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Cummins writes: "Is Big Food just cozying up to the FDA so they can derail the growing organic and anti-GMO movement and finagle a federal labeling law so toothless it won't be worth the ink it takes to sign it?"

Why are corporate food giants pushing for a labeling law after spending billions to defeat prop 37. (photo: Natural Society)
Why are corporate food giants pushing for a labeling law after spending billions to defeat prop 37. (photo: Natural Society)

Why Are Wal-Mart and Big Food Lobbying the FDA for a GMO Labeling Law?

By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

10 January 13


Could it be that consumer backlash has dulled the enthusiasm of biotech cheerleaders? Or is Big Food just cozying up to the FDA so they can derail the growing anti-GMO movement?

igh-level executives from some of the U.S.'s largest food corporations are meeting with the FDA behind closed doors this week to lobby for a mandatory federal GMO labeling law. Could it be that bad press and consumer backlash have dulled the enthusiasm of these former biotech cheerleaders? Or is Big Food just cozying up to the FDA so they can derail the growing organic and anti-GMO movement, and finagle a federal labeling law so toothless it won't be worth the ink it takes to sign it?

According to informed sources in Washington, DC, representatives of Wal-Mart, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, Mars, Coca-Cola and others are meeting with the FDA this week. Wal-Mart came under fire recently for selling unlabeled and likely hazardous GMO sweet corn in its stores. General Mills, Pepsi, Mars and Coca-Cola have been the targets of numerous consumer boycotts, including a social media-powered boycott of "Traitor Brands:" "natural" and organic brands whose parent companies contributed millions of dollars to defeat Prop 37, the Nov. 6 California Ballot Initiative to label GMO foods and ban the routine industry practice of marketing GMO foods as "natural" or "all natural."

The "Traitor Brands" boycott, initiated by the Organic Consumers Association, has been gaining steam as other groups pick up the flag. The boycott hasn't gone unnoticed by company executives, either. Honest Tea CEO Seth Goldman sent the OCA a letter defending his brand's position, a position not unlike the one taken recently by Ben & Jerry's. Both companies absolve their brands of any responsibility for their parent companies' donations to the NO on 37 campaign, claiming that they have no say in corporate-level decisions.

But a look at the Facebook pages of some of the "Traitor Brands" reveals consumers' anger and sense of betrayal. Brands like Honest Tea, Kashi, Muir Glen, Naked Juice, Cascadian Farms, Horizon, Silk, and Ben & Jerry's, once sought out by quality-conscious, loyal consumers willing to pay a little extra for organic, sustainably produced products, have been tarnished by their association with the hardline anti-right-to-know policies of Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, General Mills, Pepsi, Dean Foods, and Unilever..

Add to that the growing controversy surrounding the pending commercialization of genetically engineered (GE) salmon; the prospect of upcoming high-profile GMO labeling legislative battles in Vermont and Connecticut; and I-522, a major ballot initiative working its way toward a November 2012 vote in Washington State, and it makes sense that the Big Food elite may be preparing for a tactical retreat from the largest food fight in U.S. history.

Is it possible that the threat posed by the growing grassroots GMO labeling movement has prompted a number of Fortune 500 corporations to abandon Monsanto and the biotech industry, and rethink the PR and bottom-line costs of clinging to their anti-right-to-know positions? After all, it's not as if these companies are incapable of making GMO-free products. Though many Americans don't know it, Wal-Mart, General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg's, Starbucks - even McDonald's - are GMO-free in Europe, thanks to strict GMO labeling laws.

Maybe Big Food, faced with the inevitability of states passing mandatory GMO labeling laws, is ready to throw in the towel? As Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, explained in November, big food corporations are happy they headed off mandatory GMO labeling by defeating Prop 37 in California but, "we hope we don't have too many of them, because you can't keep doing that over and over again..."

Or is this just a case of Big Food and indentured FDA bureaucrats conspiring to confuse consumers and slow the momentum of the nation's fast-growing right-to-know and anti-GMO movement? Is this a "bait and switch" deal to get us to shut up, a tactic to derail the grassroots movement that appears on track to pass strict GMO labeling laws in Washington, Vermont and Connecticut this year?

