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With Recent Victories, Movement to Label GMOs Gains Steam

More than six months after a big defeat in California, the movement to label foods containing genetically modified organisms appears to be picking up steam across the country.

In the past three weeks, Connecticut and Maine passed labeling bills, the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the first time approved a non-GMO label claim for meat products, Chipotle began voluntarily labeling menu items containing GMO ingredients online, and, perhaps most notably, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration funding to label genetically modified salmon if the agency approves the fish.

These are all small steps compared to what California’s Proposition 37 would have accomplished – since the populous state consumes  a significant share of groceries in the United States, some speculated that food giants would have reformulated their products to avoid creating two supply chains – but the string of victories has many in the so-called ‘Right to Know’ movement confident the tide is turning in their favor.

“It’s simply a matter of time,” said Scott Faber, who serves as executive director of Just Label It, a national advocacy campaign. Faber, who is vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, used to be a lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which actively lobbies against mandatory labeling initiatives.

Faber believes mandated GMO labeling is inevitable in part because the food industry would prefer federal standards over a patchwork of state laws.

“I think companies are starting to realize the fight is worse than the label,” he added, noting that campaigns against labeling can harm consumer confidence in certain companies. Some consumers, for example, who buy brands like Cascadian Farm, Kashi, Horizon Organic, Muir Glen, and Odwalla were outraged last fall after learning the companies’ corporate owners had helped fund the effort to defeat Prop 37.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement that it remains opposed to “special mandatory labeling for food products containing genetically modified ingredients because these labels could mislead consumers into believing that ingredients from genetically engineered plants are somehow different or unsafe or unhealthy – in clear contradiction of scientific fact.”

GMA points out that ingredients derived from GM plants have been widely studied and are considered safe by FDA and groups like the American Medical Association. According to the association, foods with genetically modified ingredients make up 70 to 8o percent of the products on grocery store shelves “because they require fewer pesticides, help foods have a longer shelf life and keep production costs down” which reduces food costs for consumers.

The group has been actively engaged in the labeling issue and contributed $2 million to help defeat Prop 37, which ultimately went down 51 to 48 percent. In total, $9.2 million was spent in support of the proposition and $46 million was spent opposing it.

In a speech last summer to the American Soybean Association, GMA CEO Pam Bailey said, “Defeating the initative is GMA’s single highest priority this year,” according to an account in the Hagstrom Report. “We have worked with you on what we consider to be valuable technology, but in the past year we have seen an increase in the rhetoric against it.”

Bailey said the current movement for labeling is stronger than past attempts. “Social media is feeding this effort and making it more difficult to confront and more powerful,” she said, according to the report.

Map indicating which states have pending GMO labeling bills or upcoming ballot initiatives. Credit: Right to Know.

While momentum may by building for labeling advocates, their recent victories come with significant caveats.

The bills approved in Connecticut and Maine only kick in if other states, including a neighboring state, pass labeling requirements. Vermont’s house passed a bill to require labeling GMOs in May, but the state senate is not expected to take up the same law until next year. Labeling legislation or ballot initiatives have been introduced in 25 other states, but it’s not clear how many states would actually adopt them.

Baylen Linnekin, the executive director of Keep Food Legal, a group that advocates against government involvement in the food arena, said he thinks mandatory labeling is unnecessary and still faces significant challenges going forward.

“I would not say it’s inevitable,” said Linnekin, explaining that even if labeling laws succeed at the state level they would be challenged in court.

In a recent column for Reason, Linnekin argued the government should stay out of the labeling business: “The truth is that most federal labeling schemes are flawed at best, and often involve conflicts and compromises that rob meaning from the label.”

On the other hand, Linnekin applauds the voluntary actions by companies like Whole Foods, which announced earlier this year it will require GMO labeling in its stores by 2018, and McDonalds and Starbucks, which both recently adopted calorie labeling on their menus.

The non-GMO label approved by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service last week – the first GMO-related claim allowed on packages – and Chipotle’s decision to note which foods contain GMOs on their online menu are prime examples of voluntary moves to meet niche consumer demands.

According to the New York Times, FSIS approved the label – which can be used on meat, poultry, and liquid eggs from animals fed only non-GMO feed – after three meat companies petitioned for similar claims. The claim will be certified by the Non-GMO Project.

Private sector labels to help consumers avoid products containing GM ingredients have taken off in recent years. The Non-GMO Project, the leading third-party certifier in North America for non-GMO claims, said interest in certification has increased four-fold in the past year alone as Prop 37 and the Whole Foods announcement have raised consumer awareness about GMOs. The group now certifies more than 10,000 products.

“These days you can walk into a gas station and find Non-GMO verified products,” said Courtney Pineau, assistant director of the project.

Despite the explosion in voluntary labeling, advocates want a national law.

While there are labeling bills in both chambers, no one expects Congress will approve them anytime soon. In May, the U.S. Senate voted on an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would have allowed states to label GMOs, but the measure failed by a vote of 71 to 27, and some legal experts say the amendment wasn’t necessary.

