Grocery Manufacturers Association — key facts

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Summary


* GMA is the leading trade group for the junk food industry

* GMA hides list of its own corporate members

GMA was found guilty of money laundering

Opposed legislation to combat child slavery

* Out of touch: 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, but GMA opposes it

Opposes mandatory food labeling, supports voluntary regulation

Pure double-talk on ending childhood obesity

Supported use of rBST/rBGH in milk, an artificial hormone banned in EU/Canada

Funded fake “grassroots” anti-ethanol campaign

GMA Hides List of Own Corporate Member Companies

GMA no longer lists its member companies on its website. Here is the most recent publicly available list of the [GMA’s members. GMA website via archive.org, archived 12/23/13]

GMA’s President Makes Over $2 Million a Year

Since January 2009, Pamela Bailey has served as the President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. As of April 2014, Bailey made $2.06 million per year. [Government Executive, 4/14] Bailey announced in 2018 she will retire after 10 years at the helm of GMA. [Progressive Grocer, 2/12/2018]

GMA Found Guilty of Money Laundering

In October 2013, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the GMA for money laundering. The suit alleged that GMA “illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.” [Attorney General press release, 10/16/13]

In 2016, GMA was found guilty of money laundering and ordered to pay $18 million, which is believed to be the highest fine for campaign finance violations in the history of the United States. [Seattle PI, 11/2/2016]

GMA Revealed Donors Under Pressure, Showing More Than $1 Million Each from Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola

In October 2013, GMA released its list of funders under pressure, showing that Pepsi, Nestle, and Coca-Cola each gave more than $1 million.

“The Grocery Manufacturers Association on Friday revealed that PepsiCo, Nestle USA and Coca-Cola each gave hidden donations of more than $1 million to the campaign against a Washington initiative that would require the labeling of genetically engineered food. The association agreed to make public a long list of donors to its anti-labeling campaign after being sued this week by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.” [The Oregonian, 10/18/13]

GMA Accused of Hiding Millions of Dollars More Than Originally Believed

In November 2013, Attorney General Ferguson amended the original complaint to increase from $7.2 million to $10.6 million the amount that GMA allegedly concealed. [Seattle Times, 11/20/13; Attorney General press release, 11/20/13]

Filed Counter-Suit Seeking to Invalidate Campaign Finance Laws that Required Disclosure of Donors

In January 2014, GMA responded to the Washington Attorney General’s lawsuit with a countersuit seeking to invalidate the state’s campaign finance laws regarding disclosure of donors.

“After trying to secretly influence the outcome of the vote on Initiative 522, the Grocery Manufacturers Association now is challenging the state’s campaign finance laws. On Jan. 3, the GMA responded to the Washington State Attorney General’s campaign disclosure lawsuit against the GMA with a counterclaim. The GMA also filed a separate civil rights complaint against Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The GMA claims Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing Washington’s laws and challenges the constitutionality of requiring the GMA to register as a political committee before requesting and receiving contributions to oppose Initiative 522, a measure would have required labeling of genetically engineered foods.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/13/14]

GMA Claimed Law Requiring Disclosure of Donors was Unconstitutional

GMA’s countersuit claimed that being required to disclose its donors was unconstitutional.

“In its counterclaim and civil rights suit, the GMA claims the following are unconstitutional as they have been applied in this case: Washington’s law requiring the GMA to file a political committee before collecting funds from its members for specific political activity in Washington; Washington’s law requiring the GMA to disclose the organizations who contributed to its special political fund and how much they donated; and Washington’s law requiring the GMA to secure $10 in donations from 10 separate registered Washington voters as part of its political committee before donating to another political committee. [Washington State Office of the Attorney General press release, 1/13/14]

Judge Rejected Effort to Dismiss Lawsuit in June 2014

In June 2014, Thurston County Judge Christine Schiller rejected a motion from GMA to dismiss the money laundering charge it was facing.