We should be wary of any compromise deal at the federal level, one that would preempt the passage of meaningful state GMO labeling laws that have real teeth. We don't want to end up with a law like the one Japan passed in 2001. That law exempted all GMO foods except corn and soy from being labeled, allowed up to 5% GMO content in individual ingredients, and exempted cooking oils and other foods where transgenic DNA is difficult to detect. Similarly, a GMO law passed by Brazil under pressure from consumers and farmers contained no real requirements for enforcement, until a recent court decision against Nestle.

And let's not forget what happened in late-2010 in another closed-door meeting, when members of the "Organic Elite," including Whole Foods, tried to engineer a compromise with Monsanto and the USDA over "co-existence" between GMO alfalfa and organic crops.

Grassroots activism and marketplace pressure can bring about major changes in corporate behavior and even in public policy. When major food corporations, under pressure from consumers, break ranks with Monsanto and the biotech industry, GMO public policy and marketplace dynamics change dramatically.

The consumer-led rejection since 1994 of Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) by family-scale dairy farmers and major dairy brands has kept rBGH marginalized. Currently less than 10% of U.S. dairy cows are injected with Monsanto's (now Elanco's) rBGH, a hormone linked to increased risk of cancer in humans, as well as major animal health damage. Thanks to consumer pressure, many leading dairy brands in the U.S. are labeled as "rBGH (or rBST) free;" while rBGH is banned outright in Canada, Europe, Japan, and most industrialized nations.

In 2000, McDonald's, Burger King, Pringles and McCain opposed Monsanto's genetically engineered "New Leaf" potatoes. Their opposition kept these Bt-spliced "Frankenspuds" off the market.

Similarly, opposition to Monsanto's GE wheat in 2003, not only by U.S. wheat farmers, but also by General Mills and Frito-Lay, killed the commercialization of this multi-billion dollar crop. And it was consumer pressure that forced Starbucks and other coffee brands to keep GE coffee off the market.

If it's true that Wal-Mart and a number of big food corporations are ready to compromise and allow labels on genetically engineered foods, don't hold your breath for the Obama Administration's FDA to quickly change course. For 20 years FDA bureaucrats, led by Michael "Monsanto" Taylor, the Obama-appointed FDA Food Safety Czar, have blocked all attempts to require mandatory federal GMO labeling. Our best chance to regain our right to know what's in our food and begin to drive GMOs off the market is to stay on the offensive. We need to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws in the current frontline states of Washington, Vermont and Connecticut, and we need to step up the pressure on Food Inc. with our boycott of their "Traitor Brands."

And even after we win mandatory GMO labeling on produce and processed foods, which will realistically take at least several years, we will still need to fight for labels on GMO-fed, factory-farmed meat, dairy, and eggs, a more comprehensive labeling law that even the EU does not yet have in place. At least 80% of GMO crops grown in the U.S. are destined for animal feed in factory farms. If we're going to stop these environmentally disastrous farming practices, we'll have to demand labeling of factory-farmed food. And that will require an unprecedented campaign of public education, direct action, and grassroots mobilization, similar to the campaign we are already waging for GMO labeling.

Hats off to the thousands of activists and millions of consumers and voters who have made GMOs and GMO labeling burning issues in the U.S. Wal-Mart and the Big Food lobby would not be sitting down behind closed doors this week asking the FDA to take action if it were not for the growing online/marketplace/political activism of our nationwide organic anti-GMO movement. But, as more and more of us understand, this monumental food fight is not just about labeling GMOs. We are fighting, as well, for a healthy and sustainable food and farming system, a green and equitable economy, a stable climate, and a real democracy where citizens, not corporations and their indentured politicians, rule. your social media marketing partner


