In case you had any doubt that California’s Prop 37 — which would require labeling of food containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) — is a significant threat to industry, a top food lobby has now made it perfectly clear. 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.” You may not know the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but its members represent the nation’s largest food makers — those with the most at stake in the battle over GMO labeling; for example, soft drink and snack giant PepsiCo, cereal makers Kellogg and General Mills, and of course, biotech behemoth Monsanto. According to state filing reports, so far GMA has spent $375,000 on its efforts to oppose the labeling measure, with its members adding additional out-of-state lobbying power in the tens of thousands of dollars. Never mind polling demonstrating that a whopping 90 percent of voters think they deserve the right to know what they are eating. GMA also won’t bother to mention the more than 40 other nations (including the European Union, Brazil, and China) that already require food makers to disclose GMOs. Big Food Lobbying to Undermine Health This is hardly the first time the nation’s most powerful trade association of food manufacturers has marshaled its resources to oppose common sense food and nutrition policy–at both the national and state levels. As I documented in my book, Appetite for Profit, for years GMA flexed its lobbying muscle in state legislatures all over the country fighting bills that were simply trying to remove junk food and soda from school vending machines. Big Food lobbyists have also banded together to vociferously fight any attempt to restrict out of control junk food marketing to children on TV and other media. For example, in 2005, GMA was a founding member of the Alliance for American Advertising, whose stated purpose was to defend the food industry’s alleged First Amendment right to advertise to children and to promote voluntary self-regulation as an alternative to government action. More recently, the Grocery Manufacturers Association was among leading trade groups and corporations opposing the federal government’s attempt to improve industry’s own voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children. As this Reuters special report from April explains, GMA’s chief lobbyist visited the White House last July along with several top food industry representatives (including from Nestle, Kellogg, and General Mills) to scuttle an effort by four federal agencies that would have protected children from predatory junk food marketing. But Food Makers Love Labels Don’t They? It seems rather ironic that the same food makers taking advantage of every inch of food packaging space to convince shoppers to purchase its products would object so strongly to labeling for something they claim is not harmful. Indeed in recent years, the federal government , in recognizing that food companies’ so-called “front of package” labeling is so out of control that it commissioned not one but two Institute of Medicine reports to make recommendations to fix the problem and un-confuse consumers. Unwilling to tolerate government intervention designed to help Americans, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has been aggressively promoting its own new nutrition labeling scheme it calls “Facts Up Front.” But as Food Politics author Marion Nestle has explained, this is an obvious end-run around the feds. Here is how the food industry describes its own voluntary program: “Facts Up Front is a nutrient-based labeling system that summarizes important information from the Nutrition Facts Panel in a simple and easy-to-use format on the front of food and beverage packages.” Translation: We are repeating information already required on the back of the package, now placing it in a format we like better on the front. See how that works? The food industry is always in charge. That’s why the nation’s largest packaged food lobby and its members are shaking in its boots over 90 percent of Californians wanting to see GMO labeling on food. And no wonder, because as GMA President Bailey correctly warned her audience: “If California wins, you need to be worried the campaign will come to your state.” Very worried. This article was originally posted on Appetite for Profit on July 31, 2012. 

  • Scott

    The processed food industry stands behind the motto “Too Much Consumer Information Hurts Shareholder Returns.” Time for the food industry to get a honesty colonic.

  • Nathan

    If California passes Prop 37, you can be sure it will be suspended and appealed to the supreme court.
    Also, how is it common sense food and nutrition policy when the ultimate aim is to throw a huge wet blanket over the GM industry.
    This is illogical tecnophobia and fear-mongering. GM is a powerful tool, much more specific and safe than hybridization which would be the only tool we would have to use in the event of consumer refusal to buy GM products (which has caused more problems to crops and farmers than GM ever has-far and away).
    People forget that American farmers are choosing to grow these products, and unless you are buying organic &/or GM free products then you are choosing to buy GM products as well. Labeling GM products will cause true confusion, because it will seem as though the products are not safe for consumption.

  • Brent

    This campaign is a farce. If a consumer wants to buy gmo free products, a label already exists…it is called “USDA certified organic” and second, if the people pushing this truly care about what is in their food, why not also label what is in organic. Why not label the very caustic chemicals that are used in organic production?
    If those supporting this labeling push were actually serious about labeling, they would be pushing for labeling for all food. Instead they are showing their true colors as purely anti-GMO.