A Thurston County judge on Friday rejected efforts by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to squelch a lawsuit in which state Attorney General Bob Ferguson accuses the Washington, D.C.-based lobby of laundering millions of dollars in last fall’s campaign. … Judge Christine Schaller rejected the association’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “Today’s ruling is an important step in our work to hold the Grocery Manufacturers Association accountable for the largest campaign finance concealment case in Washington history,” said Ferguson. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/13/14]

Attorney General Said Judge’s Ruling Meant Case Would Continue to Trial

Following Judge Schaller’s ruling, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that the GMA case would continue to trial “on its merits.”

“[Judge Christina] Schaller rejected the motion to dismiss, ruling the state’s campaign finance laws requiring the formation of a political committee and associated disclosures were constitutionally applied in this case. The case will now move forward on its merits.” [Washington State Office of the Attorney General press release, 6/13/14]

Opposed Bill That Exposed Slave-like Child Labor in Cacao Plantations

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, in 2001 the GMA, along with the chocolate industry, lobbied against legislation in the U.S. Congress that would have exposed slave-like child labor practices on cacao plantations in Africa. [Spokane Spokesman-Review, 8/1/01]

The proposed legislation was a response to a Knight Ridder investigation that found that some boys as young as 11 are sold or tricked into slavery to harvest cocoa beans in Ivory Coast, a West African nation that supplies 43 percent of U.S. cocoa. The State Department estimated that as many as 15,000 child slaves work on Ivory Coast’s cocoa, cotton and coffee farms. [Spokane Spokesman-Review, 8/1/01, Congressional Research Service, 7/13/05]

GMA is Out of Touch: 93 Percent of Americans Support Labeling…

According to the New York Times in 2013, “Americans overwhelmingly support labeling foods that have been genetically modified or engineered, according to a New York Times poll conducted this year, with 93 percent of respondents saying that foods containing such ingredients should be identified.” [New York Times, 7/27/13]

… But GMA Opposes Mandatory Labeling Laws

In June 2014, GMA and three other food industry organizations challenged Vermont’s law requiring food labels to identify products with GMO ingredients.

“Today, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), along with the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers, filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont challenging the state’s mandatory GMO labeling law. GMA issued the following statement in conjunction with the legal filing.” [GMA press release, 6/13/14]

Supported Federal Ban on State GMO Labeling Laws

In April 2014, the GMA advocated for a federal ban on state laws to require mandatory GMO labeling.

“The giants of the U.S. food industry who have spent millions fighting state-by-state efforts to mandate new labels for genetically modified organisms are taking a page from their opponents and pushing for a federal GMO law. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such food and beverage leaders as ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, isn’t exactly joining the anti-GMO movement. It’s advocating for an industry-friendly, law with a voluntary federal standard — a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.” [Politico, 1/7/14]

2014 Bill Introduced to Prevent States from Requiring GMO Labels

In April 2014, a bill was introduced in Congress that would ban states from enacting their own GMO labeling laws.

“A bill introduced Wednesday would put the federal government in charge of overseeing the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients, preventing states from enacting their own requirements to regulate the controversial ingredients. … But consumer groups vowed to fight the legislation, which they see as an attempt to undermine efforts to pass state ballot initiatives mandating labeling of most products with genetically modified ingredients.” [USA Today, 4/9/14]

GMA President Called Defeating Prop 37 “Single-Highest Priority”

In 2012, GMA President Pam Bailey said that defeating Prop 37 was the GMA’s highest priority for 2012.

“In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative ‘is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.’” [Huffington Post, 7/30/12]

Supports Voluntary, Not Mandatory, Food Labeling

2014: GMA and Food Marketing Institute Launched $50 Million Voluntary Labeling Campaign

In March 2014, GMA and the Food Marketing Institute launched a $50 million marketing campaign to promote the industry’s voluntary “Facts Up Front” nutrition facts system.