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+40 # tswhiskers 2013-01-10 18:55
I am concerned about the nutritional value of our food these days. I hear odd snippets about food: that people in their 40's and 50's are sickly, more so than many who are older than that; that GMO crops have no nutritional value; that GMO crops are killing honey bees. A deli worker in my grocery store told me that the FDA has allowed companies to use "edible polymers" in the making of cake frostings and fillings. If this is true it means that many of us are eating plastics in commercially baked cakes. The federal govt. needs to better inform us of the current state of food in this country. There is so much we don't know. We need to know that at least the basic foods we eat, flour, milk, eggs, produce and meat are untainted in any way. We need to know that our food animals are raised humanely, free of antibiotics and hormones. We need to encourage the food industry to use less sugar, corn syrup and salt. More than that, we all must take responsibility for what we eat and how we eat it. We need to make wiser food choices and sacrifice convenience when it might injure our health. Above all we need to keep pushing agribusiness to grow and produce safe, nutritious food.
+51 # Willman 2013-01-10 19:06
Their tactics will revolve around the issue of preserving profits for their corporations.
Make no mistake thinking that they actually care the lest bit for the average consumer. We are all lab rats in their world view. Buy our products and shut up is their manifesto.
My answer is to grow some of your own and buy from your local food producers, farmers and gardeners.
+19 # tm7devils 2013-01-10 23:24
I hope everyone who has a seat at this table is staying on their toes...big business has a habit of saying they are doing "X" but are actually doing "Y" and calling it "Z"!
When money is god...the christians are in the colosseum and the lions are loose...
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2013-01-11 18:04
So very true
+17 # Lowflyin Lolana 2013-01-10 23:33
Jon Rappoport was wondering whether Whole Foods (known affectionately to boyfriend and me as Food Ho) torpedoed the Prop 37 initiative here in California. The whole campaign, instead of focusing on how seriously dangerous GMO's are and how they threaten agriculture, instead had a simple message: we should know what's in our food. OK, that's fine and good, but what Rappoport suggested, and I agree with him, is that by simplifying the message and excluding conversations and info about the dangers, combining that with the huge $$ poured into deceptive advertising by the opposition that led people to believe it would make food more expensive (I know intelligent people who were deceived by this)---all of this, he said, led to the failure of Prop 37. And it may well have. Whole Foods was behind Prop 37 and may have had a hand in shaping the message. So it's not an unreasonable question to ask. Their motive? They sell lots of food marked "natural" but which contains GMOs.
Conflict of interest.
Anyway, maybe WalMart is converting to the righteous path? lol
....I doubt it, but this is an interesting development.
+4 # cmp 2013-01-11 11:41
Lowflyin Lolana, Thanks So Much!!!
You nail~nail~naile d it!

Amongst my major concerns, has always been the water & soil pollutions/cont amination's regarding these pesticides & fertilizers. I'm from Up State NY and our lakes & streams have undergone some very rapid and quite damaging changes from just 20 years ago.

Lowflyin', you are so~so right. These two articles are the MUST reads:
+5 # cmp 2013-01-11 12:14
PS Lowflyin':
Since the vast majority of 320M Americans are drinking, cooking & bathing in their pesticide, insecticide & fertilizer pollutants that are trapped in our ground waters & especially our surface waters every day, maybe it's the EPA that we should be using to trump the FDA.

Have a great weekend & THANKS AGAIN!
+5 # tbcrawford 2013-01-11 13:24
I suggest you contact Prop 37 leaders and ask obtain facts instead of publishing your speculations. Prop 37 kept simple on purpose, we just asked for labeling -- the right to know what food we were buying. The campaign was grass roots, no one was money for TV until end of campaign. Thanks so some very generous supporters printed materials and a minimal TV/radio presence was possible. The No's had to spend $46 million to spread their lies...and the struggle to label genetically modified organisms (gmos) has spread. Personally, I would rather be cautious and wait for testing to prove human safety...testin g that FDA (Michael Taylor) has limited to three months (yes, months for sufficient for solid results!) Anyone taken a biology course lately? This alone should be proof of intended deception...Pro posed Ag bill says GMO products may be introduced before approval granted. What??? If you're still confused, there are many places to go for more information: The Institute for Responsbile Technology, Organic Consumers' Association -- even a simple web search will provide lots of information. Bottom line, no one is asking to stop distribution, only to identify products!
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2013-01-11 18:06
Doubt Walmart is doing anything but looking at profits perhaps going back to old tricks selling crap under false pretenses
+8 # Street Level 2013-01-10 23:37
Thanks for telling it like it is.
No sooner did Washington State turn in their signatures for I-522, the "no" side launched their smear campaign.
Boycott these guys, turn up the heat. The only way we get them to listen is not buy their garbage.
GMO = UNtested, UNsafe and UNnecessary.
+18 # earlymusicus 2013-01-11 00:34
The FDA is nothing more than a puppet of Big Agriculture and Big Pharma. It's a joke - and a bad joke at that.
+10 # Darlyne 2013-01-11 01:18
Maybe they are concerned because I have quit buying any food from them that is not organic. If the food was labeled non-GMO I might buy it!~!
+7 # Smokey 2013-01-11 08:36
The organic foods business is like much of the "save the Earth" movement. It may have started with small-time operators and hippies but, nowadays, the big money corporations are running much of the show. The big boys have learned how to live with GMO labelling in Europe and they'll probably wind up managing the GMO labelling in the USA.

