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Are Walmart and Big Food Lobbying for a GMO Labeling Law?

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?

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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.

 
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