By Dr. Mercola
On July 23, 2015, the US House of Representatives passed HR 1599,1 ironically misnamed "The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act"2,3,4 more commonly referred to as the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" or DARK Act.
Despite heavy opposition, the measure was approved 275-150.
The “DARK” Act (HR 1599) specifically preempts states’ rights to create their own GMO food labeling laws and, if passed by the Senate, will effectively block Vermont’s GMO labeling law, set to take effect in 2016.
This is a significant blow to Americans’ right to truthful and transparent information about the food we eat, and Republican dissention in the Senate is our last hope to put a stop to this latest and most monstrous incarnation of the “Monsanto Protection Act.”
Pro-GMO Forces Spent Nearly $64 MILLION on Lobbying This Bill to Pass the House
According to a report5 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), food and biotechnology companies spent $63.6 million in 2014 to lobby specifically for this kind of anti-labeling legislation. That’s nearly three times the amount spent on anti-labeling lobbying efforts in 2013.
Of the $25.4 million spent by the Grocery Manufacturers Association for GMO related lobbying last year, nearly half ($13.3 million) came from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. These numbers dwarf those of the pro-labeling lobby, which spent a mere $2.6 million in 2014.
The report also notes that between 2012 and 2014, labeling opponents spent $105.8 million to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon, and that doesn’t even include funds used to lobby state legislatures.
HR 1599 Eliminates State Rights
In addition to barring states from creating their own food labeling requirements for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), HR 1599, introduced by Rep. Pompeo, also preempts any and all state and local regulation of GE crops, and further weakens federal oversight.6
Moreover, rather than simply labeling foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, the bill calls for the creation of a USDA non-GMO certification program similar to its National Organic Program — essentially shifting all of the costs over to those who want to declare that their foods are not GMO.
This system is as backwards as it gets. If GMOs were labeled, as they rightfully should be, there would be no need for GMO-free labeling, which was originally nothing more than a workaround to give consumers what they want — the right to make an informed purchasing decision.
The basic premise and purpose of general food labeling is to inform you of what’s in the food you’re buying; its basic ingredients and additives — not what’s NOT in the food (unless it relates to a known health risk, such as peanut allergy or gluten intolerance).
Due to industry manipulation aimed at hiding controversial and potentially hazardous ingredients and residues, we’ve seen this shift in burden, starting with non-RBGH labels for dairy products using milk from cows not given synthetic, genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormones, which have been linked to cancer.
Now any food that does not contain a man-made genetic experiment will be forced to declare that they’re “normal” on the label, or be assumed to contain GMOs. It’s completely nonsensical and the only beneficiaries of such a convoluted, backward system are the biotechnology and the processed food industries.
GMO Salmon Labeling OK’d
Interestingly, just days before HR 1599 was passed by the House of Representatives, a provision was added to a Senate spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that requires genetically engineered salmon to be labeled.
As reported by AgriPulse:7
“The... biotech salmon labeling requirement are not in the House bill. The Senate committee approved both provisions without a roll-call vote. Differences between the two bills will have to be worked out later between Senate and House negotiators.
The salmon labeling requirement proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would add a wrinkle to the congressional debate over labeling for genetically engineered crops.
Murkowski told colleagues that farmers shouldn't be concerned that the salmon labeling would set a precedent for labeling biotech crops. ‘Corn doesn't swim from one field to another and propagate with other corn in another state. Fish move. Fish escape,’ she said.”
The labeling of GE salmon is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with HR 1599, and why the Senate should not pass it when the time comes. Whose responsibility is it to label their fish? Should traditional salmon suppliers be forced to certify theirs as non-GMO, which HR 1599 would require, or should the transgenic fish (which has been engineered with eel genes to make it grow three times faster) be labeled as genetically engineered?
The cost and burden for proper identification really belongs with the transgenic species, which has never existed in nature before; not the traditional fish you would expect to purchase when buying a package labeled “salmon.”
Would GMO Labeling Really Raise Food Prices?
There’s little doubt that the House of Representatives was swayed by false and deceptive propaganda. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which was one of the hidden architects of HR 1599, managed to convince many of the representatives that GMO labeling would increase food prices — on average by $500 for a family living in New York.8
However, what’s so contradictory is that food makers are so nervous about denying their customers transparency that they’re willing to print a QR code on the box instead of the four words: “Produced with Genetic Engineering.” QR stands for Quick Response, and the code can be scanned and read by smart phones and other QR readers. It provides details about the product and may be linked to a coupon or other marketing ploys.
In a July 16 article for PoliticoPro, Jenny Hopkinson discusses the implementation of company-supported QR apps for your smartphone, noting that the program is being coordinated by the GMA. Hershey’s will likely be the first company to try out the QR code, with a wider rollout by the middle of next year.
However, there are still issues to be resolved before the smart-label program can begin. Ingredient names need to be standardized, and adding the QR codes to packaging will take time. What’s not addressed is that it will also, most likely, cost money. As reported by Hopkinson:
“The bar code idea is a way of finding that balance, because it creates a process by which a great deal of info can be supplied to a consumer who is interested but it doesn’t indicate that there is anything wrong with a product like a label does, (Agriculture Secretary Tom) Vilsack said.
Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, supports the idea too. Peterson told POLITICO in May that such a system would mean that: ‘[I]f someone wants to know what’s in these products they can read it on their smartphone and that solves the problem” without “cluttering up the label.’”
