Washington Post Rebuttal Washington Post Rebuttal


GMO Labeling Has Its Day in Court

GMO Labeling

Story at-a-glance -

  • On November 5, Washington State will cast their votes for the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act." Your support is urgently needed
  • Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed suit against the GMA in Thurston County Superior Court on behalf of the State of Washington, alleging the association violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws
  • Ferguson alleges the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million on the No On Initiative 522 campaign, while hiding the identity of its contributors in order to shield them from consumer backlash
  • The lawsuit forced GMA to establish a political committee, aptly named Grocery Manufacturers Association Against I-522. A list of the financial donors has now been disclosed to the Public Disclosure Commission
  • Biotech are now trying to find a way to label that will still permit them to exist and make a profit. Pushing for federal labeling is one part of the plan to dilute the value of the label

By Dr. Mercola

We’re now only DAYS away from the next big GMO-labeling vote in the United States; this time in Washington State, where citizens will cast their votes for the people's initiative 522, "The People's Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act," on November 5.

As in last year’s California Proposition 37 GMO labeling campaign, the opposition from industry is fierce, with millions of dollars being poured into the anti-labeling campaign.

This year, they’ve really outdone themselves, being caught in a money laundering scheme designed to protect the identity of food companies contributing money to defeat Initiative 522. As reported by SeattlePi.com:1

“The food industrial giants gave individually in California last year, contributing to a $46 million war chest that narrowly turned back the labeling measure.

In planning the anti-522 campaign, however, Grocery Manufacturers Association CEO Pamela Bailey recommended creation of a fund — which became the Defense of Brand Strategic Account — in part to ‘better shield individual companies from attack.’ Donations would be laundered through the account.”

Most of the funding for the anti-labeling campaign in Washington State was donated by the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America (GMA). The big food and beverage companies that spent millions on last year’s No on Prop 37 campaign, however, remained curiously absent from any list of donors throughout most of this year’s No on Initiative 522’s campaign.

Attorney General Files Suit Against Grocery Manufacturers Association

On October 16, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit2 against the GMA in Thurston County Superior Court on behalf of the State of Washington, alleging the association had violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws. According to the press release:3

“Ferguson alleges the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors. The funds were spent to express opposition to Initiative 522...

‘When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections,’ Ferguson said. ‘Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.’

... The AGO [Attorney general’s office] is preparing to seek a temporary restraining order asking the court to order the GMA to immediately comply with state disclosure laws. The AGO is also requesting civil penalties and costs of investigation and trial, including reasonable attorney’s fees, injunctive relief and any other relief the court deems appropriate.”

According to the filed complaint, the GMA began plotting and planning how to best defeat Initiative 522 back in December of 2012, placing particular emphasis on the establishment of a separate GMA fund to “combat current threats and better shield individual companies from attack.”

You can find a summarized timeline of the development of the anti-labeling campaign in Joel Connelly’s article on SeattlePi.com.4 For example, in it he reveals that:

“The Grocery Manufacturers Association names its fund the ‘Defense of Brand Strategic Account’ and determines that association members would be assessed, separate from their normal association dues. The account would be segregated...”

The Attorney General has requested the Superior Court impose the following penalties on the GMA, which, according to Ferguson, are meant to serve as deterrents in future state elections as well:

  • Assess a penalty for failing to comply with state campaign finance laws in a “timely properly” manner
  • Pay for the costs of the investigation, plus the state’s attorney fees
  • If found guilty of intentionally violating state campaign finance laws, be ordered to pay triple the damages

Who’s Trying to Block Your Right to Know What’s in Your Food?

As you may recall, after defeating Prop. 37 in California by a tiny margin, several companies that had contributed to the anti-labeling campaign suffered significant repercussions—from being barraged by critical press and humiliating attacks by angry consumers on social networks like Facebook.

To sweeping boycott campaigns. General Mills, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Heinz and Campbell Soups were among last year’s anti-labeling campaign contributors. As one parent stated in a comment on Cheerios Facebook page at the time:

"So sorry that the food my kids loved as toddlers is one I can't support anymore. I can't believe that General Mills has the well-being of its customers in mind when it contributes to movement against labeling of GMOs."

Recent polls show that 64-66 percent of likely voters in Washington State strongly support GMO labeling. No wonder many of the same companies wanted to circumvent having to reveal their unchanged stance on this issue. Now they’ve been forced to reveal themselves however, and I suspect the backlash could very well become even greater than before.

On October 17, in response to the Attorney General’s suit, the GMA established a political committee to oppose the GMO labeling initiative, aptly named Grocery Manufacturers Association Against I-522.5 A list of the committee’s donors has also been disclosed to the Public Disclosure Commission. According to a statement issued that same day:

"In the spirit of continuing cooperation and in an effort to provide Washington voters with full transparency about GMA's funding for the 'No on 522' campaign, the association has voluntarily decided to establish a Washington State political committee and to file reports with the PDC disclosing the source of all funds used in connection with Washington State elections."