  • Steve

    The implication of your article is that GMA opposes labelling and in disregard of health concerns. In fact a useless labelling requirement would likely have major negative consequences for industrial food and agriculture producers and consumers world wide.

  • Mil

    GE varieties are the farmers choice? No way.
    Thanks to major consolidation in the seed industry seed dealers push GE, while the tried and true regional varieties are withdrawn and no longer available. This is even affecting the ability of farmers to plant productive non-GE refugia crops to (supposedly) forestall resistance to GE varieties. Of course that’s happening already with rootworm resistance to Bt corn and numerous weeds to Roundup.
    And the REAL farce is the game the Biotech industry is getting away with thanks to a half BILLION dollars in lobbying, the revolving door between industry and oversight agencies — where their INDEPENDENTLY UNTESTED proprietary crops are both “substantially equivalent” to regualr crops but also patentable because of their differences.

  • Nathan, this bill could easily withstand a Constitutional challenge.
    The people of California have spoken, and they have demanded the right to know what’s in their food. The food industry’s pushback just makes people more determined to get this information. They are utterly clueless.
    And there are foods that are not organic but also aren’t GMO. Organic doesn’t subsume the entire set of non-GMO products.
    Information on the label would allow people to make a choice of what they want.
    Brent, exactly what other type of labeling is there? We’d have organic, GMO, and other. We have country of origin, as well as ingredients, and nutrition. Is there another labeling characteristic we should be exploring? If so, I’d dearly love to hear it.

  • Nathan

    Anecdotal evidence, saying seeds aren’t available, is not a legitimiate argument.
    Does Monsanto have a successful marketing department, absolutely. Should they be rewarded for increasing the productivity of American farmers and reducing pesticide use? Is America not the land of innovation?
    I think y’all are forgetting some of the truly terrible crops that were produced using hybridization. Not that that was OK, but we need to remember that Monsanto, the farmers and consumers all want what is best for America. The production of GM crops has direct economic and social benefits as does Organic production.

  • Nathan
    GMO Certified. Not that I agree with their politics, I do agree with the idea. Buy GMO-free certified products.
    Shelley, honestly can you give me an example of some of these products that don’t have GM material that are mass marketed?

  • Dr. Smith

    Can anyone here point me to one paper in a peer-reviewed medical journal detailing an example of how GMOs have harmed human health?

  • Nathan, since products aren’t labeled when they use GMO, we don’t know, do we? That’s kind of the point.
    Dr. Smith, if there’s no harm to GMO (or ever will be), and Nathan since it’s so beneficial (and has no negative consequences), then why not label it on products? After all, it’s so good, I’d think the marketing departments of the various companies would want to mark products as GMO, in big bold letters.

  • Michael

    Dr. Smith,
    If you know anything about GMO seeds, their “licensing” for use specifically excludes using them for any research. If you did not know this, here is a link for a discussion on this topic.
    With this in mind, any requests for peer-reviewed evidence of their harm is disingenuous at best. It is precisely for this reason that they need to be labeled. Since they will not allow them to be studied, accurate scientific claims as to their safety on human health or otherwise cannot be made. This leads people, including other scientists, that the manufacturers are clearly not comfortable with the potential results of any true peer-reviewed studies. The makers of these seeds are forcing this response for labeling. It is their own fault it has come to this. I sincerely doubt 90% of the citizens of the US, or California for that matter, are “illogical technophobes” as another put it. There is more to it than that, and dismissing this effort as such shows either a lack of understanding of the issue, or an agenda.

  • Marie M. Bennett

    “those with the most at stake in the battle over GMO labeling; for example, soft drink and snack giant PepsiCo, cereal makers Kellogg and General Mills, and of course, biotech behemoth Monsanto.”
    I totally agree with the GMO labeling specially with GMO products of Monsanto company. I just read an article about them and it says ( they actually the worst company in 2011, they are so bad.

  • Chet

    Oh oh, Marie. I just read an article about Dr. Mercola and it says…well, you should read it for yourself…

  • Sandy

    Two separate studies, in two separate countries, with two separate sources of funding, using two different animal models, controls and independent data, have BOTH found that those animals whose feed was partially comprised of genetically-modified grains BECAME STERILE and unable to reproduce by the fourth generation. DON’T deny that ANY product which ends the future of mankind is SAFE. Those who are pushing GMOs through the system with thoughts only of their own enrichment are criminals against the future reproductive health of mankind.