“The food industry appears poised to one-up the Obama administration with the launch of a national media blitz to promote its own nutrition labels on the front of food packages. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, which represent the biggest food companies and retailers, will roll out a coordinated marketing campaign, spending as much as $50 million, on Monday to promote their ‘Facts Up Front,’ the industry’s own voluntary program for providing nutrition information on the front of food and beverage packages, POLITICO has learned.” [Politico, 3/1/14]

GMA Pressed for Voluntary Federal GMO Labeling Standard

In 2014, the GMA, along with other food industry organizations, called for a voluntary federal genetically-modified-organism labeling standard.

“The giants of the U.S. food industry who have spent millions fighting state-by-state efforts to mandate new labels for genetically modified organisms are taking a page from their opponents and pushing for a federal GMO law. But the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents such food and beverage leaders as ConAgra, PepsiCo and Kraft, isn’t exactly joining the anti-GMO movement. It’s advocating for an industry-friendly, law with a voluntary federal standard — a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way.” [Politico, 1/7/14]

GMA’s Double Talk on Ending Childhood Obesity

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has boasted of its “commitment to do its part to help reduce obesity in America – especially childhood obesity.” [GMA Press Release, 12/16/09]

… But Opposes Restrictions on Sale of Junk Food, Soda in Schools

According to Michele Simon’s book Appetite for Profit, “GMA is on record opposing virtually every state bill that would restrict the sale of junk food or soda in schools.” [Appetite for Profit, page 223]

 … And Worked to Defeat California School Nutrition Guidelines, Sending Bill to Defeat with Last-Minute Lobbying

In 2004, nutrition guidelines for California schools failed narrowly following last-minute lobbying from GMA.

“Just last month, California tried to set nutrition guidelines on foods sold outside the federal meal program. But thanks to last-minute lobbying by the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), that bill failed by just five votes, despite having the support of 80 nonprofit organizations. Only five groups opposed the measure — all of whom profit from selling junk food to kids.” [Michele Simon, Pacific News Service, 9/3/04]

… And Opposed School Nutrition Guidelines in Other States

According to the book Appetite for Profit, GMA opposed school nutrition guidelines in other states, including Texas, Oregon, and Kentucky.

“A search for the word ‘schools’ on the GMA web site resulted in no fewer than 126 hits, most of which are either submitted testimony or a letter filed in opposition to a school-related nutrition policy. Here are just a few examples of document titles: GMA Letter in Opposition of Texas Food and Beverage Restrictions, GMA Letter in Opposition to Oregon School Restrictions Bills, GMA Requests Veto of Kentucky School Restrictions Bill, and GMA Letter in Opposition to California School Nutrition Bill.” [Appetite for Profit, Page 223]

… And Has Lobbyists Around the Country Aiming to Defeat Legislation

In addition to its federal lobbying (which spiked to $14 million in 2013), GMA has lobbyists around the country aiming to defeat legislation that would restrict the food industry. Below are just some of their state lobbyists. [Center for Responsive Politics, opensecrets.org, accessed 12/22/14; State sources linked below]

Lobbyist State
Louis Finkel California
Kelsey Johnson Illinois
7 lobbyists with Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver Maryland
Kelsey Johnson Minnesota
Capitol Group Inc. New York

GMA Sought to Weaken Enforcement of Labeling Rules

In December 2011, GMA asked the Food and Drug Administration to selectively enforce labeling rules regarding basic nutrition facts.

“You have requested that FDA exercise enforcement discretion with respect to certain aspects of its nutrition labeling regulations in order to facilitate implementation of the Nutrition Keys program, namely: [1] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons (calories, saturated fat, sodium, and total sugars), alone or accompanied by up to two Nutrition Keys Optional Icons, without declaration of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat in the Nutrition Facts panel as required by 21 CFR 101.9(c)(2)(iii) and (iv). [2] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons, unaccompanied by any Optional Icons, without the disclosure statement required by§ 101.13(h) when the nutrient content of the food exceeds specified levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium. [3] Use of the four Nutrition Keys Basic Icons, alone or accompanied by up to two Nutrition Keys Optional Icons, without disclosure of the level of total fat and cholesterol in immediate proximity to the saturated fat icon as required by § 101.62(c).” [FDA letter to GMA, 12/13/11]

Supported Use of Hormone Banned in Canada, EU to Boost Milk Production in Cows

In 1995, GMA said that the Food & Drug Administration had found that the synthetic hormone rBST was “completely safe.” [GMA press release, 4/25/95]

rBST/rBGH Banned in EU, Canada

rBST/rBGH is banned from dairy products in the European Union and Canada.

“Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is a synthetic (man-made) hormone that is marketed to dairy farmers to increase milk production in cows. It has been used in the United States since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993, but its use is not permitted in the European Union, Canada, and some other countries.” [American Cancer Society website, cancer.org]

Co-Plaintiff in Vermont Lawsuit Regarding Labeling for rBST/rBGH

According to FindLaw.com, GMA was a co-plaintiff in IDFA vs. Amnestoy, a case regarding the labeling of dairy products produced from cows treated with rBST/rBGH. [FindLaw.com, accessed 12/17/14; United States Court of Appeals, International Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, Case No. 876, Docket 95-7819, decided 8/8/96]

“‘Vermont’s mandatory labeling law flies in the face of FDA’s determination that rBST is completely safe and that mandatory labeling should not be required,’ stated John Cady, president of NFPA. ‘The law will likely convey to consumers a false and misleading impression concerning the safety and wholesomeness of milk from rBST-supplemented cows.’” [GMA press release, 4/25/95]

Opposed Labeling Dairy Produced with Growth Hormone

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in 1993-94, GMA opposed labels on dairy products derived from cows injected with Monsanto’s controversial Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/3/94]

GMA Opposed Ohio Labeling Rule that was Struck Down

According to FoodNavigator-USA, GMA and other food industry groups opposed the Ohio labeling rule that was struck down by the appeals court. [FoodNavigator-USA, 4/25/08]

The Ohio state rule in question banned statements such as “rbGH Free,” “rbST Free” and “artificial hormone free,” aimed at providing consumers with the information needed to make informed choices. Center for Food Safety, 9/30/10

Funded Fake “Grassroots” Anti-Ethanol Campaign

In May 2008, Sen. Chuck Grassley revealed that an anti-ethanol campaign that was supposedly “grassroots,” was in reality backed by a PR firm hired by GMA.

“According to two documents posted on Sen. Charles Grassley’s, R-IA, congressional website, the ‘grassroots’ anti-ethanol media blitz that’s hitched today’s climbing food prices to farmer-backed biofuels is as fake as astro-turf. Indeed, Grassley explained to Senate colleagues during his May 15 endorsement of the new farm bill, ‘It turns out that a $300,000, six-month retainer of a Beltway public relations firm is behind the smear campaign, hired by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.’” Aberdeen News, 5/30/08

GMA Sought to Take Advantage of Rising Food Prices

In its request for proposals, GMA said that it believed rising food prices provided the organization with an opportunity to hit ethanol.

“GMA has been leading an ‘aggressive’ public relations campaign for the past two months in an effort to roll back ethanol mandates that passed in last year’s energy bill. The association hired Glover Park Group to run a six-month campaign, according to GMA’s request for proposal and Glover Park’s response. ‘GMA has concluded that rising food prices … create a window to change perceptions about the benefits of bio-fuels and the mandate,’ reads the three-page RFP, a copy of which was obtained by Roll Call.” [Roll Call, 5/14/08]

Keeping Secrets From Consumers: Labeling Law a Win for Industry-Academic Collaborations

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You’ve heard the mantra over and over – there are no safety concerns associated with genetically engineered crops. That refrain, music to agrichemical and biotech seed industry ears, has been sung repeatedly by U.S. lawmakers who have just passed a national law that allows companies to avoid stating on food packages if those products contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Sen. Pat Roberts, who shepherded the law through the Senate, dismissed both consumer concerns and research that has fed fears about potential health risks related to genetically engineered crops, in lobbying on behalf of the bill.