As of this writing, the list of donors and amount of each company’s donation submitted to the Public Disclosure Commission includes the following, which totals up to $7,222,500.6, 7 Looks like Pepsi, Coke, and Nestle are the top funders trying to hide their identity. Quite the triangle of authority of junk food producers, and purveyors of chronic disease:

Company Amount donated Company Amount donated
Abbott Nutrition 127,459 Bimbo Bakeries USA 94,693
Campbell Soup Co. 265,140 Bruce Foods Corp. 3,006
Cargill Inc. 98,601 Bumble Bee Foods 36,073
Coca-Cola 1,047,332 Bunge North America 94,993
ConAgra Foods 285,281 Clement Pappas & Co. Inc 21,043
Dean Foods 120,245 Clorox Company 12,024
Bush Brothers & Co. 16,233 Flowers Foods 141,288
Del Monte Foods 86,576 Hormel Foods 52,908
General Mills 598,819 J.M. Smucker Co 241,091
Hershey 248,305 Knouse Foods 14,429
Hillshire Brands 97,398 Welch Foods 28,859
Kellogg 221,852 Land O'Lakes 99,803
Moody Dunbar 1,804 McCormick & Co 102,208
Nestle USA 1,052,743 Mondelez Global 144,895
Ocean Spray, Cranberries, Inc. 55,313 Pinnacle Foods Group 120,846
PepsiCo 1,620,899 Rich Products Corp 24,049
Sunny Delight Beverages Co. 21,043 Shearer's Foods, Inc. 25,251

Beware: Big Business Will Try to Dilute the GMO Label

Big Biotech is seeing the end of their game now and are scrambling to rescue what they can, by any means possible. Such “backup plans” appear to include carefully selected mouthpieces writing “independent” opinion pieces, ostensibly agreeing that labeling is a good idea, while simultaneously proposing plans that would significantly dilute the value of the label. One way to do this would be to make it ubiquitous, i.e. so prevalent that you encountered it on virtually every single food item in every single store, regardless of whether the food actually contained traces of it or not in the final product.

This tactic was suggested by one of Biotech’s primary spokespeople, Mark Lynas, in a recent article.8 In it, he states that people are “getting increasingly scared of GMOs precisely because the industry is fighting a rearguard battle not to tell people which foodstuffs contain them,” calling the industry’s fight against labeling “the worst PR strategy ever.” Correctly, he also states that this is “the opposite of advertising – instead of telling people about the benefits of your product and encouraging them to seek it out, you have to smuggle your core products into peoples’ shopping baskets so that they can only buy them either unknowingly or by mistake.”

This epic fail of a strategy has been incredibly successful up until this point though. Keeping you in the dark about what’s in your food and calling it ‘natural’ has been the number one “sales strategy” of junk foods producers utilizing heavily subsidized ingredients since the inception of genetically engineered food crops. And had educational and labeling campaigns by concerned citizens, scientists and organic organizations failed, the “worst PR strategy ever” would have been left in force indefinitely.

The Prop 37 campaign was the first truly effective education campaign in this regard, which is why you cannot look upon it as a failure. It raised an enormous amount of awareness about this issue. Before last year, many Americans had no idea what genetically engineered food was, or that they were eating it daily, or that it might be a component causing their health problems. Now that labeling is reaching the point of inevitability, Big Biotech are trying to find a way to label that will still permit them to exist and make a profit. But how to dilute the label to where people don’t care if a product is labeled or not?

“Consumer right to know, however unjustifiable on scientific grounds, is an argument that – once a critical mass of people are demanding it – it is be political suicide to oppose. However, simply giving in is not an option either,” Lynas writes.

“Having different laws in every state would indeed be a short-cut to prohibition, which is exactly why the labeling activists have chosen it as their strategy. So those of us who want to defend science and who understand the true potential of biotechnology have no option – we have to change the game... And maybe, just maybe, the most powerful weapon the antis have in their arsenal will ultimately turn out to be their Achilles heel.”

Industry Will Seek Refuge in Ubiquity

In his article, Lynas proposes a way forward that would virtually guarantee GMO label ubiquity. Quite simply, you’d be hard-pressed to find an item that didn’t have one, and it would hit you all at once. In short order, you’d be so used to seeing the GMO label, and so overwhelmed by lack of options (or so their reasoning goes) the GMO label wouldn’t even register as an item calling out for a choice to be made. To accomplish this kind of saturation to the point of complacency, GMO labeling must be:

  • Mandatory; industry-wide; and operated at the federal level
  • Designed in such a way that there’s no implication of health or safety issues
  • Process-based, so that the label must be used whether the final product contains any residue of GMO or not

According to Lynas, “ubiquity is surely the industry’s safest refuge.” Personally, I believe the industry may be underestimating the depth of the concerns that people have about the safety of genetically engineered foods and the giant chemical companies that make them. 

