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Anti-GMO Label Lobby Spent As Much in Q1 2014 As All of 2013 to Block Americans’ Right to Know

Food
Anti-GMO Label Lobby Spent As Much in Q1 2014 As All of 2013 to Block Americans’ Right to Know

Companies and organizations opposed to labeling foods that contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients disclosed $9 million in lobbying expenditures that made reference to GE labeling in the first quarter of 2014nearly as much as they spent in all of 2013.

Food industry lobbying in Congress dwarfed that of supporters of GE labeling. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The burst of lobbying by food and biotechnology companies was partly designed to muster Congressional support for legislation that would block states from requiring GE labeling on food packages. That bill, dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act by advocates of GE labeling, was introduced on April 9 by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

In May, Vermont became the first state to enact legislation to require GE labeling, although industry has filed suit in an effort to block it. Connecticut and Maine have passed GE labeling laws that would go into effect if other northeastern states pass similar legislation.

Oregon and Colorado voters will consider GE labeling ballot initiatives this fall, and labeling bills have been introduced in 30 other states in 2013 and 2014.

Food and biotechnology companies and organizations disclosed $9.3 million in lobbying expenditures in 2013 that made reference to GE labeling and $9 million in the first quarter of 2014 alone. The forms cite lobbying on GE labeling as well as other policy issues.

In particular, the Grocery Manufacturers Association disclosed $1.2 million in lobbying expenditures that made reference to GE labeling in the first quarter of 2014. The Association’s member organizations separately disclosed another $4.3 million in lobbying expenditures that made reference to GE labeling in the first quarter, including $3.9 million by beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Food industry lobbying in Congress dwarfed that of supporters of GE labeling, who disclosed $1.6 million in lobbying expenditures that made reference to GE labeling in 2013 and just over $400,000 in the first quarter of this yearjust one-eighth as much as the opponents. Advocates of GE labeling are supporting legislation introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (R-Ore.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that would require GE labeling nationwide.

Several companies that produce genetically engineered seeds and herbicidesincluding Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow AgroSciencesdid not report lobbying specifically on either piece of legislation on their 2013 disclosure forms or in the first quarter of 2014. Instead, their reports cited general advocacy on “biotechnology and biotech product issues,” “biotech innovation and regulation” and “biotechnology acceptance.” This language could easily include GE labeling, but that wouldn’t be obvious to the general public.

Lobbying expenditures for the second quarter of 2014 were due July 21, and the new data will be available by the end of July.

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Food and biotechnology companies’ political action committees also reported giving $221,345 in campaign contributions to Pompeo and 22 of the 26 members of Congress who co-sponsored the DARK Act (as of July 9). Eight of them, including Pompeo, serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over GE labeling.

Pompeo was the second-largest recipient of these campaign contributions, and Monsanto’s own PAC was the most generous PAC contributor.

In addition to disclosing $18.4 million in lobbying expenditures that made reference to GE labeling in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, GE labeling opponents spent $67.9 million to defeat ballot initiatives in California and Washington. Environmental Working Group did not tally funds expended to lobby state legislatures.

The DARK Act would block any state from requiring GE labels on packaged foods. In addition, it would also allow foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled as “natural” and limit the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s ability to mandate GE labeling nationally.

Instead, the DARK Act would codify existing FDA rules that permit voluntary GE and non-GE labels. To date, no food manufacturer has voluntarily disclosed the presence of GE ingredients in its products.

Americans overwhelmingly support the right to know whether there are genetically engineered ingredients in their food, and recent polls in Oregon and Colorado found that more than three-quarters of voters in those states feel the same way.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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