“Science has proven again and again that the use of agriculture biotechnology is 100 percent safe,” Roberts declared on the Senate floor on July 7 before bill passed. The House then approved the measure on July 14 in a 306-117 vote.

Under the new law, which now heads to President Obama’s desk, state laws mandating GMO labeling are nullified, and food companies need not clearly tell consumers if foods contain genetically engineered ingredients; instead they can put codes or website addresses on products that consumers must access for the ingredient information. The law intentionally makes it difficult for consumers to gain the information. Lawmakers like Roberts say it’s okay to cloud the issues for consumers because GMOs are so safe.

But many consumers have fought for years for foods to be labeled for GMO content precisely because they do not accept the safety claims. Evidence of corporate influence over many in the scientific community who tout GMO safety has made it difficult for consumers to know who to trust and what to believe about GMOs.

“The ‘science’ has become politicized and focused on serving markets,” said Pamm Larry, director of the LabelGMOs consumer group. “The industry controls the narrative, at least at the political level.” Larry and other pro-labeling groups say there are many studies indicating that GMOs can have harmful impacts.

This week, the French newspaper Le Monde added fresh reason for skepticism about GMO safety claims when it unveiled details of University of Nebraska professor Richard Goodman’s work to defend and promote GMO crops while Goodman was receiving funding from top global GMO crop developer Monsanto Co. and other biotech crop and chemical companies. Email communications obtained through Freedom of Information requests show Goodman consulting with Monsanto frequently on efforts to turn back mandatory GMO labeling efforts and mitigate GMO safety concerns as Goodman conducted “scientific outreach and consulting on GM safety” in the United States, Asia and the European Union.

Goodman is but one of many public university scientists engaged in such work. Similar collaborations have been revealed recently involving public scientists at several universities, including the University of Florida and the University of Illinois. Cumulatively, the relationships underscore how Monsanto and other industry players exercise influence in the scientific arena of GMOs and pesticides to push points that protect their profits.

In its examination of those concerns, the Le Monde article shines a light on how Goodman, who worked at Monsanto for seven years before moving to the public university in 2004, came to be named associate editor of the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) to oversee GMO-related research reports. Goodman’s naming to the FCT editorial board came shortly after the journal angered Monsanto with the 2012 publication of a study by French biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini that found GMOs and Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide could trigger worrisome tumors in rats. After Goodman joined the FCT editorial board the journal retracted the study in 2013. (It was later republished in a separate journal.) Critics at the time alleged the retraction was tied to Goodman’s appointment to the journal’s editorial board. Goodman denied any involvement in the retraction, and resigned from FCT in January 2015.

The Le Monde report cited email communications obtained by the U.S. consumer advocacy group U.S. Right to Know (which I work for). The emails obtained by the organization show Goodman communicating with Monsanto about how best to criticize the Séralini study shortly after it was released “pre-print” in September 2012. In a Sept. 19, 2012 email, Goodman wrote to Monsanto toxicologist Bruce Hammond: “When you guys have some talking points, or bullet analysis, I would appreciate it.”

Emails also show that FCT Editor in Chief Wallace Hayes said Goodman started serving as associate editor for FCT by Nov. 2, 2012, the same month the Séralini study was published in print, even though Goodman was later quoted saying that he was not asked to join FCT until January 2013. In that email, Hayes asked Monsanto’s Hammond to act as a reviewer for certain manuscripts submitted to the journal. Hayes said the request for Hammond’s help was also “on behalf of Professor Goodman.”

The email communications show numerous interactions between Monsanto officials and Goodman as Goodman worked to deflect various criticisms of GMOs. The emails cover a range of topics, including Goodman’s request for Monsanto’s input on a Sri Lankan study submitted to FCT; his opposition to another study that found harmful impacts from a Monsanto GMO corn; and project funding from Monsanto and other biotech crop companies that makes up roughly half of Goodman’s salary.