The FDA battle will be significant, but the existing European standards along with a few state laws will set a bar that will likely need to be matched or result in political disaster for the administration. I have never supported FDA labeling strategies as a first step as they are too highly influenced by lobbyists, you can bet the agency is receiving pressure from the biotech and junk food industry to set a standard before they lose more ground through state and international laws– an FDA ruling is inevitable.

Recent history has shown that food companies will relent and change their ingredients once they realize that you, and millions of others, really don’t want GMOs in your food, and won’t buy it if it contains GMO ingredients. There are alternatives, but biotech companies like Monsanto have been so efficient in their takeover of agriculture, even to the point of buying up seed companies to eliminate competition, that many food manufacturers now have a hard time obtaining non-GMO ingredients. The upshot, of course, is that increased demand for non-GMO ingredients by major food companies will encourage farmers to revert back to conventional, non-GMO crops.

Yet another tactic that industry could reach for is labeling similar in its requirements as those for other nutrients, like sodium or trans fats. Oftentimes, if a product contains less than a certain amount per serving, it doesn’t have to be disclosed on the label. This is why you oftentimes find products listing ridiculously tiny serving sizes. Many products containing GMOs could slip below the radar this way as well.  

Wild Card Could Shift the Status Quo on GMOs

Unforeseen wild cards could come into play too. The American press has been anything but astute in its reporting on GMOs. This could quickly change however, should Pierre Omidyar and Glenn Greenwald’s new media organization aimed at providing independent in-depth journalism take off, for example.9 At that point, any journalist interested in a career would have to quit regurgitating industry propaganda and start digging around for the real story. In the case of GMOs, the tipping point for genetically engineered foods would quickly be reached were the real story to hit the masses as part of their daily news feed.

As Jeffrey Smith explained in a previous interview:

“In January 1999, the biotech industry boldly predicted that within five years 95 percent of all commercial seeds in the world would be genetically modified and patented. They did not anticipate the gag order of a scientist being lifted three weeks later in Europe.

A firestorm of media reported on his results of a GMO-feeding study. Over 700 articles were written within a single month in the UK. In 10 weeks, the tipping point of consumer rejection was achieved in Europe – heralded not by the European Commission banning GMOs, but by Unilever banning GMOs, then Nestlé, and then virtually everyone in Europe because they realized that using genetically modified ingredients had become a marketing liability.”

Monsanto Sponsors Food Prize... and Awards It to Itself

Before I wrap this up, there’s a related story that is too hilarious not to include, in light of these discussions about transparency, honesty and integrity. On October 17, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert T. Fraley, a scientist with Syngenta, along with a third scientist from private industry, were awarded the World Food Prize10 at a fancy red carpet event. The prize, totalling $250,000, was awarded for "feeding a growing global population."

A testament to growing public awareness on these issues, the move was widely ridiculed as a joke taken straight from the parody publication The Onion. Why? Well, first of all, Monsanto itself donated $5 million to the fund. Syngenta is also a financial backer. Besides such obvious conflicts of interest, Eric Holt-Gimenez of Food First11 commented that awarding the World Food Prize to monopolies that profit from hunger is like giving the Nobel Peace prize for going to war—noting, with some irony, that this too has been done in the recent past...

“The World Food Prize has become a corporate celebration of self,” he writes“Even The New York Times12 suggested that this award may be a PR attempt to counter the growing global backlash against GMOs. It is also an effort to fibrillate the industry's flat economic performance that has followed the heady days of the 2008-09 food crisis (in which they made record profits while a billion people were pushed into the ranks of the hungry).”

Kuai Ousts GMOs

While Big Biotech pays their lackeys to pat themselves on the back, yet another area of the world has taken a firm stand against genetically engineered foods. According to the Huffington Post:13

“After a marathon hearing, the Kauai County Council passed a hotly debated bill... that could lead to prison time or fines for employees of agricultural companies if they don’t divulge specifics about pesticide use, abide by strict setback rules for spraying chemicals or disclose when they grow genetically engineered crops... The law is set to take effect in nine months — with or without the mayor’s signature, because bills receiving five or more votes are veto-proof.

... Attorneys for the biotech companies said during the hearings that aspects of the bill are ‘vague and ambiguous’ or amount to an ‘illegal taking’ of property. Council members said that they expect biotech companies to file lawsuits in response to the bill's passage. (Small farmers are exempt from the bill’s pesticide provisions.)

Earlier this month, nine local attorneys, including prominent environmental lawyers, released a statement urging council members not to bow to pressure from the biotech companies. 'We believe that Bill 2491 is sound, and the mere threat of a lawsuit by industry interests should not prevent the council from taking action they believe is important to their community,' the statement read.”