Changes to Food Labels Have Never Impacted Price of Food
How can printing a QR code on food packaging be cheaper than adding four words? Won’t adding a QR code also increase the cost of food? And why this focus on avoiding the suggestion that there might be something wrong with the food, or that four more words will “clutter up” the label? The only way to interpret this run-around is that they’re liars trying to hide the facts from their customers.
Their willingness to add QR codes defeats the argument that adding a few words to the label would raise food prices. There’s also no guarantee that companies will actually tell the truth about GMOs on these voluntary online labels, so promises of voluntary transparency through this system should probably be taken with a big grain of salt.
On the whole, it seems their chief aim is to keep the information about GMOs out of direct sight of the consumer. It really is not about the cost of a label. As noted in a Boston Globe Op-Ed by Rep. Jim McGovern (Massachusetts) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine):9
“Supporters of the bill (HR 1599) claim that GMO labeling will increase food prices. While plenty of things impact the prices we pay at the grocery store — including transportation costs and ingredient costs — GMO labeling is not one of them. In study after study, we have seen that a simple GMO disclaimer on food packaging will not increase prices.
Food companies change their labels all the time to make new claims, and all food companies will soon have to change their labels to make important changes to the Nutrition Fact Panel. Adding a few words to the back of the food package about genetic engineering will not have any impact of the cost of making food.
Opponents of updating food labeling made the same bogus arguments when they fought nutrition labeling in the 1980s. Back then, they claimed that disclosing the presence of calories, salt, fat, and sugar would require costly reformulations. But those much more significant changes to foods labels — adding the Nutrition Facts Panel and including more information about ingredients — didn’t change the price of food at all.” [Emphasis mine]
GMOs — Another Too Big to Fail Enterprise?
In a recent article published in The New York Times,10 Mark Spitznagel, senior economic advisor to Senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul11,12 (son of the well-known libertarian, Texas congressman, and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul) addresses the inherent risks of promoting GMOs without safeguards.
Before 2007, when the financial crisis began, Spitznagel and co-author Nicholas Taleb, a scientific advisor and professor of risk engineering, warned that the “financial system was fragile and unsustainable, contrary to the near ubiquitous analyses at the time.” Now the pair is issuing another warning, noting that:
“The GMO experiment, carried out in real time and with our entire food and ecological system as its laboratory, is perhaps the greatest case of human hubris ever. It creates yet another systemic, ‘too big to fail’ enterprise — but one for which no bailouts will be possible when it fails.”
Back then, Spitznagel and Taleb predicted a collapse of the financial system. Now they’re predicting a collapse of the global ecosystem. In both instances, the same set of false arguments is used to dismiss the call for more prudent action:
- Critics accuse those concerned about GMOs to be “anti-science,” and invoke “scientific consensus” claiming safety and being in favor of forging forward. But, as noted by Spitznagel and Taleb: “Had science operated solely by consensus, we would still be stuck in the Middle Ages. According to scientific practice, scientific consensus is used in telling us what theory is wrong; it cannot determine what is right. Nor can it apply to risk management, which requires much greater scrutiny.”
The oft-repeated mantra claiming there’s a scientific consensus that GMOs are safe is in fact a lie. Scientists have become so concerned about this fallacy having taken root that 300 scientists, researchers, physicians and scholars signed their name to a statement published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe,13 asserting that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.
According to this paper, the claim of scientific consensus on GMO safety is in actuality “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated.” It also states that such a claim “is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue.”
- The salvation through technology argument. “In fact, only a small minority of technologies end up sticking; most fail because of some flaw identified over time,’ they note. ‘The technological salvation argument we faced in finance is also present with GMOs, which are intended to ‘save children by providing them with vitamin-enriched rice.’ The argument’s flaw is obvious: in a complex system, we do not know the causal chain, and it is better to solve a problem by the simplest method, and one that is unlikely to cause a bigger problem.”
- The no-reward-without-risk argument. According to Spitznagel and Taleb: “We were told that had ideas such as ours prevailed in the past, they would have hindered risk-taking. Yet, the first rule of risk-taking is to not cross the street blindfolded.”
- Relying on primitive risk models. “What is most worrisome, is that the risk of GMOs are more severe than those of finance. They can lead to complex chains of unpredictable changes in the ecosystem, while the methods of risk management with GMOs — unlike finance, where some effort was made — are not even primitive.”
- Relying on prediction models without taking into account or preparing for prediction errors
GMOs Are Less Safe Than Conventional Foods by Design
The claim that GE foods are materially comparable to conventional foods, and therefore inherently safe, falls flat when you consider that GE crops are designed to be different. Among crops, two primary GE modifications have taken place: so-called Roundup Ready crops are designed to withstand the herbicide Roundup, which would normally threaten the survival of the crop if sprayed too liberally.
Another example of these kinds of herbicide-resistant crops include Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo 2,4-D and glyphosate resistant corn and soy. Other GE crops are designed to produce their own internal pesticide; these are the so-called Bt-crops.
With the advent of Roundup Ready crops, use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has significantly risen, with about one billion pounds being sprayed on crops each year. GE crops are far more contaminated with glyphosate than conventional crops, courtesy of their inherent design, and this fact alone blows a massive hole in the safety claim.
Glyphosate was recently classified as a Class 2A “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) research arm on cancer, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) admits foods are not tested for glyphosate residues due to the high expense of doing so.14 So, GE corn, soy, cottonseed, and sugar beets are known to contain higher levels of a probable carcinogen, which the government does not test for, andthat in and of itself is cause for labeling GMOs — not hiding it on some website that you can only get to by scanning a QR code and hoping the company is completely transparent in its reporting.