Food Giants Explain: ‘Why We’re Against GMO Labeling’

How are corporations defending their opposition to GMO labeling? Here’s a breakdown of their arguments.
So far corporations have spent $25 million to oppose Prop 37.
Aug 22, 2012· 2 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Last week we told you about the river of cash flowing into the Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme (also known as “No on 37”). At our deadline, totals were nearly $10 million in funding to defeat the California ballot measure that requires labeling of food products containing genetically engineered ingredients.

But more donations have rolled in since our story, including $4.2 million from Monsanto, nearly $1.3 from DuPont and just under $1.2 from Dow AgriSciences. KCET reports totals have swelled to $25 million. Twenty-five million. Compare that to the California Right To Know campaign, which has raised approximately $2.5 million.

But how will these food giants defend their position?

MORE: 18 Companies That Oppose GMO Food Labeling

Ready yourselves for an onslaught of talking points designed to confuse the conversation, starting with a six-page GMO-friendly report issued on Thursday by Colin Carter, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

We spent some of our weekend combing through the study, and then chatted with Stacy Malkan, spokesperson for California Right to Know. Here are some of the arguments we predict will be bandied about over the next 76 days until the November election.

TP: Some claim Proposition 37 has a zero-tolerance policy for accidental traces of GMO.

SM: That’s incorrect. Prop 37 says that the producer has to show evidence in the form of an affidavit that shows they’re not intentionally growing or using genetically modified crops.

TP: Will food labeled “organic” be exempt from testing?

SM: Yes. Certified organic will not be tested because it already falls under rules established by the USDA organic standards.

TP: Opponents of Prop 37 say there is no science-based mandate justifying the labeling of foods, and they add that the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the World Health Organization agree. Those are big guns. What’s your position?

SM: The American Medical Association said we should have mandatory safety testing of GM foods, and the U.N. says there are global consequences. GM ingredients should be safety tested, and we do not have that system here in the U.S. No evidence means just that, no evidence.

TP: Colin Carter argues that a consequence of Prop 37 would result in most products carrying the label and that because of the saturation; most consumers would just ignore the label.

SM: Information on labels is for people who seek that information.

TP: Food manufacturers will have to look for inferior, non-GM substitutes, like imported palm oil, which has its own set of environmental problems. True or false?

SM: It’s speculation whether they would turn to palm oil. There is still corn and soy that is not genetically engineered. Those foods are available here. I think it’s up to the market to decide. You give the market information, and consumers get to decide what to buy and eat.

TP: Exemptions from labeling include alcoholic beverages, restaurants, ready-made food, food entirely derived from animals as well as any food certified as USDA organic. True?

SM: True.

TP: Prop 37 would prohibit food labels with the message “natural,” “naturally grown,” etc. True or false?

SM: That’s misrepresentative. Prop 37 would prohibit foods containing genetically engineered ingredients from being labeled natural—because they’re not. (Indeed, lawsuits over what is natural are increasing nationwide, including claims that do not center around the genetic modification conversation. —TP)

TP: The No on 37 campaign claims the ballot measure will mean an avalanche of lawsuits. Is there any truth to that?

SM: They’re talking about headhunter lawsuits, meaning lawyers get an incentive to sue. But that’s a good point on how they’re making inaccurate claims around lawsuits. I can sue someone right now for having false claims on their label. We don’t expect there will be many lawsuits, because companies do label accurately. They label accurately now for calories, fat content and allergy information. And we expect they’ll label accurately for GE ingredients too, and not open themselves up to lawsuits.

TP: Is it true that the added burden of labeling will cause grocery prices to rise?

SM: Companies get 18 months to change their labels, and most do already within that time frame. It’s a simple, business-friendly law. Prop 37 allows them to put the label anywhere on the package, unless it’s a whole food, like GMO sweet corn, and then there needs to be a sign on the shelf as well.

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