— Part one of a two-part investigation —
In this two-part investigative post, we’ll wrap up our investigation into one of the key sequences we launched last year, answering the important question – “Do American citizens deserve the right to know if there are genetically modified organisms in their food?”
You can view all entries in the investigation at this link:
Today we wrap up our investigation into the GMO labeling situation, the biggest hot-button issue in the GMO controversy right now, by far. Although I do wish we had more of our research complete before answering this, particularly on the science side of the equation (and on exactly how the FDA decided to regulate GMOs in the first place back in the 1990s), I’m still completely confident that we know more than enough right now to answer this question with authority.
And honestly, after witnessing disturbing behavior from several members of our House of Representatives and Senate over the past year or so, it’s obvious that our government isn’t working very diligently for transparency during its own hearings, let alone with labeling… so you know something is seriously wrong here.
THE COST OF LABELING
In last summer’s House of Representatives hearing, they referenced a study that estimated GMO labeling would cost $500 per family. The study was conducted by Cornell University Professor William Lesser, who stated that if GMO labeling was required in New York, a family of four would pay $500 more per year in grocery bills. And yes, it specifically focused on New York, not the entire country.
But still, sounds pretty crazy right? $500 more per family just for some labels? There’s a reason it sounds crazy. The Washington Post Fact Checker investigated the study and its claim, giving it what they call “The Pinocchio Test”, where they essentially rate a claim’s truthfulness. It goes on a scale of 1-4 Pinocchios, where one Pinocchio is mostly true, and 4 Pinocchios is considered, as they put it, “Whoppers” – basically a complete lie.
After they completed fact checking, The Post gave Professor Lesser’s study 3 Pinocchios, which according to their scale, indicates the following:
“Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions. This gets into the realm of “mostly false.” But it could include statements which are technically correct (such as based on official government data) but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading.”
See the Washington Post Fact Checker article here.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives didn’t care about fact checking, as they gave full credence to this study when discussing the GMO labeling situation last summer.
Fast forward to February 2016, and the Corn Refiners Association published a new study on GMO labeling costs as well – coincidentally enough just as Kansas Senator Pat Roberts was about to propose the latest GMO Labeling bill. This new study ups that earlier figure from $500 per family to a ridiculous $1,050 per family, again, simply to add GMO labels to our food.
Obviously, the new 2016 study was conducted by an organization that would absolutely LOVE to prevent any GMO labeling, as the Corn Refiners Association clearly represents the corn industry, where 90%+ of American-grown corn is now GMO.
But it didn’t take long for places like Consumers Union (part of Consumer Reports) to absolutely rip the new study to shreds. Here’s what Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, had to say –
“This new study, like previous industry-funded studies, makes a number of unreasonable assumptions to come to its conclusions, including the idea that companies will reformulate all their products to remove GE ingredients. There is simply no basis for these assumptions. The fact is that GMO labeling would have a negligible impact on food prices. Campbell’s is moving towards labeling GMOs and has said they don’t plan to raise their products’ prices.”
Here’s the rest of the GMO labeling study.
Now we’ve got studies flying around with different dollar figures associated to them, and multiple sources clearly disputing those numbers – so what’s the TRUTH here, and how does it tie in with GMO Labeling and the Senate?
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POLICY DECISIONS FROM PROPAGANDA
Well, here’s the deal… on Tuesday March 1st, 2016, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, held a meeting to consider Senator Roberts aforementioned legislation. One person who spoke up in the meeting was Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa, who specifically mentioned that Corn Refiners Association study as if it were pure fact.
(You can watch the Senate Ag Meeting here)
She stood up proudly as a champion for the very economically-challenged constituents she represents in her district – Montgomery County, Iowa – and here’s what she had to say:
Joni’s main point was this –
“Studies have been shown to increase the cost of our food dollars, if we are to go ahead and implement Vermont’s food law, and as that would affect consumers nationwide, to a tune of about $1,050 per household.”
Once again, we see misleading statements made by our government officials, referencing questionable, industry-funded information, and key dollar figures, which hold a ton of weight to their arguments, with no mention of the other side… or of the fact checking done… or other organizations that steadfastly refute the information.
In fact, Senator Ernst even makes no mention of the previous study where it was only $500, she makes no mention of the Washington Post’s fact checking on the topic, and of course she says nothing about the Consumers Union research. She simply touts the word of the Corn Refiners Association, easily the most biased of any source in the mix right now, and with the most vested interest.
Perhaps even worse than that, in all of the hearings, both the Senate and the House avoided mentioning a key 2011 study done by our own USDA, which looked at the impact of labeling on consumer behavior and market prices in countries that did mandate GMO labels. According to that study, even large warning labels on the front of packages aren’t guaranteed to attract consumer attention. Here’s a quote –
“Evidence suggests that consumers are just as likely to overlook GMO labels as other labels. This is in part because food labels contain a lot of information, and consumers tend to look for labels that matter to them. Even if they do look at every single piece of information on a label, they have a hard time prioritizing what matters the most.”
Pretty logical conclusion there, and one that I’ll bet the majority of people, including myself as an avid label reader, will agree applies to us. You look for what you know about, and what’s important to you. So to assume that GMOs will vanish from the marketplace simply because a few new words now exist on a label…? to quote LL Cool J, “I don’t think so.”
