Quantcast

Big Food's Win Over GMO Labeling Bill Shows Failure of Democracy


Popular

In 2014, Vermont passed the first legislation in the U.S. to require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. A year earlier, Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling bills though these were dependent on several other states passing similar laws.

Best of Democracy: Lawmakers Respond to the People

Passages of these three bills were textbook examples of democracy in action. The states' citizens lobbied their legislatures to introduce the bills, public hearings were held, experts spoke for and against the bills and lawmakers debated the measures. The bills ultimately passed because the lawmakers recognized that the People wanted them approved.

Vermont's bill passed overwhelmingly in both the state's House of Representatives and Senate and Gov. Pete Shumlin signed the bill shortly thereafter.

This is how democracy is supposed to work, right? Citizens see an issue of concern that needs to be addressed and they contact their elected representatives who respond by passing a law. This is what happened in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

As Tara Cook-Littman, who spearheaded Connecticut's labeling initiative, said: "GMO labeling is about people taking back power and getting lawmakers to take action in the interests of the people and not corporations. If we don't use our voices it's not democracy. We proved in Connecticut that we do have power and can make democracy work."

Worst of Democracy: Lawmakers Pander to Corporations

Contrast those initiatives with U.S. federal government action on GMO labeling in the past year. Heavy lobbying by large food and agriculture corporations and groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association led the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce the Orwellian-named "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act."

The bill, dubbed the "DARK Act" (Deny Americans the Right to Know), aimed to stop Vermont and other state GMO labeling laws and establish a meaningless system of voluntary GMO labeling. The DARK Act passed the House but a similar bill failed to pass the U.S. Senate this past March mainly because the people told their senators to vote against it.

Following the Senate defeat and with Vermont's GMO labeling law set to take effect July 1, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) drafted a compromise of the DARK Act, making GMO disclosure mandatory and not voluntary as in the House bill. But there was no requirement for an on-package statement as the Vermont law mandated.

Stabenow's compromise essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for labeling supporters because many major food companies were already putting GMO labels on their products sold nationwide to comply with Vermont's law.

The Roberts-Stabenow bill has been described as a "non-labeling GMO labeling bill" since, among its many flaws, it allows food companies to continue their stonewalling of GMO information by putting QR codes on products that can only be read by smartphones. Imagine a busy mother at a supermarket with several children in tow pulling out her smartphone to read QR codes on 20 or 30 food products. Or imagine the many mothers that don't even have smartphones trying to get GMO information. According to marketing communications expert Peter Quinn, the use of QR codes has virtually been abandoned because they have proven to be so ineffective and a "technology wild goose chase."

"Needs of the People Have Been Ignored"

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said: "The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they're eating."

In contrast to Vermont's GMO labeling bill—the Roberts-Stabenow bill had no hearings, no public input, no committee debate and was rushed to be introduced—and passed in both the Senate and House. Behind the push were Big Food and Ag and their millions of dollars in lobbying.

So while the GMO labeling efforts in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine demonstrated the best of democracy—working for the people as America's founders intended—the Roberts-Stabenow bill showed us the worst of democracy—with its pandering to the narrow interests of big business at the expense of the wishes of the people. And the bill makes the successful democratic efforts in those states null and void.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said the bill was "not what's in the interests of the American consumer, but what a few special interests want."

With their support for this bad piece of legislation and continued obfuscation of GMOs, Big Food and Ag have assured themselves more years of consumer distrust and targeting by advocacy groups, leading to PR disasters. A few food companies, such as Campbell's and Dannon, have decided that transparency is the best policy, but for many others this may be a tough lesson to learn.

As of July 22, the Roberts-Stabenow GMO labeling bill, S.764, has not yet been signed into law by President Obama but the White House said after Congress passed the bill that he would sign it. More than 80,000 people have petitioned the White House urging Obama to veto the bill. Florida Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan also urged the president to veto the bill. In a letter to Obama, Buchanan called the legislation a "sham bill that pretends to offer disclosure but in truth has so many loopholes that it is meaningless."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New pine trees grow from the forest floor along the North Fork of the Flathead River on the western boundary of Glacier National Park on Sept. 16, 2019 near West Glacier, Montana. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Alex Kirby

New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there's a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

Read More
Household actions lead to changes in collective behavior and are an essential part of social movements. Pixabay / Pexels

By Greg McDermid, Joule A Bergerson, Sheri Madigan

Hidden among all of the troubling environmental headlines from 2019 — and let's face it, there were plenty — was one encouraging sign: the world is waking up to the reality of climate change.

So now what?

Read More
Sponsored
Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More