'Big Food' Ready for Costly Battle as States Consider GMO Labeling Bills

In 2014, half the states will likely consider placing special labels on food that use genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to Pamela M. Prah at PEW's Stateline.

Even though 64 countries have mandated the labeling of GMO foods, the U.S. has been slow to adopt such regulation. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws, but the rules do not go into effect until at least three other states establish the same requirement.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

"Big Food" is ready for the challenge though and will use its influence and resources to protect profits gained from GMOs that are found in 80 percent of the food America consumes. 

The fight has some state attorneys general worried if labeling laws would survive court challenges brought on by food producers. No matter the outcome, it would likely cost millions of dollars to defend them. 

“States are getting somewhat gun-shy about being the lead state that’s going to have to pay the attorney fees should there be a successful lawsuit attacking the statute,” said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell at a recent gathering of attorneys general in Washington, D.C.

“It’s coming to a number of your states,” he added. “The politics are huge. Good luck.”

Some consumer and environmental groups vehemently disapprove of GMOs, calling them “Frankenfood.” They argue GMO crops, which include corn, cotton and soybeans, pose unknown health and environmental risks.

About 50 percent of the 169 million acres of U.S. crop land grew genetically engineered crops in 2013, said the U.S Department of Agriculture in a new report. GMOs can be found in most cereals, frozen foods, meat, dairy, canned soup and even baby formula.

Giant "agribusinesses," including Monsanto and DuPont, contend the newest GMO technology is safe and allows them to produce more robust crop yields while using less water and pesticides. Labeling could increase the costs to consumers, they argue.

However, pesticide groups have rejected the claim regarding toxic chemicals, saying pesticide use has grown exponentially over the last 10 years and is only expected to multiply further given Dow AgroSciences' push to approve new, pesticide-resistant corn and soybean crops. 

Regarding money, labeling itself would be “a tiny fraction of the costs” of complying with a labeling law, according to a 2013 report by the Washington Academy of Sciences. The actual costs would come from having to separate genetically engineered ingredients from other foods with those extra costs likely being passed on to consumers.

Washington’s state budget office stated it would cost roughly $3.4 million over six years for the state to enforce labeling requirements that voters considered, and rejected, last year.

“This is a national movement,” said Hawaii Attorney General David Louie at the recent attorneys general gathering. “Don’t think that it’s not coming to you.” 

Taking Action

Even though 64 countries have mandated the labeling of GMO foods, the U.S. has been slow to adopt such regulation. Connecticut and Maine have passed labeling laws, but the rules do not go into effect until at least three other states establish the same requirement.

Sixty-seven GMO labeling bills have been introduced in 25 states. In 12 of those states, at least one legislative committee has approved a GMO bill.

Other states with pending legislation on GMO labeling include California, Missouri, Minnesota and Rhode Island, according to Prah. In Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii and Oregon efforts are in motion to put the question on the ballot.

However, the future is less than certain given the food industry’s powerful pro-GMO lobby, which helped defeat previous GMO labeling bills in California, New Hampshire and Washington. In Washington alone, the GMO label bill was the most expensive ballot question in the state's history, costing activists and the food industry a combined $40 million. 

States Face Daunting Legal Costs

Prah reports:

Before Maine acted, state Attorney General Janet Mills said she warned lawmakers in a 10-page memo that the GMO bill would certainly face significant legal challenges if enacted and that defending it would be costly. “Without even reading my memo, they went into the back room, caucused 10 minutes and came back out and unanimously passed it. That is how effective I am in my legislature,” she said. 

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen cautioned that he had to be careful what he said because he might be defending his state’s labeling law enacted last year. “I will defend its constitutionality with every effort. But let me put it this way: The year before (it was passed) there was very, very healthy, strong opposition to the bill,” he said.

Pushing for Congressional Action

Critics and proponents of GMO labeling are asking Congress to act, but they are pressing for very different legislation.

campaign led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association supports a federal labeling requirement, but only if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines there is a proven health or safety risk to GMOs.

But consumer and advocacy groups have derided the duplicitous initiative, saying it undermines state and federal legislation meant to grant consumers the right to know about the types of foods they're consuming.

“Attacking state labeling laws does nothing to address the increasing call from consumers for transparent (genetically engineered) food labeling,” according to a Center for Food Safety statement.

The U.S. House added a provision to the federal farm bill that would have overridden state GMO labeling efforts, but the measure was cut from the final version of the legislation.

Gaining Ground Against GMOs

  • Whole Foods has announced by 2018 all products sold in its stores in the U.S. and Canada will need to divulge whether or not they contain GMOs. 
  • Recently the non-profit Green America mobilized 50,000 people to post comments on Cheerios’ Facebook wall and prompted more than 35,000 consumers to write in and telephone General Mills asking the major food producer to stop using GMOs in popular cereal brands. The initiative worked, General Mills complied and Post Cereals followed suit, agreeing to phase out GMOs from Grape Nuts, Chipotle, Ben & Jerry’s and Kashi.
  • Kroger and Safeway have made commitments not to sell GMOs.

Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.


Show Comments ()
About 2,700 square miles of Amazonia's forest is destroyed annually. Dallas Krentzel / Flickr

Earth's Intact Forests Are Invaluable, and in Danger

By Tim Radford

The world's unregarded forests are at risk. Intact forest is now being destroyed at an annual rate that threatens to cancel out any attempts to contain global warming by controlling greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study.

A second study finds that trees in the tropical regions are dying twice as fast as they did 35 years ago—and human-induced climate change is a factor.

Keep reading... Show less
Modern Event Preparedness / Flickr

5 Billion People Could Have Poor Access to Water by 2050, UN Warns

As the world's population grows and the planet warms, demand for water will rise but the quality and reliability of the supply is expected to deteriorate, the United Nations said Monday in this year's World Water Development Report.

"We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change," said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in a statement. "If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050."

Keep reading... Show less

28 Activists Arrested at Kinder Morgan Pipeline Construction Site

Despite a court-ordered injunction barring anyone from coming within 5 meters (approximately 16.4 feet) of two of its BC construction sites, opponents of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion sent a clear message Saturday that they would not back down.

Twenty-eight demonstrators were arrested March 17 after blocking the front gate to Kinder Morgan's tank farm in Burnaby, BC for four hours, according to a press release put out by Protect the Inlet, the group leading the protest.

Keep reading... Show less

Three Outlandish Ideas to Cool the Planet

By Jeremy Deaton

Climate change is a big, ugly, unwieldy problem, and it's getting worse by the day. Emissions are rising. Ice is melting, and virtually no one is taking the carbon crisis as seriously as the issue demands. Countries need to radically overhaul their energy systems in just a few short decades, replacing coal, oil and gas with clean energy. Even if countries overcome the political obstacles necessary to meet that aim, they can expect heat waves, drought and storms unseen in the history of human civilization and enough flooding to submerge Miami Beach.

Keep reading... Show less

Those Little Produce Stickers? They’re a Big Waste Problem

By Dan Nosowitz

Those little produce stickers are ubiquitous fruits and vegetables everywhere. But, as CBC notes, they're actually a significant problem despite their small size.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners

Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

EPA Sued Over Failure to Release Correspondence With Heartland Institute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Aerial photo of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability

Trump Administration Seeks to Gut Water Pollution Safeguards, Putting Communities at Risk

By Mary Anne Hitt

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't make this up. One day after new data revealed widespread toxic water contamination near coal ash disposal sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced a proposal to repeal the very 2015 EPA safeguards that had required this data to be tracked and released in the first place. Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!