On Friday, July 29, 2016 President Obama signed into law the GMO Labeling bill recently passed by Congress. This law preempts Vermont’s first-of-its-kind GMO Labeling law, which had just gone into effect on July 1, and authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a mandatory disclosure program for “bioengineered” (aka GMO) foods. Now that the law has been enacted, all eyes are on USDA, which has the primary responsibility of implementing the law. USDA has one year to conduct the QR code feasibility study, and two years to develop the labeling standards and regulations. Both of these processes will also require public input before being finalized. USDA is likely to see thousands upon thousands of comments from stakeholders during these next phases of implementation. By law they are required to consider all comments received, suggesting that a long process is ahead. The agency is also likely to hold public meetings to allow stakeholders the opportunity to submit oral, as well as written, testimony. Given the highly contentious nature of this legislation and the GMO debate in general, we hope to see USDA proceed through this process in as transparent and inclusive a manner as possible. All of these issues point to a lengthy and involved few years before a final disclosure requirement is in place. And regardless, once the regulations have gone through the public rulemaking process, a legal challenge is highly likely, which could further delay implementation.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave lawmakers a technical assessment of the GMO labeling bill, outlining a number of contradictions and loopholes contained in the bill. The FDA pointed out that the definition of “bioengineering” wasn’t broad enough and could allow some processed foods to evade a label because they wouldn’t contain genetic material even though they stared from genetically modified foods. For example, oil made from genetically engineered soy may not require a label, since the final product wouldn’t contain genetic material. This is a real concern. Depending on the amount of GMO content the USDA decides will qualify a food for a label, respected food research groups have estimated that 99% of all GMO food could be exempt from labeling.
It’s mandatory labeling in name only. It discriminates against the poor. And it is clearly a gift to Big Food. For weeks now, Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have been working on a GMO labeling bill that would pre-empt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law. Late last week they finally reached a compromise, and it’s not good. The bill requires the labeling of packaged food containing GMOs in one of three ways: an electronic code that consumers can scan; a USDA-developed symbol; or a label. The bill leaves it to manufacturers to decide which of the three methods they prefer. Now guess which method Big Food will choose? We have no doubts that they will choose the electronic code that can only be read with a scanner. They know that few will want to do this and even fewer will be able to.
All across America citizens have rallied together to fight against the biotech industry for food freedom laws. People want the right to grow and choose their own food, and to protect themselves from the biotech industry seeking to control agriculture with their GMO and chemical-based approach to food production. Their products, such as genetically modified seeds, herbicides, and pesticides, contaminate even organically-grown foods. From the Food Sovereignty movement started in Maine back in 2011, to the citizens of Jackson County Oregon voting to ban GMO crops in their county, it has been a long battle for local communities to grow and market their own locally produced products against the tyranny of the federal government trying to force states and local communities to follow their own laws that strip away state rights and personal rights, in favor of protecting the biotech industry and mass food production and distribution. Recently, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that Congress needed to pass mandatory nationwide GMO labeling legislation. Some U.S. companies have implemented their own GMO labeling procedures, along with some states and local communities, but Vilsack and the federal government believes they can do it better: “The problem with all of that is there is no consistency,” Vilsack said. “There is no predictability. There is no stability and the consumer can be easily confused because everybody might do it slightly differently if there is no standard.” Is the federal government suddenly concerned about consumer rights and GMO transparency in food labeling? Can we really trust the federal government with protecting the rights of consumers through GMO mandated labeling laws? Expecting the federal government to police the multi-national food companies that control most of the nation's food supply, when that same government is acting to protect them, is foolish. A nationwide federally-mandated GMO labeling law would actually benefit the bitotech industry, and not consumers.
An article published today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine by two of the nation’s most respected experts on pesticides and children’s environmental health calls for the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) food. This comes after the House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would block states from enacting their own labeling laws and make it nearly impossible for the FDA ever to implement national mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Titled “GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health,” the paper by Philip J. Landrigan, M.D. and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D. focuses on the widespread adoption of GMO crops across the U.S. and the resulting explosion in the use of toxic herbicides – some of them, like Monsanto’s glyphosate, linked to cancer – and argues that labeling these foods is a matter of protecting public health.
Federal lobby disclosure forms from big food and biotechnology companies, and their trade groups opposed to mandatory GMO labeling reveal a surge in lobbying expenditures during the first half of 2015, according to a new analysis by EWG. A major reason for the explosion in lobbying money is the food industry’s support for the Deny Americans the Right to Know – or DARK – Act (H.R.1599), which the House passed last month by a vote of 275-150. The legislation blocks state GMO labeling laws, blocks state laws prohibiting “natural” claims on GMO foods, and makes it virtually impossible for FDA to create a mandatory national GMO labeling system. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents these and other food manufacturers, reported expenditures of $5.1 million that mentioned GMO labeling and hired 32 lobbyists exclusively to advocate for legislation to block state and federal GMO industry lobbying dwarfed expenditures reported by GMO labeling advocates, including EWG and Just Label It, which disclosed $2.5 million in the first two quarters of 2015, $2 million in all of 2014, and nearly $1 million in 2013. Since 2013, industry lobbyists have outspent GMO labeling advocates by 25-to-1. “The gap between the amount of money spent by Big Food and that spent by public interest groups is simply mind-boggling,” Foley said.
Food and biotechnology companies spent $63.6 million in 2014 alone to oppose mandatory labeling of genetically modified food ingredients, or GMOs, according to a new analysis by EWG. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, for example, disclosed $5.8 million in lobbying expenditures around GMO labeling in 2014, “up sharply from $60,000 in 2013,” according to the analysis. PepsiCo nearly doubled the amount it spent, dedicating more than $4 million to the anti-labeling effort in 2014, up from 2.6 million in 2013. Other iconic companies that spent big in 2014 to deny consumers the right to know if their foods contain GMOs include Kellogg ($2.1 million), General Mills ($2.6 million) and Coca-Cola, which put up more than $9 million – the most of any food company, according to the report.
A new bill to let food producers decide whether to label GMOs could prevent states from passing mandatory labeling laws. It’s expected to be introduced in the next few weeks—so we need to dissuade potential co-sponsors now! At the behest of the Monsantos and Cargills of the world, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is expected to reintroduce his Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in the next week or two. If passed, it would nullify the efforts of ten states that are currently considering bills to require the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Although the US has the strictest food safety laws in the world governing new additives, the FDA has allowed GMOs to evade those laws. The sole purported legal basis for the marketing of GE foods in the United States is the FDA’s claim that they are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) – a claim that is clearly fraudulent. Documents released as a result of a lawsuit against the FDA reveal that the agency’s scientists warned superiors that GE foods pose greater risks than conventional ones – but that their warnings were spurned and covered up. Monsanto could never have implemented their global food takeover strategy had the groundwork not been laid by the deceptions of a number of prominent molecular biologists that began during the 1970’s.
Last week saw an inter-agency power grab. It begins with the weakening of organic standards—and could end with the term “organic” becoming practically meaningless. Action Alert! Tell the USDA to use a public and transparent process for all major changes to organic standards by publishing proposed changes in the Federal Register, and actively seeking public input and discussion. In addition, tell the USDA to enforce the sunset provision of the OFPA as it was originally intended—allowing synthetic products to remain after their “sunset” date only after public debate and a two-thirds vote of the NOSB. More than 100 synthetics will be up for sunset consideration in 2015. We must act now to protect the integrity of organics.