The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—the world's largest trade association for food, beverages and consumer products—has issued a road map to its member companies on how to comply with Vermont's precedent-setting law that requires the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), even though the powerful organization has heavily lobbied and spent eye-popping sums to fight state-by-state labeling mandates.
Photo credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com
Is Big Food Throwing in the Towel on GMO Labeling?
The GMA, which represents more than 300 food and beverage titans such as ConAgra, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Hershey, has posted on its website a six page, 29-point FAQ [Frequently Asked Questions] document in order "to respond to questions that companies have about compliance with the Vermont law," Roger Lowe, the executive vice president of GMA's Strategic Communications, told EcoWatch in an email.
EcoWatch was made aware of this FAQ after a tipster sent us a copy of an earlier version of the document that was last updated on Aug. 3, 2015.
In the document, the GMA offers a bevy of guidelines for its companies on how to comply with Vermont's label law set to take effect July 1, 2016, even though the GMA has slapped lawsuits on the state to block the labeling law, and has spent millions in lobbying against mandatory labels at the state and federal level.
Their FAQ brings up points such as the specific language that can be used on a label, what the label should look like, where it should be placed, financial penalties for noncompliance, whether or not the word "natural" can be used for GMO-foods (prohibited by Vermont), and even whether or not GMO-food sold from restaurants or vending machines would require labeling (they don't).
Although the GMA expresses outright that this document is "NOT legal advice" and "it is up to each company to unilaterally decide its own course of action," just the existence of this FAQ suggests that Big Food companies are preparing a transition to labeling their GMO products, or at least in Vermont.
But there's a larger picture: If (or when) Vermont's mandate kicks in next year, it could have far-reaching implications for the labeling of GMO food products in the U.S.
Vermont Wins the Right to Know
The case for labeling GMO food has been boiling over in recent years, and in May 2014, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to do just that. Unsurprisingly, the law was immediately shunned by the GMA and the organization sued the state, claiming GMOs are "safe and have important benefits for people and our planet." It would be too burdensome and costly for national food and beverage manufacturers to make a special GMO label for Vermont but not for the other 49 states, is how the argument against labels basically goes.
In June 2014, the GMA, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, asked for a preliminary injunction against implementation of the Vermont labeling law at the state's District Court. District Judge Christina Reiss denied the request, so the groups promptly filed a joint appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City. Opening arguments for Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. Sorrell, Case No. 15-1504, were heard earlier this month.
Unless the Second Circuit panel rules in favor with the food groups, or a federal law supersedes Vermont (more on that later), Vermont's labeling law could open the door for at least 30 other states considering GMO label laws, such as Connecticut and Maine that are waiting on neighboring states to pass similar legislation before triggering their own GMO labeling laws.
Public Opinion on GMOs
So why did the GMA bother to float around a FAQ document guiding its members on how to accommodate Vermont's new GMO labeling mandate—something they've been fighting tooth and nail?
The document suggests that the food industry is responding to U.S. consumer wariness over GMOs, according to Scott Faber, the vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, who has seen a copy of the document.
An oft-cited statistic is that 93 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMOs, and that at least 64 countries have either banned GMOs or require labels. The sentiment is compounded with the World Health Organization's infamous classification of glyphosate—the main ingredient in biotech giant Monsanto's popular weedkiller Roundup—as a possible carcinogen.
"It's evidence that the industry is recognizing that they face a steep climb, and the time has come to prepare for labeling," said Faber, who is also the executive director of the Just Label It campaign that advocates for mandatory labeling of GMO foods.
The Elephant in the Room
Now, the federal bill. Vermont's labeling law could be completely undermined with the passage of a national standard for labeling GMO food and beverages. And that might actually happen.
This past July, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599. The bill bans states from requiring GMO labels on food, blocks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labeling and allows food companies to continue to make "natural" claims for foods containing GMO ingredients. The bill has been dubbed the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" Act or DARK Act by opponents.
Lowe told EcoWatch that the GMA "supports a uniform national standard for GMO labeling so that consumers have the same labeling rules and regulations regardless of where they live or shop, not a patchwork of different state labeling mandates that are confusing and costly to consumers."
However, as POLITCO said in a report, the GMA is "advocating for an industry-friendly law with a voluntary federal standard—a move that food activists see as a power grab by an industry that has tried to kill GMO labeling initiatives every step of the way."
The fate of GMO labeling is now in the hands of the Senate. On Wednesday, the Senate's Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held its fourth hearing on the topic of GMO food.
During the hearing, the consensus from nearly all of the Senate Agriculture committee and the panel members providing testimony was that GMOs are safe and that mandatory labeling for foods that contain GMOs would be too burdensome for food companies and manufacturers.
