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GMO Groups Found Guilty of False Marketing and Money Laundering

Soybean Cultivation

Story at-a-glance -

  • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has been ordered to pay $18 million for violating campaign-finance laws in Washington State to defeat Initiative 522 (to label genetically engineered (GE) foods)
  • The fine is the highest ever imposed for campaign finance violations in the U.S.
  • GMA even reportedly distributed talking points to its member companies advising them to deny they were funding the anti-I-522 campaign

By Dr. Mercola

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose 300-plus members include Monsanto, Coca-Cola and General Mills, got caught in a 2013 money-laundering scheme aimed at protecting the identity (and hence the reputation) of members who donated funds to defeat Initiative 522 (to label genetically engineered (GE) foods in Washington State).

You might remember that several major food companies experienced major backlash from consumers when their contributions to the 2012 anti-labeling campaign in California (Prop. 37) came to light, and those donating to the Washington campaign certainly wanted to avoid the same fate.

Proponents raised about $8.4 million for the campaign to label GMOs, $2.6 million of which was raised within the state. Meanwhile, the opposition poured more than $22 million into their campaign, but only $550 was donated within Washington.

The opposition's coffers were filled by donations from multinational corporations like Pepsico, Coca-Cola and General Mills, that laundered their campaign donations through a "brand defense" account created by GMA in order to avoid consumer backlash.

This illegal move helped GMA defeat I-522 (by a mere 1 percent margin), but they did get their just deserts. GMA was sued by Attorney General Bob Ferguson in 2013, who accused them of intentional money laundering and violating state campaign disclosure laws.

Earlier this year, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch ruled that GMA had indeed violated state law, but the punishment was just issued in November.

GMA Ordered to Pay Record-Breaking $18 Million Penalty for Breaking Campaign Laws

GMA has been ordered to pay $18 million for violating campaign-finance laws in Washington State. Hirsch imposed a $6 million fine but because it was found the company intentionally violated the law, the fine was tripled to $18 million. GMA will also have to pay the state's trial costs and attorney's fees.

The fine is the highest ever imposed for campaign finance violations in the U.S., with Hirsch writing in the ruling:1

"The totality of the record establishes under a preponderance of evidence, as well as the higher clear, cogent and convincing standard, that the GMA intentionally violated Washington state public campaign finance laws."

Hirsch was especially critical of the "combative" testimony provided by GMA executive Pamela Bailey. According to the ruling:2

"Bailey's testimony was combative at times. Bailey often would not answer direct questions and frequently answered questions with questions of her own, and gave lengthy explanations that appeared designed to lecture the court and counsel for the State."

Ferguson was elated with the ruling, calling GMA's conduct "egregious." He continued to Seattle PI, "They are sophisticated people and they set about to conceal these donations from the people of Washington state."3

GMA Plans to Appeal to 'Correct Injustice'

In response to the ruling, GMA issued a release noting its intention to "pursue its legal options to correct injustice" in this case, noting:4

"GMA believes that there is no basis in law or fact to support this unprecedented, inequitable and clearly excessive penalty — nearly 18 times higher than any other Washington State public disclosure fine."

To explain away their blatant attempts to conceal its members' contributions to the "No on 522" campaign, GMA stated it was an "inadvertent technical violation of the State's vague and complex disclosure law … "5

However, "inadvertent technical violation" does not correspond with GMA's actual actions. As The Seattle Times reported, GMA even distributed talking points to its member companies advising them to deny they were funding the anti-I-522 campaign.6 It's not the first time GMA tried to skate responsibility.

Shortly after they eventually revealed the individual donors to their aggressive anti-labeling campaign, GMA sued the state of Washington, arguing they should be allowed to hide their donors — which is a direct violation of state campaign disclosure laws — in order to "speak with one voice" for the interests of the food industry.

But clearly there was a concerted effort to hide who is behind this radical front group. It's ironic that GMA feels they've been dealt an injustice, as it's the American public that has been treated unjustly with the blind addition of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to the food supply — and GMA fought hard to keep it that way.

Further, the $18 million penalty to GMA, though significantly higher than other similar penalties issued in the past, amounts to only a slap on the wrist. It's nothing more than a cost of doing business to these companies.

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Investigation Reveals GE Crops Fail to Live Up to Their Hype

Genetically engineered crops have long promised to become a panacea for the food supply by increasing crop yields while cutting down on pesticide usage. In reality, they have stopped far short of keeping these promises.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released an assessment of GMOs that found no evidence that GE crops led to overall increases in yields of soybeans, cotton or corn, a benefit long parroted by the industry for why GMO crops are necessary to "feed the world."7

The report found "little evidence" that GE crops in the U.S. led to gains beyond those in non-GE crops.