Indeed, an October 2012 email exchange shows that around the time Goodman was signing on to the FCT journal and criticizing the Seralini study, Goodman was also expressing concern to his industry funders about protecting his income stream as a “soft-money professor.”

In an October 6, 2014 email, Goodman wrote to Monsanto Food Safety Scientific Affairs Lead John Vicini to say that he was reviewing an “anti-paper” and hoped for some guidance. The paper in question cited a 2014 report from Sri Lanka about a “possible exposure/correlation and a proposed mechanism for glyphosate toxicity related to kidney disease.” Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and is used on Roundup Ready genetically engineered crops. The World Health Organization in 2015 said glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen after several scientific studies linked it to cancer. But Monsanto maintains glyphosate is safe.

In the email to Vicini, Goodman said he did not have the expertise needed and asked for Monsanto to provide “some sound scientific arguments for why this is or is not plausible.”

The emails show other examples of Goodman’s deference to Monsanto. As the Le Monde article points out, In May 2012, after the publication of certain comments by Goodman in an article on a website affiliate with the celebrity Oprah Winfrey, Goodman is confronted by a Monsanto official for “leaving a reader thinking that we really don’t know enough about these products to say if they are ‘safe.’” Goodman then wrote to individuals at Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, BASF and Dow and Bayer and apologized “to you and all of your companies,” saying he was misquoted and misunderstood.

Later in one July 30, 2012 email, Goodman notified officials at Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta and BASF that he has been asked to do an interview with National Public Radio about whether or not there is a relationship between GMO crops and increasing food allergies. In an Aug 1, 2012 reply, an official at Bayer offered him free “media training” before his interview.

The emails also show Goodman’s collaborative work with Monsanto to try to defeat GMO labeling efforts. In one October 25, 2014 email to Monsanto chief of global scientific affairs Eric Sachs and Vicini, Goodman suggests some “concepts and ideas” for advertisements that can educate “consumers/voters.” He wrote that it was important to convey the “complexity of our food supplies” and how mandatory labeling could add to costs if companies responded by sourcing more non-GMO commodities. He wrote of the importance of conveying those ideas to the Senate and the House, and his hope that “the labeling campaigns fail.”

The emails also make clear that Goodman depends heavily on financial support from St. Louis-based Monsanto and other biotech agricultural companies who provide funding for an “Allergen Database” overseen by Goodman and run through the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska. A look at the sponsorship agreement for the allergen database for 2013 showed that each of six sponsoring companies were to pay roughly $51,000 for a total budget of $308,154 for that year. Each sponsor then can “contribute their knowledge to this important process,” the agreement stated. From 2004-2015, along with Monsanto, the sponsoring companies included Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta, DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Bayer CropScience and BASF. One 2012 invoice to Monsanto for the Food Allergen Database requested payment of $38,666.50.

The purpose of the database is aimed at “assessing the safety of proteins that may be introduced into foods through genetic engineering or through food processing methods.” The potential for unintended allergens in some genetically engineered foods is one of the common fears expressed by consumer groups and some health and medical experts.

In comments on the House floor, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said the QR codes were a gift to a food industry seeking to hide information from consumers. The law is “not what’s in the interest of the American consumer, but what a few special interests want,” he said. “Every American has a fundamental right to know what’s in the food they eat.”

Goodman, Monsanto and others in the biotech ag industry can celebrate their win in Congress but the new labeling law is likely to only breed more consumer skepticism about GMOs given the fact that it negates the type of transparency consumers seek – just a few simple words if a product is “made with genetic engineering.”

Hiding behind a QR code does not inspire confidence.

For GMO Labeling Advocates, It Doesn’t Get Much Darker Than This

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This article was original published in Huffington Post.