The closest advocates have come to mandatory, national GMO labeling of any kind, was last week when the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 15 to 14 to give the FDA $150,000 to implement labeling for GM salmon if the agency gives the fish a green light, which it is expected to do.

FDA has said it would not require the GM salmon to be labeled, which is consistent with the agency’s policy that GM foods are not materially different from non-GM foods. Some advocates think this decision has driven more consumers to support labeling efforts.

A Change.org petition asking FDA to require labeling for the modified salmon garnered nearly 25,000 signatures and consumer campaigns pressured Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Target, Giant Eagle, and 50 other retailers to promise they wont sell the fish even if the FDA approves it.

A handful of U.S. lawmakers, mostly from states like Alaska, Washington and Oregon, whose wild salmon fisheries are highly lucrative, have opposed approving the GM salmon and have argued that if the fish is approved it should be labeled as a GMO. The labeling amendment that succeeded in the Senate Appropriations Committee was co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). In the House, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has made similar attempts at mandating labeling for GM salmon.

Colin O’Neil, a regulatory analyst for the Center for Food Safety, an anti-GMO advocacy group, called the amendment “a big step forward for labeling in this country” because clearing the committee is a “huge hurdle.” The bill will next head to the Senate floor.

The group said it’s not aware of efforts to strip the Begich-Murkowski amendment from the appropriations bill, but said it would be closely monitoring the legislation when it goes to conference to be reconciled with the House version because “we have not seen something like this get that far before.”

Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that Sen. Sanders amendment would have mandated GMO labeling. It has been corrected to reflect that the amendment would have allowed states to label.

© Food Safety News
  • Grant Ingle

    The safety of GMO crops for food and feed is a myth promulgated by GMO proponents. See the following well-documented report that debunks this and other pro-GMO myths:

    http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/executive-summary

  • Oshana Catranides

    Chipotle says it is non GMO, EXCEPT for the CORN and SOYBEAN OIL they use… o_0 ? http://www.chipotle.com/en-us/menu/ingredients_statement/ingredients_statement.aspx

    • Moe

      yes they are and the first company to label them too!! Good job Chipolte!!

    • Metro Issues :: Lou

      At least they are being transparent. Kudos for that.

  • Anne

    Really! GMO products are “…considered safe by FDA and groups like the American Medical Association” only to lull the general public into believing what the profiteers want them to believe. Safe??? NOT!!!

    It’s all fueled by profit margins, people. All one needs to do is compare US “approved” additives and/or production methods with those in other countries to see the truth.

    In the meantime, we’re ruining our own health and that of our children. (which of course, keeps AMA members and the drug companies busy)

    • Moe

      well when you have former Monsanto employees given positions in the USDA, FDA and Gov’t of course they are going to say it’s ok! especially when they are given millions of dollars to say they are too!!

      • Jack

        My state CT and NH just passed laws to label all GM products sold in the state, the problem is the law was passed so it cannot take effect until four other states create similar laws.

    • Jennifer Bradshaw

      Thank you! I was reading that bit about how they are considered safe and there are lots of studies done that prove this? What rock has this guy been living under, and what’s he smoking? I have yet to see a study that shows these things are safe, and they sure as heck don’t require fewer pesticides. They are specifically bred so farmers can use MORE pesticides and herbicides on them. WTH?

      I’m sticking with my non-GMO vegan diet. I’ve got some organic chicken products (breasts, breakfast sausages) for my meat eating family, but I feel 100% better after just a week! Let them keep trying. There’s good reason that North America is the only place these things aren’t either required to be labeled or banned. Good grief, they need to do a little bit more homework.

      • Jack

        They don’t care about your health as long as you buy the product before you kick off

    • Egondor

      FDA Is ran by former Monsanto exec’s also. You think they are going to say GMO’s are bad? They are getting beefy payouts for not reporting the truth. 80% of dumbed down american’s still think the FDA is working for them. AMA has former FDA and Monsanto people as well. Its all about the money and who you can payoff for Monsanto.

  • Cuppy Duppy

    I find it funny that GMO’s are safe for people but farmers have found that they cause infertility in pigs and other health problems in in chickens and sheep. HMMM, do I trust the guy selling me the GM grain or the guy who wont feed it to his pigs because they quit breeding and get uterine cancer from eating it. As someone who has had uterine cancer and infertility problems and massive grain allergies, I believe the pig farmer.

  • AK Girl

    I have an app for my phone called Buycott that lets me scan an item at the store and lets me know if the parent company is one I support or not. Takes a bit longer to shop, but I’m adding years to my life if I know what I’m eating.

    • Glasskeys

      Thank you so much for sharing this. I will post this information on G+ in the near future.

  • Tim Thomson

    If these products are “not materially different”, how come they get to be patented?

    • Starfire

      Yes, very good point ….they can’t have it both ways. They cannot create a different food product in a laboratory by manipulating the chemical structure of it, obtaining a patent for it, and then turn around and claim there is no difference between it and it’s original form. Interesting how Linnekin refers to GMO labeling as being a “federal scheme” ? Trying to use verbiage to discredit the labeling movement. It’s very clear this is an uphill battle when the Grocery Mfg Assoc CEO states their company’s number one priority is to defeat the labeling initiative and tout the benefits of GMO foods having a “longer shelf-life and lower production costs”. That pretty much says it all right there.