An investigation by The New York Times reached a similar conclusion by comparing 20 years of crop data from Western Europe, where GMOs were largely rejected, with that from the U.S. and Canada, where GMOs are embraced. According to The Times:8

"An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany."

The data on pesticide usage is equally underwhelming. In the U.S., the use of fungicides has fallen by one-third since GE crops were introduced, but the use of herbicides (like the highly toxic glyphosate) has increased by 21 percent.

In contrast, in France the use of both insecticides and fungicides dropped by 65 percent during the last two decades while herbicide use decreased by 36 percent.9

The Goal of Some GE Crops Was to 'Sell More Herbicide'

Risking environmental and human health to plant GE crops becomes even more tragic when their purported benefits turn out to be falsities. The latter isn't entirely surprising, however, when you consider the different traits of various GE crops — in particular herbicide-resistant crops like Roundup Ready.

The GE plants are impervious to the otherwise deleterious effects of Roundup herbicide, which means farmers can spray them with abandon. Joseph Kovach, a retired Ohio State University researcher, told The New York Times, "the goal of herbicide-resistant seeds was to 'sell more product'" (more herbicide).10

The plan worked, as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup, is the most used agricultural chemical in history.

In 2014, farmers sprayed enough glyphosate to apply 0.8 pounds of the chemical to every acre of cultivated cropland in the U.S. and nearly 0.5 a pound of glyphosate to all cropland worldwide.11

It's a win-win situation for the biotech industry, as The New York Times reported, because "the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons." The Times continued:12

"Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than six-fold in the last decade and a half.

The two companies are separately involved in merger agreements that would lift their new combined values to more than $100 billion each."

GMOs Are Designed to Make Biotech Giants Rich

As previously noted by U.S. Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter, when fewer firms control more of the seed and agrochemical market, both farmers and consumers lose out.13 GE corn seeds are already close to double the price of non-GE seeds, which means farmers are paying more and may still find their crops increasingly riddled with superweeds that have developed resistance to Roundup.

Biotech giants are working on a number of new GE crops that are "stacked" with a number of GE traits that, for instance, make the crops resistant to multiple pesticides. Monsanto's new GE Roundup Ready Xtend soybean, for instance, is not only resistant to Roundup but the herbicide dicamba, which is prone to drifting, as well.

Earlier this year, when farmers sprayed their new GE crops with older, illegal formulas of dicamba, and it drifted over onto their neighbors' non-dicamba-resistant crops, devastating crop damage was reported in 10 states.14

Nature has ways of adapting so, eventually, the weeds will probably become resistant to dicamba too, necessitating ever more GE formulations. Monsanto stated that by 2025, GE corn seeds will likely contain 14 traits allowing farmers to spray five different varieties of herbicide. Ronnie Cummins, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association, told EcoWatch:15

"The NYT [New York Times] has finally admitted what a number of us have been saying for 20 years … GMOs are designed to increase the sales of the proprietary toxic pesticides and patented seeds of Monsanto and the other gene giants, and offer nothing in the way of increased nutrition, yield … nor reduction of pesticide and chemical inputs."

Industry Attacks Prestigious Scientists Over Glyphosate-Cancer Finding

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), determined glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, to be a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).

This determination was based on evidence showing the popular weed killer can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and lung cancer in humans, along with "convincing evidence" it can also cause cancer in animals.

Monsanto has maintained that the classification as a carcinogen is wrong and continues to tout glyphosate (and Roundup) as one of the safest pesticides on the planet.16 Now biotech trade group CropLife America has launched a "full-fledged assault" against the team of IARC scientists who determined glyphosate's carcinogenic status.

Not only is CropLife trying to get IARC's U.S. funding cut, but it's demanding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reject IARC's classification of glyphosate and allow for its continued virtually unchecked use in the U.S. So far their tactics have been working, as the EPA postponed — at the behest of the industry — a series of public meetings it intended to hold last month to discuss glyphosate research.

The IARC team continues to stand behind their finding, stating that it is scientifically sound and was not politically motivated nor predicated on the economic consequences it could have on the industry. The Huffington Post reported:17

"It's all a bit overwhelming for the members of the IARC working group, who are not accustomed to assaults on their expertise. After all, these scientists that assembled for the glyphosate review were among the elite, routinely seen as independent experts, pulled from top institutions around the world.

IARC issued a statement … saying some also felt 'intimidated' by the industry actions … The industry message to EPA is loud and clear: Independent research and international scientific findings should not take precedence over protection of a multi-billion-dollar agent like glyphosate. The public can only watch, wait and hope that the EPA doesn't listen."