By Carey Gillam

News Thursday that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and the committee’s ranking Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow had finally sewn up a deal on nationwide GMO labeling left the food industry celebrating – but GMO labeling backers cursing – a law that will continue to leave consumers largely in the dark about the GMO content of their groceries.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents the interests of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies and has been the chief architect of legislation to pre-empt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law, said Thursday that it “fully supports” the terms of the newly proposed legislation.

Senate Ag Democrats quickly took to social media to try to defend the deal, calling it a “win for consumers.” A prior measure pushed by Roberts, referred to by critics as Deny Americans the Right to Know Act, or the DARK Act,  was blocked by Senate Democrats in March.

But consumer advocates who were merely days away from seeing the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law implemented – set to take effect in Vermont on July 1 – said the bill was no better than the prior version, and they vowed to do all they could to block its passage.

“This is not a labeling bill; it is a non-labeling bill,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “We are appalled that our elected officials would support keeping Americans in the dark about what is in our food and even more appalled that they would do it on behalf of Big Chemical and food corporations.

The chief objection is that while the bill nullifies Vermont’s law, and any other similar state labeling efforts, it also allows companies to avoid the main thing consumers have demanded – a fast and easy way to determine if a food product they are purchasing was made using genetically engineered crops.

To appease consumer concerns about GMOs, many national food companies have already started providing simple and clear on-package GMO labeling. But under the law now proposed, food companies could avoid any mention of genetic engineering on their packages and “disclose” GMO ingredients through digital codes rather than on-package language. Consumers would be directed to “scan here for more food information” with a smartphone to find information about the food they want to buy. Another option would allow food companies to provide a phone number along with language that states “call for more food information.”

And, while the Vermont law would be nullified immediately, the law gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) two years to finalize a rule laying out the disclosure requirements. Food manufacturers defined as “very small” would be exempt from the disclosure requirement entirely.

The law provides no federal penalties for violations of the labeling requirements. It calls for the USDA to determine the amounts of GMO “substance that may be present in food” to be considered a bioengineered food. Foods that have meat, poultry, and egg products as main ingredients are exempted.

And, some consumer advocates say that a provision setting a definition of genetic engineering, or “bioengineering,” would be limited to such an extent that some interpretations might mean that foods made with herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans, the main GMO crops grown in the United States, would not be subject to the labeling requirements.

Consumer groups are vowing to blitz members of Congress with demands that they block the law, reminding them that this isn’t about politics – it’s about a consumer’s fundamental right to make an informed decision about the food they are buying for themselves and their families.

Many consumers worry that the genetically engineered crops on the market now carry potential and actual risks for human health and the environment. They worry that because most GMO crops are sprayed with glyphosate herbicide, which the World Health Organization has declared a probable human carcinogen, that GMO foods might contain dangerous levels of that pesticide. And they lack confidence in the regulatory and corporate entities that say those concerns are unsubstantiated even though the regulators require no independent safety testing of genetically engineered crops before they are commercialized for food.

The food and agrichemical and seed industry interests have brushed aside those concerns, and have acknowledged that they fear consumers will turn away from foods clearly labeled GMO in favor of non-GMO, natural or organic products.

Consumer advocates accused Stabenow of selling out consumer interests to appease food and big agriculture interests, such as Monsanto Co., the chief purveyor of GMO seed technology. But Stabenow defended the deal.

“For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Throughout this process I worked to ensure that any agreement would recognize the scientific consensus that biotechnology is safe, while also making sure consumers have the right to know what is in their food.”

The Senate is in session next week and could take the bill up, while the U.S. House of Representatives is in recess until after the Fourth of July holiday. Consumer advocates promise not to let labeling go down without a fight.

“This is still completely unacceptable to the nine out of ten Americans who want to be able to understand what they are buying,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union. “It doesn’t give people the choice they want. What has to be done now is stop this bill from getting through the Senate.”

Will Senate Democrats Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory on GMO Labeling?

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Update June 27: A new “compromise” bill announced by Senator Stabenow is “completely unacceptable” and worse than the original bill, say consumer advocates. Read the latest news here.

