Double-talk and Half-truths: The Fuzzy Math of the Anti-GMO Labeling Campaign

Rick North Facebook

All their double-talk has a single purpose: protecting industry profits.

The media blitz is here.

You’ll be inundated with TV ads sounding the alarm that Oregon’s Measure 92 ranks in desirability somewhere between the Willamette’s algae bloom and the Ebola virus.

So far, opponents have branded Oregon’s GMO labeling proposal with causing mass confusion and misinformation, jacking up grocery bills, ruining farmers, hurting the poor, etc. What’s next, Bill Murray warning us that cows and pigs will be sleeping together? The fact that none of these dire predictions has happened in the 64 countries already labeling is just a messy little detail easily ignored.

But never make light of the power of millions of dollars of slick corporate PR. It’s transformed consumers’ common sense that they have a right to know what’s in their food into an irrational fear of their own best interests. This advertising was a major reason that similar labeling initiatives lost in California and Washington.

For example, one ad started this week said the initiative was “. . . so full of exemptions that it wouldn’t even give consumers reliable information about which foods contain GMO’s and which don’t.”

There are good reasons for certain exemptions, and for meat and dairy animals, it’s not even an exemption, it’s a distinction: they aren’t genetically engineered. Eating GMO feed doesn’t turn animals into GMO’s themselves, just as eating GMO food doesn’t make us genetically engineered.

If GMO salmon gets approved – a real possibility - the FDA wouldn’t mandate labeling it. But Oregon’s Measure 92 would require it, since it’s the animal itself. This would seem at least as important as the current requirement that salmon sold in grocery stores must be labeled wild or farmed.

The initiative’s exclusions are consistent with which foods don’t require full nutrition and ingredient labels now, such as those served in school cafeterias, restaurants and bake sales. This system, with a few modifications, has been in place for nearly 25 years.

To argue that consumers will be misled or misinformed because some foods would require labeling and others wouldn’t is Moby Dick-level fiction, but admittedly it does have an element of humor. Out of one side of their mouths, opponents complain that the proposed labeling is too burdensome and goes too far. Out of the other side, they complain that it doesn’t go far enough.

Like Oregon, dozens of states have introduced legislation to label GMO’s in response to consumer demand. They wouldn’t have to take action if numerous mandatory GMO labeling bills proposed in Congress over the past decade would have passed. The latest one was introduced by Oregon’s Peter DeFazio and California senator Barbara Boxer in April 2013. And who has led the charge blocking those bills? The very same biotech and food giant corporations who say they want national labeling. Of course, the only national labeling they want is voluntary - which we already have.

In a previous column, I pointed out the fallacies of the charge that labeling would significantly increase family grocery bills. Opponents say studies show that it would. What they don’t say is who is funding these studies – the labeling opponents. The most-often cited analysis, by a professor at Cornell, was completely funded by the Council for Biotechnology Information, a mouthpiece for Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Chemical and companions. Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, has thoroughly debunked it and even the study itself says it doesn’t represent Cornell University’s position.

Opponents know consumers have legitimate, science-based concerns about GMO safety, so they assure us that the FDA has said they’re safe. But here’s what the FDA said that they don’t tell us: “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.” The FDA doesn’t do any safety testing and doesn’t require any independent testing. Any testing is up to the biotech corporations themselves and is entirely voluntary. Yes, the fox is in charge of the henhouse.

Finally, here are some numbers that aren’t fuzzy at all – Washington State’s contribution records for last year’s Measure 1-522 to label GMO’s.

The No campaign, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto, spent over $21.7 million. All but $600 came from large corporations. They had a grand total of SIX (that’s not a typo) individuals contribute.

In contrast, the Yes campaign raised $8 million from over 16,400 donors. You can decide for yourself which side represented the public interest and which represented the corporate interest.

It’s the same story in Oregon. The math is simple. All their double-talk has a single purpose: protecting industry profits.

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