allowing them to afford basic necessities like food and rent, and put more money back into their neighborhoods. A stronger wage floor will put $1.3 billion into these New Yorkers’ pockets.

Yancy works as hard as any of us do. She wants the best for her children and the chance to get ahead that’s supposed to be part of the American bargain if you’re willing to work. But you can’t keep up when you’re choosing between rent and the electric bill or between bus fare and medicine. Our entire economy slows down when more and more hard-working New Yorkers are paid so little that they can’t afford the basics.

Coming on the same day progressive lawmakers in Washington, DC received applause for introducing a $15 minimum wage bill at the federal level and the University of California system announced an increase of wages for its employees to $15 per hour by 2017, the victory in New York was just the most far-reaching example of how the national ‘Fight for $15’ movement has not only captured the imaginations and aspirations of low-wage workers, but is actually winning tactical and tangible victories.

Source: ‘Fight for $15’ Tallies Giant Win in New York As Movement Marches On | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community