By Stacy Malkan

Nearly 90% of Americans say genetically engineered food should be labeled, with high support across all ages, races and political affiliations, according to a December 2015 Mellman Group poll. It’s hard to think of a political issue that shares such broad appeal. Belief in our right to know what’s in our food is as American as apple pie.

Now, after a hard-fought battle led by millions of consumers and the nation’s largest environmental, health and consumer groups, we are winning that right. Large food companies from General Mills to Kellogg to Campbell’s have said they are putting labels on food products to indicate if they are produced with genetic engineering.

Is it possible to undo this progress? Could the new food labels actually roll back to the factories to be replaced by incomprehensible black blobs called QR codes?

Are Senate Democrats, led by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, about to make a deal that will stop GMO labeling in its tracks?

spaghettiosThe agrichemical industry is swarming the U.S. Senate right now with a last-ditch lobbying effort to pass the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, and thereby nullify state labeling efforts. They have just a few weeks left to get this done before Vermont implements the nation’s first mandatory GMO labeling law July 1.

The House of Representatives passed the DARK Act last year. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) said at the time in a CNN op ed, “The fact that Congress is even considering a proposal to deny Americans basic information about their food speaks to overwhelming power of these corporate lobbyists over the public interest.”

All eyes are now on Sen. Stabenow, who, according to the Hagstrom Report, just proposed new language for a “compromise.” This may or may not include QR codes, an 800 number, or some other way of claiming “mandatory” labeling while allowing food companies to remove the words “genetic engineering” from the new labels that are already on their way to a store near you.

Details on the compromise are murky. But one thing is clear: as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Stabenow holds the keys to decide whether or not Americans will finally get clear, on-package GMO labels that are already required in 64 other countries around the world.

Both sides are doing their best to influence her. As Politico reported, organic industry leaders held a fundraiser for Sen. Stabenow in March, just days before the last vote on the DARK Act, and organic industry leaders donated several thousand dollars to her campaign in 2015 and 2016.

A review of Federal Election Commission filings for donations to Sen. Stabenow’s campaign from corporations and trade groups over the past five years found little from the organic industry – just one donation from the Organic Trade Association in 2012 for $2,500.

Big food, chemical and agribusiness groups, meanwhile, donated well over $100,000 to her campaign in that time period, including a combined $60,000 from Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Dow, Kraft, Bayer and ConAgra.

Those corporations were among the top 10 donors to anti-labeling campaigns that spent over $100 million to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California, Washington, Oregon and California – using dirty tricks to do so, such as mailers from fake front groups, false claims in ads and voter guides, and the largest money laundering operation in Washington State election history.

Why are these companies so afraid to give Americans an informed choice about GMOs in our food?

Big agribusiness groups are sending the message that it’s none of our business what’s in our food and how it’s produced. Political cartoonist Rick Friday learned that lesson the hard way when he was recently fired from his job of 21 years at Iowa’s Farm News for pointing out in a cartoon that top executives at Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere made more money last year than 2,129 Iowa farmers.

What else don’t these companies want us to know about our food?

The fact is, most genetically engineered crops are engineered to survive chemical herbicides, which is great for chemical company profits but not so good for farmers and families in GMO-growing communities such as Hawaii, Argentina and Iowa – or for the rest of us who may be eating food every day that contains glyphosate, which was recently classified as probably carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization’s cancer panel.

The good news is, consumer demand for transparency is now too loud to ignore.

State drives for GMO labeling succeeded in educating millions of people that our most important food crops have been genetically engineered with no transparency. Vermont’s labeling law is a victory for the nation and food companies are already well on their way to labeling GMOs for the first time in the U.S. history.

If the agrichemical lobby succeeds in pushing Democrats to accept a Dark Act deal that involves anything less than mandatory on-package labeling, Sen. Stabenow will be forever remembered for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory for our right to know what’s in our food.

This story originally appeared in Huffington Post. Want more food for thought? Sign up for the USRTK Newsletter.