  • PD MacGuire

    People wonder why there’s an autism epidemic, all of a sudden. Virtually any commercially prepared foods are a gamble.

  • Toby Hunter

    The fact that all Monsanto employee cafeterias only sever Organic food says it all….Bunch of greedy HYPOCRITES !!!

  • Eddy

    If the food companies comply, what’s to keep the them from falsely labeling their products?
    Lying/deception hasn’t stood in the way of money & profits before.

  • Oginikwe

    If the King amendment passes with the farm bill, it won’t matter what the states do.

    ‘Monsanto Protection Act 2.0′ Would Ban GMO-Labeling Laws At State Level (International Business Times) 5/17/2013: http://www.ibtimes.com/monsanto-protection-act-20-would-ban-gmo-labeling-laws-state-level-1267629#

    • JamesJ

      Since most supermarket food is “make believe food”, time to not purchase anything in a box or can. Includes the stuff at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Sprouts, etc.
      If its not directly from nature and man has manufactured it, consider it a poison.
      You’ll live longer and be healthy.
      Farmers markets should be your major source of food.

  • Billiam

    Odwalla is crap! So is Naked Juice…both are highly processed, pasturized, non-organic Pepsi owned garbage. Save your money and just buy an apple juice box, it’s the same thing!

  • Gail L Ross, M.S.

    The suppressed information and true danger of GMO’s are coming to the surface and thank goodness for that. Do you know our USDA Food Safety Czar is Micheal Taylor former CEO of Monsanto – now how can we have food safety with that? GMO have GOT TO GO. As a Nutritionist I have seen the nefarious unconscionable actions of Monsanto and co-horts over the years, they have lost their humanity as they masquerade as humanitarians feeding the world…hah just the opposite is true!

  • Rixar13

    “I think companies are starting to realize the fight is worse than the label,” he added, noting that campaigns against labeling can harm consumer confidence in certain companies.”
    I demand the label being diabetic… It’s simply the right thing to do..!

  • Jack

    All GM and any other foods sold to the public should be labeled and we also should know every ingredient added to food.

  • Pendejo

    Let’s not stop with the food chain! What about our pharmaceuticals – many of our modern medicines are GMOs.

  • Gail

    I do not want GMO products what now jack up the prices on organic foods so you have no choice but to eat them because you will be so hungry.stop it altogether

  • BMag

    I am a Peace Corp volunteer in Azerbiajan and at the market last night I purchased four grain breakfast cereal from Russia that proudly displayed a message on the box stating it had no GMO products in it.This is a developing country and we in the U.S. can’t get our great nation to do this to give our citizens a economic choice on what we eat

  • rob

    all food produced using equipment painted yellow needs to be labelled. I believe it is unsafe. even if you don’t and all credible studies say different, i still want it enshrined in law. i have the right to know what i’m eating. all such food should have a label saying “made with yellow tractors”. Just because most people say that the food is the same no matter what color tractor was used, i still should have the right to know from the label and i demand all food be labelled as such. Sure i could just stick to eating stuff that is labelled “not made with yellow tractors” but why should i have to do that? it costs more and is harder to find. it is much easier for me if there is mandatory yellow tractor labelling for everyone else…

  • http://geneticallyengineeredfoodnews.com Ella Baker

    How can they safe GMO products safe these days?

  • Louis Rudziewicz

    I wrote to my congressman Ron DeSantis, Florida 6th district asking him position on labeling GMO products.
    He wrote me back;
    I believe that you have a right to know what ingredients your food contains; however, I am also concerned about the regulatory burdens this legislation could place on Florida businesses.
    I went to one of his town meetings last week, I showed him his letter and he told me he had to take cost considerations before my rights.
    He also told me that I was the first person to approach him with this issue.
    I became very irritated and had to leave.
    I ask anyone for their help, if you would please write this congressman and tell him about our rights so he does not think that I am alone on this labeling issue. 
    I thank you all for any help.
    To write this congressman, please write, FaceBook or call at:
    http://www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb/cgi-bin/newmemberbio.cgi?lang=en&member=FL06&site=congressmerge
    Thank you all again and please help this cause. We can do this.

  • Saundra Romero

    Sounds like the the FDA, American Medical Association, and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association are in on this; but of course. There is much money to be made from sick people. Their motto should be, “Make Them Sick & Prosper.”

    Seeds are injected with pesticides (Round Up) to become pesticide resistant, which basically means they become Round Up. They are filling store shelves with Round Up for you to eat and feed your families, and have been since the early 1970s. Since then we’ve seen a dramatic rise in autism, obesity, heart disease, dementia, and many other illnesses, not to forget the extinction of hundreds of species of birds, fish, insects, animals, plants. There is no way they can convince me that GMO foods are not toxic and harmful to our health and the health of the planet. In fact, it could easily be the beginning of the end of humanity and other life forms. What they do convince me of is that the practices of these corporations and our government are the problem, and this must be stopped NOW.