Big Food Brings its Bag of Dirty Tricks to New Hampshire to Fight GMO Labeling
In secret documents that I uncovered in November, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (aka food industry lobbyists) laid out its five-point plan for opposing the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms or GMOs. First on the list: “To oppose all state efforts that would impose mandatory labels” including state legislation. With more than 20 states having introduced state bills to require GMO labeling, the junk food lobby has its work cut out for it. But they’ve wasted no time as the 2014 legislative session gets underway, starting with targeting the New Hampshire capital.
The bill to require GMO labeling in New Hampshire was first introduced last winter, but was sidelined to a subcommittee for “study” and is now back on track. Groups opposed to the measure include local lobbyists such as the New Hampshire Grocers Association, but also several national players like Monsanto, Biotechnology Industry Organization, and of course, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). That explains the shady tactics starting to emerge.
Last Wednesday a hearing was scheduled in the House of Representatives where industry was handing out two documents at the door:
- Collection of media quotes taken out of context, including from the New York Times and the conservative National Review. Two others were op-eds written by industry lobbyists, but you can’t tell from looking at the handout. One, from an op-ed published in the local paper was written by John Dumais. But the handout left out a tiny detail: Dumais is CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, which might explain why he’s opposed to the bill. The other op-ed was penned by Mike Somers, CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. Somers’ title was also conveniently left out. Maybe that’s because it makes no sense for the restaurant industry to weigh in since they are exempt from the bill. But that didn’t stop the trade group from claiming that the “GMO labeling requirement would wreak havoc on New Hampshire restaurants.”
- A list of deceptive arguments, recycling the scaremongering that deceived voters in California and Washington State, including higher food prices, “state bureaucracy” and “burdens” on local farmers and businesses. The list of groups opposed is padded with several industries that aren’t even impacted by the bill, including: the Granite State Brewers Association, Wine Institute, Pet Food Institute, New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, and Consumer Healthcare Products Association. Also on the opposed list are the Grocery Manufactures Association and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.
Industry lobbyists also paid for a full-page advertisement that ran in several local newspapers making the same arguments as above with the same inflated list of signatories. Alexis Simpson is the GMO Labeling Campaign Coordinator for New Hampshire. She wasn’t surprised to see the Grocery Manufacturers Association show up in Concord, since she has been following the group’s actions in other states. She told me, “GMA’s latest response to mandatory state labeling is to offer preemptive voluntary labeling. That language is now in the culture thanks to GMA.”
If you haven’t been following the battle over labeling of GMO foods then you probably never heard of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. And you may not realize just how nasty a game they play. The GMA is a powerful trade organization based in Washington D.C. that lobbies on behalf of the largest and most powerful food and beverage conglomerates including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Kraft and General Mills. Over the past few years, GMA has become a key player in the fight over labeling GMO foods. In California in 2012, the biotech and junk food industry combined spent more than $45 million to defeat a ballot initiative there. The opposition engaged in numerous dirty tricks including lying in the official voter guide, misrepresenting its expert’s academic affiliation and making false deceptive arguments that were not backed up by any evidence.
Then last year in Washington State’s ballot measure fight over GMO labels, the Grocery Manufacturers Association took its shameful strategy to whole new level. Not content to just engage in unsubstantiated scare tactics to win over voters, the GMA went so far as to break the law. Just two weeks before Election Day, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit accusing GMA of violating the state’s campaign disclosure laws, alleging that the trade group secretly gathered more than $7 million from its members to oppose the GMO labeling measure, failing to disclose the actual funders to voters. (The final figure was $11 million, half the total spent to oppose the measure.) As internal documents revealed, GMA had the chutzpah to a designate a special account designed to hide corporate donations. Dubbed the “Defense of Brand Strategic Account,” by the lobbyists, millions of dollars would be budgeted for a “multi-pronged approach” to fight labeling laws in the states, including your state.
The whole idea behind a trade group like GMA is to shield members from bad PR, so popular brands like Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay can keep their noses clean. That’s why, as GMA CEO Pamela G. Bailey explained in internal memorandum, a plan to “better shield individual companies from attack” was hatched. GMA hoped to keep this all secret, but it backfired. Washington State’s Attorney General said the case represented “the largest amount of money ever concealed in an election.” But wait, there’s more. Instead of just taking its lumps for getting caught breaking the law, instead GMA is suing the state back, claiming the disclosure law is invalid, and filing a separate civil rights claim to boot. Chutzpah doesn’t even begin to describe the arrogance here.
GMA is also taking its fight to the federal level. That was supposed to be a secret too, until documents leaked to Politico revealed the junk food’s lobby’s arrogant plan to take away state’s rights to require GMO labeling, putting its place a weak, voluntary scheme at the federal level. Note to the New Hampshire state legislature: Do not believe talk of movement on GMO labeling by the feds. We need more states to take action, to send the message that food makers must be legally required to provide transparency about their products.
GMO campaign leader Alexis Simpson doesn’t think New Hampshire’s representatives are very impressed by DC-based lobbyists. GMA and the Biotechnology Industry Organization co-hosted a breakfast prior to last Wednesday’s hearing, but that probably won’t sway New Hampshire pols. The state’s House has 400 representatives which makes it challenging for multi-national corporations to lobby. As Simpson explains, “This makes for a difficult environment for the GMA. We hope our Citizen Legislature will listen to the overwhelming majority of their constituents who want mandatory labeling.”
The next hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday. You can help support New Hampshire’s bill to label GMO foods by taking action at Food Democracy Now!
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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