This tweet from Wednesday, indicates that the GMA seemed pleased by what was said in the hearing:
Senate Agriculture Hearing Highlights Safety of GMOs and Urgent Need for Passage of National Labeling Standard https://t.co/8XVC0BrTO8— GroceryManufacturers (@GroceryManufacturers)1445451444.0
“While we continue our efforts in federal court to challenge Vermont's state labeling law, the court process could take years until full resolution, and will certainly not be concluded prior to the implementation of the Vermont law in just over eight months. That leaves only Congress with the authority to prevent this law and others like it from enactment," said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in a statement after the hearing.
“It is critically important that Congress act this year to prevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year and spreading across the country," she concluded.
Time will tell if the mostly Republican-backed bill will reach the Senate floor, but currently no Democrat Senator has agreed step up to bat for it.
"The truth of the matter is that Congress is unlikely to come to the industry's rescue," EWG's Faber explained to EcoWatch about the likelihood of a Senate-backed bill. "Nothing changes the fact that passing legislation to deny the right of Americans to know what is in their food is an uphill climb."
The Organic Food Movement
The debate over the human safety and environmental impacts of GMOs is, in a word, polarizing. While many consumers, scientific minds and agricultural industries deem these products safe and aid global food insecurity, there are just as many individuals in these same camps who think the exact opposite.
Amid the controversy of labeling GMOs, more and more U.S. consumers are buying organic food and products. According to the latest Organic Survey from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, sales from organic farms across the country boomed last year, with consumer spending up 72 percent since 2008.
Many major restaurants and food brands have also transitioned away from GMOs on their own. In April, Chipotle removed genetically modified ingredients from its menu, making it the first major restaurant chain to take this step. Vermont's own Ben & Jerry's has been GMO-free since 2013.
In recent news, Wendy's, McDonald's and Gerber have decided to not sell or use the Arctic apple, the first genetically engineered apple approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The "Natural" Label Fight
Another interesting question raised by the GMA in their FAQ addresses use of the word "natural" for food products containing GMOs, a designation that the GMA has been actively seeking from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since Dec. 2013.
"Natural" or "all natural" is a famously dubious food description that the FDA has not defined. As such, labeling GMO products as "natural" was made illegal by Vermont's GMO labeling law. However, as the GMA notes in its document, this specific condition could change after the Second Circuit case or if the topic enters into higher courts.
How should companies address “natural" claims on labels given the Vermont trial court's favorable response on this issue?
The Vermont law bans the use of the specific terms “natural," “naturally," and “nature" on labels of food containing GE ingredients. The state has clarified in its Annotated Rule that this also includes any advertising at the physical retail premises and includes in-store advertisements. This is regardless of the type of media (printed circulars, window signs, billboards, television commercials, or other digital displays).
This suggests that the next big food labeling brouhaha could center on the definition of the word "natural," so it looks like this GMO food fight is only heating up.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Fifteen states are in for an unusually noisy spring.
- Millions of Cicadas Set to Emerge After 17 Years Underground ... ›
- Cicadas Show Up 4 Years Early - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Deep in the woods, a hairy, ape-like man is said to be living a quiet and secluded life. While some deny the creature's existence, others spend their lives trying to prove it.
- Why Hunting Isn't Conservation, and Why It Matters - Rewilding ›
- Decline In Hunters Threatens How U.S. Pays For Conservation : NPR ›
- Is Hunting Conservation? Let's examine it closely ›
- Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation | Oklahoma ... ›
- Oklahoma Bill Calls for Bigfoot Hunting Season | Is Bigfoot Real? ›
By Jon Queally
Noted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben was among the first to celebrate word that the president of the European Investment Bank on Wednesday openly declared, "To put it mildly, gas is over" — an admission that squares with what climate experts and economists have been saying for years if not decades.
- Fossil Fuel Industry Is Now 'in the Death Knell Phase': CNBC's Jim ... ›
- Mayors of 12 Major Global Cities Pledge Fossil Fuel Divestment ... ›
- World's Largest Public Bank Ditches Oil and Coal in Victory for the ... ›
Nine feet tall is gigantic by human standards, but when researcher and conservationist Michael Brown spotted a giraffe in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park that measured nine feet, four inches, he was shocked.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="54af350ee3a2950e0e5e69d926a55d83"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yf4NRKzzTFk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
- Giraffe Parts Sold Across U.S. Despite Plummeting Wild Populations ... ›
- Green Groups Sue to Get Giraffes on Endangered Species List ... ›
- Conservationists Sound Alarm on Plummeting Giraffe Numbers ... ›
By Daisy Simmons
1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
- 5 Ways to Be an Eco-Friendly Pet Owner - EcoWatch ›
- Can Your Pets Get and Transmit Coronavirus? - EcoWatch ›