So when it’s come to the cost concern, there are these studies, that’s great, but the clearest response to this concern, which was at least brought up in the Senate Ag meeting (about 5 minutes before everyone cast their “already decided upon” votes by the way), came from Campbell’s Soup.
When Campbell stepped in earlier this year to announce GMO labeling of their products, at no extra cost to customers, all bets were basically off. Why? Because someone finally did the real due diligence, and said hey, this is completely feasible, it’s the right thing to do, so enough of the BS. We won’t reformulate our products – we’ll label them. It’s not that crazy.
But here at The Walk a Mile Project, we already knew this. We went over the situation in an earlier investigation, and it became crystal clear after we actually did the research, and then just logically looked at the equation in front of us. Click here – specifically the “Labeling Won’t Cost Much” section, for more on that.
Also, let’s not forget that 64 other countries around the planet already have labeling, and some of it comes from the same American companies balking at labeling here in their own country right now. The majority of the population on planet Earth already has access to labeling. And just like the USDA’s 2011 study said, GMO products are still purchased at the grocery store – it’s not like they went away because of the labels.
So the entire “expensive labeling” house of cards that’s been built up here over the last several months – it sits on the over-zealous fear that if you put a label on products with GMO ingredients, a huge contingent of people who care about GMOs, but didn’t before, will all of a sudden appear out of nowhere… simply because there are 4 new words on a can.
Go pick up any food item right now, and tell me you read and care about every single word on its label. None of us do, which we illustrated very clearly when discussing labels on diet sodas (see all the details here, under the heading THE RIGHT WAY TO LABEL). That’s a perfect example of words on labels only mattering to the people who care about that specific language.
It would take an epic GMO awareness campaign, and one that unequivocally proved GMOs actually cause harm, before words on a label would make that kind of a huge difference. It’s not something that appears imminent – although if we unequivocally prove that here at The Walk a Mile Project, things may change quickly – but we’re not even into that phase of the documentary yet, so I can’t even begin to speculate there.
I will say this, however, and we’ll talk about it more in part 2 of this post – if GMOs do indeed suffer a slump eventually because of the labeling, it will be because the free market dictates such, because at that point people will actually know that GMOs are in their food, which is the whole point here in the first place. Let the free market decide – we’ll talk much more about that in part two of this investigation.
GMO LABELING CAVEATS
So when industry and policymakers join forces like this to stop labeling… to stop transparency, it just makes it look like they have something to hide – and like the biotech industry itself has something to hide. One senator even mentioned this at the Ag meeting, basically saying just label the stuff already, and stop acting like you’re hiding something.
With that in mind, let’s wrap up our debunking of GMO labeling costs and consequences myths here, where ironically, a sector that loves to point fingers at GMO activists as fear mongers, is presently engaged in a fear mongering campaign itself to financially scare everyone away from GMO labeling… fear mongering pushing a scare tactic figure of $1,050 per family every year.
Unfortunately for them, it’s clear that costs will be minimal to enact federal level GMO labeling, especially when, right after the Senate failed to pass Roberts’ legislation, General Mills then joined Campbell in announcing GMO labeling.
So before we wrap up part one of this investigation here, let’s go over a couple of very important caveats regarding labeling. First off, there is certainly a concern for companies if a federal standard is not enacted, and instead individual state laws rule the land. If all 50 states had their own labeling requirements, that would be an epic pain in the rear end for manufacturers, and I don’t think ANYONE feels that is a good idea.
Yes, it does happen on occasion, like with different labels for bottle deposits that can vary between states, but that’s long been built into the cost of doing business for companies that use those types of bottles. There’s little doubt that a proper, national labeling standard is what the U.S. really needs.
And second, in GMO TRUTH Podcast #8 I mentioned that by far the BEST way to label GMOs is to put a more meaningful label on products – a label that indicates exactly which GMO exists in the food, like Bt Corn, Roundup Ready Soy, etc. However, ideal as that labeling solution would be, during our latest research I discovered that differentiating our supply to this level could be quite problematic under our agriculture’s current infrastructure.
And it’s funny, I discovered it because the pro-GMO camp keeps making the argument that we must differentiate the food supply to handle even a simple, blanket label like the one taking effect in Vermont, which simply says “contains genetically engineered ingredients”. I’ve found multiple sources throwing this argument out there, and then skyrocketing their cost estimates for labeling because of the invalid assumption.
The truth is, we’d only need that extra layer of intricacy in place if we were going to label by specific GE traits, and as great as that would be, it’s not feasible without some bigger changes. It doesn’t apply, however, when using blanket language like “contains genetically engineered ingredients”.
At one point prior to all these hearings, I might have seriously questioned whether or not GMO labeling was the right choice if it could only be the more generic version like “contains genetically engineered ingredients.” But after watching the hearings and sifting through studies and data, there’s clearly smoke here when it comes to GMOs. I’m not sure how big the fire is that we’re going to find, but the way our politicians are behaving is alarming, and that’s enough for us all to know that we need to err on the side of caution.
Let’s keep that in mind as we head into part two of this investigation, coming up next…
ORIGINAL FEATURED IMAGE: http://www.growtolearn.org/2016/01/12/campbell-label-will-list-gmo-ingredients/