Simply stated: There's a lot of money to be made in "organic" and "green" markets. Wealthy consumers will pay extra for this stuff.

Meanwhile, the low-income people buy whatever they can get.

When it comes to food, America is becoming two nations. Prosperous people worry, first, about things like GMO labelling. While other folks collect "food stamps" and hope that they can eat next week while paying for rent and utilities.
+4 # tbcrawford 2013-01-11 13:28
Smokey: beware the word 'natural' -- equally vague and misleading as are those bucolic images on packaging. Ingredients are also listed..."high fructose corn syrup" one of the worst!
+1 # tbcrawford 2013-01-11 13:31
I nominate Ronnie Cummings for national recognition. He is a great American hero.
+13 # Eliza D 2013-01-11 08:38
Thank you Ronnie Cummins for doing what you do, and warning us not be deceived by any deal brokered by WalMart,Gernera l Mills, et. al. We must continue to fight for GMO labeling in as many states as we can, in order to begin the monumental task of getting Monsanto and others to stop planting GMO foods. Who knows if the damage done to the environment already can even be repaired? I had windblown GMO seeds destroy my organic corn last year. We really are the 11th hour in terms of creating a green and sustainable farm economy, that will in turn, revitalize our sick planet.
+5 # Kathymoi 2013-01-11 15:59
WalMart's participation in an agreement to label gmo's is possibly the worst news for organic and non-gmo enthusiasts. The way Walmart works is to get the lion's share of the market and then control the supplier (usually down to just the one supplier who can and will meet WalMart's demands for numbers and price). WalMart is then in complete control of the quality of the product. If WalMart gets its foot in the door of non-gmo and organic food sales, there won't be any such thing in a short time, count on it.
+3 # Kathymoi 2013-01-11 16:34
WalMart is not a friend to organic and non-gmo food growers or consumers. The way WalMart works is it gets the lion's share of a market, then negotiates with one supplier who is willing and able to cut corners in order to meet WalMart's demands for numbers and price. In this way it puts pretty much all other suppliers out of business, and WalMart defines the standards for the product. If WalMart defines the standards for non gmo and organic, you can count on the standards being completely meaningless. There would basically be no such thing anymore
+2 # KittatinyHawk 2013-01-11 18:15
Walmart, and others are tuned in to ripping poor middle and lower classes off.
They already have been caught switching labels, they do not care if -people die so perhaps their kids and grandkids will eat the crap too.

I hope that we can get to the Neighborhoods that are targetted for bad food products already and get awareness going. We all have the right to know what we are eating, we all have the right to stop buying food from Supermarkets.
Putina is another who is using gmos yet calling dog and cat food Natural I asked the Natural What? Haven't heard much but with animals sick, and I believe we will see decline in farm animals and horse health....I hope we can win this battle. I believe we have to work to help others in poorer situations understand they are going to kill us so that the World Continues its boycott.
Corporations are Demons and their leaders lower than pig slime.

Welcome aboard all the new names, nice to see this growing into a good size battle. Pass on RSN lets get intelligent readers, and some feedbacke to DC

I want Action Against GMO's, Fracking, Pipeline they are as much a Killing Machine as any Gun. DC must be made accountable or we must rid ourselves of them. Without Violence, lets just feed them Monsanto Products

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