The High Cost of Fighting GMO Labeling


November 4th is less than a month away and ballots across the country will carry important votes that could set strong precedences for furthering the health of our nation. Two such bills are Colorado’s Proposition 105 and Oregon’s Initiative 92 which require mandatory labeling on all products that contain genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

We watched when Washington’s labeling law, Initiative 522, was rejected at the polls, in no small part due to anti-GMO labeling fundraising:  $22 million in donations from the likes of Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences, and Bayer CropScience. This year in the fundraising department it looks like Colorado and Oregon prop opponents are getting more of the same backing.

The Cornucopia Institute has published this compelling info-graphic describing those companies who have donated for and against both CO prop 105 and OR I-92 bill. The research is helping consumers like us understand which big food conglomerates are fighting tooth and nail to squelch these “Right to Know” campaigns. From their press release:

Many consumers will likely be surprised to learn that owners and management of some of their favorite organic and natural brands are fighting against the right of consumers to know what is in their food,” says Mark Kastel, Co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group. “We want to spotlight this issue so that consumers can vote in the marketplace for manufacturers and brands that reflect their personal values.”

GRAPHIC: courtesy of Cornucopia Institute

To date, according to Cornucopia research, opponents of the bills have raised over $15.1 million, while the supporters have raised $3.3. This is not a measure of support, mind you, it is a measure of how much money these food conglomerates have to lose when these bills pass. While some of the brand names of opponents on Cornucopia’s graphic may be obvious (Monsanto, Kraft, Del Monte, Cargill, etc. . ) some have marketed themselves to the “natural food” consumer (Larabar, Santa Cruz, Honest Tea, Burt’s Bees, etc.).

Some folks who are not necessarily Big Food industry backers find a flaw in GMO labeling initiatives. Grist’s Nathanael Johnson, in his article 10 things that would fix the food system faster than GMO labeling, argues that these labels will do little to change the big problems in our food system. His “ten things” include extremely important ideas such as: 1) ban the advertising of unhealthy foods to kids; 2) institute measures to improve farm animal welfare; 3) guarantee farmworkers’ right to make a decent wage.

Michael Pollan tweeted in response to Johnson’s article, “Can’t we have both?” While GMOs are not the only problem with our food system, understanding what our food is made of via labeling is a huge step toward respecting consumers’ right to know.  

Some typical Big Food industry supporters are also letting go of the party line and speaking out against GMOs. In a remarkably well-informed speech given at a General Mills shareholder meeting, Harriet Crosby, the great-granddaughter of a General Mills co-founder, passionately asked the board to eliminate GMOs from their products. Posted in a Friends of the Earth blog, her decree is hopefully a sign of a more informed public demanding a safer and healthier food system.

As a proud stockholder, I am concerned about our reputation as a company that uses genetically modified organisms. I think we can do better and improve our brand and the value of General Mills by eliminating GMOs from our products."

With the amount of money poured into these two campaigns, these ballot initiatives may not be a typical “let the voters decide” situation. However, whether they pass or not, they are important steps in using our political will to raise awareness about food literacy and make positive changes to our food system. If you want to make sure that they pass, head on over to Right to Know Colorado and  Oregon Right to Know to show your support.

PHOTO: via flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson 


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