Cornucopia, WI — Citizen initiatives on the November 4 ballots in both Colorado and Oregon would mandate clear labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients on food packages. The pending votes have sparked a high-priced battleground pitting consumer and farmer advocates against multi-billion-dollar agribusiness corporations.
Opposition to the state food labeling measures is coming from giant biotech companies (DuPont, Dow and Monsanto), that sell genetically engineered crops, and the well-heeled Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a national business lobbying organization. Millions of dollars are being spent on the two campaigns with advertising blitzes underway.
Now The Cornucopia Institute has released a detailed infographic that reveals which food companies are supporting or opposing the food labeling initiatives (with many of the major manufacturers opposing passage owning leading brands in the natural/organic marketplace).
"Many consumers will likely be surprised to learn that owners and management of some of their favorite organic and natural brands are fighting against the right of consumers to know what is in their food," says Mark Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group. "We want to spotlight this issue so that consumers can vote in the marketplace for manufacturers and brands that reflect their personal values."
Mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food ingredients (commonly called GMOs — standing for genetically modified organisms) at the state level is viewed as a watershed event by many industry observers, given the prolonged inaction at the federal level. Earlier this year Vermont passed a state law requiring GMO food ingredient labeling, and the states of Connecticut and Maine has adopted similar legislation that will take effect when other neighboring states pass such laws.
Last year a state GMO food labeling initiative was narrowly defeated in Washington by a 51-49 percent margin. In California in 2012, a GMO food labeling initiative lost by a similarly slim margin. Biotech interests spent close to $50 million opposing the initiatives in California and Washington. And the GMA and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), another trade-lobby group, are now suing Vermont over its legislatively adopted food labeling law.
At the national level, Monsanto, its biotech allies, and the GMA in particular, have been credited for bottlenecking action on a federal law although they have recently rallied behind a new proposal that would outlaw state GMO food labeling laws while permitting "voluntary" labeling by companies of such ingredients (voluntary labeling is already being allowed by the FDA).
More than 60 countries around the world require the labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients. "Interestingly, in Europe where GMO labeling is required, consumers overwhelming choose to buy organic and non-GMO products," said Kastel. "The industrial food lobby is fully cognizant of the European experience and what’s at stake — that's why they're fighting like hell against these grassroots efforts in states like Colorado and Oregon."
North America’s largest independent organic breakfast foods manufacturer, Nature's Path, has been actively promoting and funding a "yes" vote. "Nature’s Path USA has supported citizens' fundamental right to know if their food contains GMOs, with a simple label declaration. Then they can choose whether or not they want to buy it," says Arran Stephens, the company's CEO and cofounder.
"One of many great qualities of organic agriculture is in the superior taste and higher nutrient profile — the natural result of a farming system that emphasizes long term soil fertility, farm family security and non-toxic ecological balance," Stephens added.
"As a lover of science and as an activist, it’s clear to me that labeling genetically engineered food just makes sense. Consumers have a right to know whether the food they’re eating has been genetically engineered to withstand huge amounts of pesticide that contaminates our food, wreaks havoc in the environment and ends up on our dinner plates," says the company's CEO David Bronner, describing why the company has donated $715,500 to the state initiative campaigns.
The biggest single donor to the “NO” vote is biotech giant Monsanto, having poured more than $6.3 million into the state campaigns. Pepsi has donated $2 million and General Mills has donated more than $1.5 million. Other heavyweight opponents include Kraft, Dow AgroSciences, J.M. Smucker, Land O' Lakes and ConAgra.
All told, opponents of the consumers' right-to-know what is in their food have already raised more than $15.1 million, while supporters of the state initiatives have gathered nearly $3.3 million.
“We doubt if loyal customers of Naked Juice (PepsiCo), Dagoba chocolate (Hershey’s) RW Knutson or Santa Cruz juices (Smuckers) realize that their corporate parents are taking the profits from their patronage and stabbing them in the back by investing to defeat GMO labeling on food packages,” the Cornucopia’s Kastel lamented.
"Consumers are increasingly interested in ‘voting with their forks,’ and many want to support companies that share their values," notes Jason Cole, a researcher for Cornucopia who compiled the data for the infographic. "We hope the information we are providing on corporate involvement with the upcoming votes on food labeling will help consumers make informed choices in grocery store aisles."
The Cornucopia Institute is engaged in research and educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, The Cornucopia Institute provides needed information to family farmers, consumers, stakeholders involved in the good food movement, and the media.