Junk Food Lobby Targeting State Capitals Across the Country to Prevent GMO Labeling
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In secret documents that I uncovered in November, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (aka food industry lobbyists) laid out its five-point plan for opposing the labeling of foods containing genetically-modified organisms or GMOs. First on the list: “To oppose all state efforts that would impose mandatory labels” including state legislation. With more than 20 states having introduced state bills to require GMO labeling, the junk food lobby has its work cut out for it. But they’ve wasted no time as the 2014 legislative session gets underway, starting with targeting the New Hampshire capital.
The bill to require GMO labeling in New Hampshire was first introduced last winter, but was sidelined to a subcommittee for “study” and is now back on track. Groups opposed to the measure include local lobbyists such as the New Hampshire Grocers Association, but also several national players like Monsanto, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and of course, the Grocery Manufacturers Association. That explains the shady tactics starting to emerge. Last Wednesday a hearing was scheduled in the House of Representatives where industry was handing out two documents at the door:
- Collection of media quotes taken out of context, including from the New York Times and the conservative National Review. Two others were op-eds written by industry lobbyists, but you can’t tell from looking at the handout. One, from an op-ed published in the local paper was written by John Dumais. But the handout left out a tiny detail: Mr. Dumais is CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, which might explain why he’s opposed to the bill. The other op-ed was penned by Mike Somers, CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. Mr. Somers’ title was also conveniently left out. Maybe that’s because it makes no sense for the restaurant industry to weigh in since they are exempt from the bill. But that didn’t stop the trade group from claiming that the “GMO labeling requirement would wreak havoc on New Hampshire restaurants.”
- A list of deceptive arguments, recycling the scaremongering that deceived voters in California and Washington State, including higher food prices, “state bureaucracy” and “burdens” on local farmers and businesses. The list of groups opposed is padded with several industries that aren’t even impacted by the bill, including: the Granite State Brewers Association, the Wine Institute, the Pet Food Institute, the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. Also on the opposed list are the Grocery Manufactures Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Industry lobbyists also paid for a full-page advertisement that ran in several local newspapers making the same arguments as above with the same inflated list of signatories. Alexis Simpson is the GMO Labeling Campaign Coordinator for New Hampshire. She wasn’t surprised to see the Grocery Manufacturers Association show up in Concord, since she has been following the group’s actions in other states. She told me that “GMA’s latest response to mandatory state labeling is to offer preemptive voluntary labeling. That language is now in the culture thanks to GMA.”
If you haven’t been following the battle over labeling of GMO foods then you probably never heard of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. And you may not realize just how nasty a game they play. The GMA is a powerful trade organization based in Washington D.C. that lobbies on behalf of the largest and most powerful food and beverage conglomerates including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Kraft, and General Mills. Over the past few years, GMA has become a key player in the fight over labeling GMO foods. In California in 2012, the biotech and junk food industry combined spent more than $45 million to defeat a ballot initiative there. The opposition engaged in numerous dirty tricks including lying in the official voter guide, misrepresenting its expert’s academic affiliation, and making false deceptive arguments that were not backed up by any evidence.