Behind GMO Labelling Issues – Updated

So here’s the deal.

After the last election, we are seeing a number of landmark shifts, vote results, and controversies in the news. I normally let folks go at it, but when we start messing with the food…

You all may recall a recent post in which I began to examine questions regarding the GMO labelling issue in the U.S.

Back Roads and Bright Skies

Among the remaining questions, the identity of the actual complainants in the suit against the State of Vermont seemed less prevalent in the issue at hand. Who was the mythical “They” referred to?

Digging deeper I actually searched for “Grocery Manufacturers Association case…”.For some reason, one actually had to know who it was that filed the lawsuit, which was my question in the first place. may update with more information. Be sure to check their site as the battle wages on.

Despite the fact that the Grocery Manufactoring Association, et. al are listed in numerous news articles, and issued a press release, the names behind the lawsuit have received less scrutiny. The furor surrounding the issue is now being centered on Starbucks and Monsanto, as two of the largest members of the organization. This was apparently fanned to a flame by public interest organizations such as Sum of . Granted, any number of  companies could be for or against the labelling. But that any are specifically funding the battle against GMO labelling is still not widely known.

As stated before, the issue is a matter of informed consent. There are some valid uses for modifying an organism, such as to prevent the spread of infectious crop diseases, which can cause widespread illness. Most of us as consumers want to believe that this is done with our well-being and the overall good of the economy in mind. But what happens when those two interests do not coverge? Who says what is done for the benefit of consumers vs. the benefit of big manufacturing, and how far are they allowed to go with modifications or utilizing attributes not naturally occurring in an organism? For instance, not long ago, there was an effort to splice strawberry crops with a peanut gene that made them less prone to freezing temperatures and hardier as a crop. Well considering the number of people who are deathly allergic to peanuts…

You get my drift, yes? There are, and should be, limits. Who decides those limits, and enforces them?

What is more surprising than corporate manufacturing tactics is the public voting habit. So far only Vermont has actually had a law enacted. Colorado voted overwhelmingly not to require labelling and Oregon is still undecided. The results will be posted here when released.

***UPDATE*** Oregon Measure 92 for GMO labelling failed 50.6 vs 49.4%, a very narrow margin indeed. Amazingly enough the funding for the ballot measure was highly polarized. The campaign for a “NO” vote was funded 100% by corporate money, and 100% by out of state sources! The funding for a “YES” vote was funded from various corporations and individuals, with 79.2% coming from out of state.

Source: Oregon Live

Here are the issues: in one corner are proponents of labelling, many extremely concerned with the aforementioned issues. The prevailing idea is that regardless of the type of modifications made, the public has a right to know. On the other end of this spectrum are those seeking to eventually ban GMO usage altogether, as has occurred in Europe. Certainly, it is a cause for concern that other countries are far more careful about their chemical usage. They also seem to be much more circumspect in the genetic and chemical ‘tinkering’ allowed with their food supply.

Across the ring are heavyweight giants like national food trade associations with Washington lobbying and special interest groups in “snack” (‘junk’ food), dairy, grocery, and manufacturing arenas. Granted, this will cost them. They will have to print new labels.

But keeping in mind the mandated hydrogenated oil/trans fat labelling, calorie, and nutrient labelling, we have yet to see a huge death knell to the junk food or grocery industry, nor do we see huge sticker shock. Will it cost manufacturers significantly more per unit to produce these items? Are high fructose corn syrup and other GMO head-wagging ingredients really that costly to produce otherwise? Has the price of your chips, snack cakes, cookies or other snack items become too much to handle since trans fat labelling? So far the mere suggestion of a price increase has been the main impetus in voter decision-making. Is that a valid concern?

But. Should manufacturers want to curry favor with the more health-conscious public, they will very likely have to retool, rethink, and re-source their suppliers. Will farmers have to change growing practices? Will this have lasting impact on the way our food chain is produced? Possibly. But there is a fair guess that neither side is rushing to any extreme. The Vermont labelling law, successfully unopposed, will not go into effect until 2016.

Given the protracted nature of the battles under discussion, and the deep pockets of trade organizations, it would not be unrealistic to believe we are a long sight off from seeing official bans in the U.S., and even then they may have special contingencies. I look forward to seeing how this plays out…

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