5 Things Monsanto Doesn't Want You to Know About the GMO Labeling Debate
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made history when the federal agency approved the first genetically modified (GMO) animal for human consumption: AquaBounty Technologies' GMO salmon. The controversial move has since opened floodgates about the future of food.
Whatever side of the fence you're on about this fish—which has been genetically altered to grow to market size twice as fast as wild salmon—you'll have no idea you're eating it anyway. The FDA has not required the product to carry a label.
NYT editorial board in favor of GMO labeling: Tell Consumers What They Are Eating https://t.co/39K00A5Tah https://t.co/mLr7Z1IWcP— Civil Eats (@Civil Eats)1448996436.0
As the controversy of GMO labeling enters mainstream dialogue, this issue is quickly becoming a heated one. Here are the big five facts you need to know about the current standings of the debate:
1. The majority of the American public wants a label.
According to a new poll of 800 registered voters commissioned by a coalition of consumer and environmental groups—including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports—nearly 90 percent of Americans want mandatory labeling on genetically modified foods.
This is compounded by Tuesday's New York Times editorial board in reaction to the FDA's approval of GMO salmon. In a significant reversal of opinion from the newspaper's 2013 editorial board, the board advocated for a label and stated, "consumers deserve to know what they are eating."
"The FDA said there is no reason to mandate labeling because there is no material difference between engineered and natural fish on qualities like nutritional content. But the value of that information should be left to consumers to decide," the board wrote.
Still, it seems consumer concern has fallen on the FDA's deaf ears. After the approval of the fish, the Center for Food Safety announced plans to sue the FDA and submitted a citizen petition requiring GMO foods be labeled. The FDA rejected the petition and stated, "While we appreciate consumer interest in the labeling of food derived from genetically engineered plants, consumer interest alone does not provide a sufficient basis to require labeling disclosing whether a food has been produced with or without the use of such genetic engineering."
2. Monsanto and Big Food are trying very hard to stop state-wide labeling.
Another hurdle in GMO labeling comes from the food industry itself. GMO food is nearly ubiquitous in American diets. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the world's largest trade association for 300 major food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and ConAgra—says that GMOs have been around for the past 20 years, and today, 70-80 percent of foods in the U.S. contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.
Even though several states such as Vermont have passed laws requiring the labeling of GMOs, the GMA has spent millions and and heavily lobbied to block state labeling mandates. Their concern, basically, is that it will be too expensive and complicated for food companies to make a special label for Vermont but not for the other 49 states.
"A deep concern is that we'll end up with a patchwork quilt of state-by-state regulations where you'll end up in a place where you can't move a can of soup from one state to the other," Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant told CBS News in a new interview.
RT @EcoWatch: Mark Ruffalo: 'Monsanto Chief is Horrible' https://t.co/DaUSHm3RTC #Monsanto #gmo— GMWatch (@GMWatch)1449246281.0
Grant also said that the cost of the labels would be passed onto the consumer: "The consumer is going to end up paying four or five hundred dollars more a year on their grocery bills."
No other company has been more intertwined with the GMO debate than Monsanto, the genetically modified seed giant and producer of Roundup, an herbicide that's sprayed on "Roundup Ready" crops all over the world.
Read page 1
Grant said that states' adoption of mandatory GMO labels results in "confusion" and "more expenses" rather than transparency. Instead, he favors federal labeling requirements that's similar to the labels you see on organic foods, CBS News reported.
CEO Hugh Grant appeared on @CBSThisMorning to talk about having more dialogue w/ consumers, #labeling and #GMOs: https://t.co/nRVmRFSu6h— Monsanto Company (@Monsanto Company)1449077353.0
3. A federal law could ban state labeling laws completely.
It’s unclear if we’ll will ever see labels for genetically altered food, period—not just for GMO salmon. The hotly contested Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, dubbed by opponents as the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act or DARK Act, currently languishes in the Senate.
The act, H.R. 1599, which passed the House of Representatives in July, bans states from issuing mandatory labeling laws for foods containing GMOs. The bill gives the FDA the authority to establish national standards and regulations for GMO food. The Department of Agriculture would be granted full discretion over the law’s implementation.
The unsaid deadline for the Senate version is sometime before July 2016, when Vermont's GMO labeling law takes effect. As EcoWatch reported exclusively in October, Big Food is already making some preparations in anticipation of Vermont's labeling law whether or not they are successful in blocking it.
Still, the New York Times editorial pointed out that "industry groups are pressing the Senate to attach similar language as a rider to an omnibus spending bill," but added that "the Senate should rebuff that tactic and allow states to adopt mandatory labeling laws if they wish."
4. What about QR codes?
Some politicians and food industry members have advocated for a QR code as a good alternative to GMO labeling. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that QR codes are a way to provide consumers with the information they’re asking for without signaling there is anything wrong with a product.
This idea however has been met with backlash from several consumer groups. “Not everyone has a smartphone or lives in an area with reliable Internet service,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union. "And even for those who do, it’s inconvenient to have to scan every food you put into your grocery cart.”
A new national poll by the Mellman Group has these key findings:
- Almost nine in 10 (88 percent) would prefer a printed GMO label on the food package rather than use a smartphone app to scan a bar code.
- Just 17 percent say they have ever scanned a bar code to get information and only 16 percent say they have ever scanned a QR code.
- If bar codes were used, more than 80 percent say food companies should not be allowed to use the app to gather information about shoppers.
NEW POLL: 88% of Americans prefer on-package GE label over smartphone app to scan a barcode https://t.co/aTmxX9vMLD https://t.co/QCaPm3P77e— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety)1449078645.0
5. This GMO food fight isn't really about the labels.
By the year 2050, the Earth’s population will reach more than 9 billion people. With so many mouths to feed, the food industry argues that GMOs are the answer to global food security, since these plants have been spliced and diced to resist herbicides and pesticides and theoretically yield more crops.
But that's ignoring the fact that the two most widely planted crops in the U.S.—GMO corn and GMO soybeans—are constantly blanketed by chemicals. The U.S. Geological Survey found that farmers have sprayed 2.6 billion pounds of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide on U.S. agricultural land between 1992 and 2012. Not only that, Monsanto's Roundup has been linked to a whole spate of health problems and was infamously classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organization’s France-based cancer research arm in March.
The health impacts of glyphosate is still maddeningly unsettled. Last month, the European Food Safety Authority rejected the IARC's classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen. Now, DW reports that nearly 100 scientists from around the world have published an open letter calling on the European Commission "to disregard the flawed EFSA finding on glyphosate," and for a "transparent, open and credible review of the scientific literature."
As for GMO animal products, while AquaBounty says that their fish safe to eat and the production of it would put less of a strain on wild and farmed salmon populations, there are a variety of other factors to consider. The FDA’s decision "disregards AquaBounty’s disastrous environmental record, which greatly raises the stakes for an environmentally damaging escape of GMO salmon," Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, wrote. "In recent years, AquaBounty facilities outside the U.S. have dealt with an accidental disease outbreak, an accident that lead to 'lost' salmon, and a $9,500 fine from Panamanian regulators who found the company in breach of that country’s environmental laws."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
- 14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Names John Kerry as First-Ever Climate Envoy - EcoWatch ›
By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Pebble Mine Threatens One of the Last Great Salmon Rivers ... ›
- The Pebble Mine Is Too Toxic Even for the Trump Administration ... ›
- Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine ... ›
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.