Food Lobby’s 'Highest Priority' Is Fighting GMO Labeling in California
Grocery Manufacturers Association Long-time Obstructionist of Public Health
In case you had any doubt that California’s Prop 37—which would require labeling of food containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)—is a significant threat to industry, a top food lobby has now made it perfectly clear.
In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative “is the single-highest priority for GMA this year.”
You may not know the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but its members represent the nation’s largest food makers—those with the most at stake in the battle over GMO labeling. For example, soft drink and snack giant PepsiCo, cereal makers Kellogg and General Mills, and of course, biotech behemoth Monsanto.
According to state filing reports, so far GMA has spent $375,000 on its efforts to oppose the labeling measure, with its members adding additional out-of-state lobbying power in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Never mind polling demonstrating that a whopping 90 percent of Californians think they deserve the right to know what they are eating. GMA also won’t bother to mention the more than 40 other nations (including the European Union, Brazil and China) that already require food makers to disclose GMOs.
Big Food Lobbying to Undermine Health
This is hardly the first time the nation’s most powerful trade association of food manufacturers has marshaled its resources to oppose common-sense food and nutrition policy—at both the national and state levels.
As I documented in my book, Appetite for Profit, for years GMA flexed its lobbying muscle in state legislatures all over the country fighting bills that were simply trying to remove junk food and soda from school vending machines.
Big Food lobbyists have also banded together to vociferously fight any attempt to restrict out of control junk food marketing to children on TV and other media.
For example, in 2005, GMA was a founding member of the Alliance for American Advertising, whose stated purpose was to defend the food industry’s alleged First Amendment right to advertise to children and to promote voluntary self-regulation as an alternative to government action.
More recently, the Grocery Manufacturers Association was among leading trade groups and corporations opposing the federal government’s attempt to improve industry’s own voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children. As this Reuters special report from April explains, GMA’s chief lobbyist visited the White House last July along with several top food industry representatives (including from Nestle, Kellogg and General Mills) to scuttle an effort by four federal agencies that would have protected children from predatory junk food marketing.
But Food Makers Love Labels Don’t They?
It seems rather ironic that the same food makers taking advantage of every inch of food packaging space to convince shoppers to purchase its products would object so strongly to labeling for something they claim is not harmful.
Indeed in recent years, the federal government, in recognizing that food companies’ so-called “front of package” labeling is so out of control that it commissioned not one but two Institute of Medicine reports to make recommendations to fix the problem and un-confuse consumers.
Unwilling to tolerate government intervention designed to help Americans, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has been aggressively promoting its own new nutrition labeling scheme it calls “Facts Up Front.” But as Food Politics author Marion Nestle has explained, this is an obvious end-run around the feds. Here is how the food industry describes its own voluntary program:
Facts Up Front is a nutrient-based labeling system that summarizes important information from the Nutrition Facts Panel in a simple and easy-to-use format on the front of food and beverage packages.
Translation: We are repeating information already required on the back of the package, now placing it in a format we like better on the front.
See how that works? The food industry is always in charge. That’s why the nation’s largest packaged food lobby and its members are shaking in its boots over 90 percent of Californians wanting to see GMO labeling on food.
And no wonder, because as GMA President Bailey correctly warned her audience: “If California wins, you need to be worried the campaign will come to your state.”
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.