Quantcast

It’s a Fact: 'Peel Back the Label' Is Bound to Fail

Insights + Opinion

About 10 years ago, Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBST or rBGH, was in trouble. Leading dairy processors and major supermarket chains, such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger and Safeway were banning the use of rBST in dairy production. Monsanto had big plans for rBST, which is injected into cows to increase milk production. But consumers didn't like the idea of consuming milk, one of the the most wholesome foods, with GMO hormones. As a result, dairy products labeled "rBST-free" became common.

To counter consumer opposition, a Monsanto PR firm launched a "grassroots advocacy group" with a slick website called "American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology" (AFACT). The aim was to defend farmers' use of rBST and "educate" the public about it.


AFACT failed miserably—that's a fact. It's long gone along with its website—like it never existed. Monsanto ended up selling off rBST to Elanco, which also recently sold it, and today, "rBST-free" is a dairy industry standard.

AFACT's failure reminds me of a new campaign called "Peel Back the Label," which claims to be a campaign of "America's dairy farmers"—or is it the creation of another PR firm? PBTL, which isn't nearly as catchy an acronym as AFACT, aims to rally consumers to fight "deceptive food labeling," particularly non-GMO claims. Consumers are encouraged to take action and share their own examples of misleading non-GMO labels.

AFACT and PBTL are classic examples of the types of front groups and campaigns described in the excellent book, Trust Us We're the Experts, by John Stauber, founder of the Center for Media and Democracy and PR Watch. To get their message across more effectively, corporations or organizations will create "independent" organizations to further their agenda. The aim being to convince the public that an "expert" third-party organization says, for example, that rBST is good for dairy farmers and consumers. The tobacco industry is notorious for funding such front groups as the "Center for Consumer Freedom" to defend the rights of consumers to smoke as they pleased. In this case, PBTL's aim is to convince people that non-GMO labels are misleading and capitalizing on consumer fears.

One of PBTL's targets is Dannon and their Non-GMO Project Verified yogurts. PBTL says Dannon's decision to go non-GMO is "deceptive, fear-based marketing that is confusing to consumers and damaging to the environment."

The reality is that Dannon and other companies are selling non-GMO products because people want them. According to the Hartman Group's 2017 Health & Wellness Study, more than half of Americans are looking for non-GMO food and beverages. According to a 2017 survey by the food industry-supported International Food Information Council, more than a quarter of consumers are choosing foods because they have non-GMO labels. A more recent survey by international market research firm GfK found that nearly half of consumers, 48 percent, report that "free from GMO ingredients" along with "low sugar or sugar-free" are the important factors when deciding which food or beverage product to eat or drink.

The fact is that more and more people want "clean" labeled foods with simpler and fewer ingredients and non-GMO is part of that trend.

Peel Back the Label and whoever is behind it are fighting that trend; they want to continue keeping consumers in the dark and don't want them to know that the majority of dairy cows are fed GMO grains like corn and soybeans. They are losing, and Peel Back the Label is bound to fail as AFACT did 10 years ago.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

View of an Ivorian cleared forest at the edge of the 35.000 hectares Peko Mont National Park on Oct. 8, 2016. The Mont Péko National Park is located in the west of Ivory Coast where the forest officers fight with illegal immigrants to protect an exceptional flora and fauna, espacially dwarf elephants. SIA KAMBOU / AFP / Getty Images

Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The Apusiaajik Glacier, as seen from Kulusuk village in East Greenland. Like most glaciers in Greenland, it's retreating rapidly, changing the local landscape year by year. Photo credit: Karin Kirk

By Karin Kirk

Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.

During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.

Read More Show Less

Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.

Read More Show Less
Chicago skyline on July 22 as high winds continue to push the waters of Lake Michigan over the top of the pedestrian and bike trail along the lakefront in Chicago. Raymond Boyd / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

By Daniel Macfarlane

Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. Some years the beach extends more than three meters to the water. This year, in many spots, there was no beach at all.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Insects like bees, butterflies and even certain species of beetle and ant incidentally pollinate our crops when they collect protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar. Rolf Dietrich Brecher / CC BY 2.0

By Kerstin Palme

Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.

But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.

Read More Show Less
Swedish automaker Volvo unveils its first electric vehicle the XC40 Recgarge EV, during an event in Los Angeles on Oct. 16. Frederic J. BROWN / AFP / Getty Images

Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.

Read More Show Less
Cars are queued in Turin, Italy in August. Particulate matter levels were the highest in Italy, Poland and the Balkans countries. Nicolò Campo / LightRocket / Getty Images

Air pollution in Europe led to more than 400,000 early deaths in 2016, according to the most recent air quality report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less