Full list: GMO News

Media Matters: National TV News Silent On Congressional Plan To Prevent Labeling Of Genetically Modified Foods

In recent weeks, major broadcast networks and primetime cable news programs have completely ignored debate and passage of a House bill that would prevent states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring labels for foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Consumer rights advocates, environmental groups, and the vast majority of Americans support the right to know whether foods contain GMOs.

UPDATE: Rep. Conyers Responds To “Lack Of News Coverage” Of Congress’ Anti-GMO Labeling Bill [Media Matters7/24/15]

Bill That Would Block States, FDA From Requiring GMO Labels Moving Through Congress

Anti-GMO Labeling Bill Passed By The House Would Nullify States’ Laws On Food Labels. On July 23, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would block states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from requiring GMO labels on food products. The bill will now head to the Senate, as McClatchy reported:

A bill that would prevent state and local governments from requiring labels on genetically modified foods passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday after contentious debate, 275-150.

The bill now heads to the Senate. If enacted into law, it would nullify labeling laws that already have passed in three states but have yet to take effect, in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.

At least 15 other states have introduced legislation to impose similar regulations on food made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But it’s been an uphill battle in many places, with strong opposition from the food industry helping to defeat anti-GMO proposals in California and Washington state, among others.

Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas and his Democratic colleague, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, championed the bill that passed the House on Thursday.

Their Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would replace state and local laws with a voluntary GMO-free certification program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [McClatchy, 7/23/15]

Bill Would Also Allow Companies To Label Food Products “Natural” Even If They Contain Genetically Modified Ingredients. As Iowa Public Radio reported, the House-passed bill “expands the definition of ‘natural’ – already a nebulous term with few strict standards – to include some genetically modified ingredients.” The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that “would have banned the use of the term ‘natural’ on food that contains a genetically engineered plant,” as The Hill noted. [Iowa Public Radio, 7/23/15; The Hill, 7/23/15]

Environmental Working Group: Bill Would Even Obstruct Voluntary GMO Labeling. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) stated that the bill would not only prevent states from implementing mandatory GMO labeling, but would also complicate the process for any food manufacturers to voluntarily label GMO foods, possibly delaying voluntary labeling for years. EWG concluded that “the real intent” of the bill is to stop “both mandatory GMO labeling and voluntary non-GMO claims” (emphasis original):

[S]ection 102 of  Pompeo’s bill would make any non-GMO claim a violation of federal labeling law – unless the non-GMO claim was approved through a new certification program to be established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under Pompeo’s bill, it could take the USDA at least a year, and more likely years to set up such a certification program. After all, it took ten years to publish the rule implementing the National Organic Program.

In the meantime, food companies would have no way [to] inform consumers that their products didn’t contain GMO ingredients.

[…]

Taken together, it’s clear that the real intent of the new version of the DARK Act is to end all claims related to genetically modified ingredients – including both mandatory GMO labeling and voluntary non-GMO claims. [EWG, 6/22/15]

Major TV News Shows Completely Ignored Bill As It Moved Through House

Broadcast Programs, Primetime Cable Shows Ignored Advancement Of Anti-GMO Labeling Bill. Since it began to be marked up by the House Agriculture Committee on July 14, the major broadcast networks and primetime cable news shows have completely ignored the anti-GMO labeling bill.* [Congress.gov, accessed 7/24/15]

By Contrast, Local CBS Affiliate In Vermont Reported On Bill’s Passage. The House vote did receive coverage on CBS’ local affiliate in Burlington, Vermont. Vermont has passed the strongest mandatory GMO-labeling bill, which is set to take effect in July 2016 but is now at risk. On the July 24 edition of Channel 3 News Early Morning, anchor Eva McKend reported that the House bill “could reverse” Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and that Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell “says the House is listening to Big Food manufacturers rather than helping people.” [WCAX-TV, Channel 3 News Early Morning, 7/24/15]

GMO Labeling Has Widespread Support From Consumer Rights Advocates, Environmental Groups, And Vast Majority Of Americans

Consumer Reports’ Advocacy Arm: House Bill Is “Contrary To What Consumers Clearly Want And Need.” Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to oppose the bill, which it said “is contrary to what consumers clearly want and need.” Consumers Union added that the bill “interferes with the democratic process, and the long-recognized role of states to enact laws that respond to their citizens’ desires for consumer information that helps them make decisions in the marketplace.” [ConsumersUnion.org, 7/17/15]

Center For Food Safety Exec. Dir.: “Corporate Influence Has Won And The Voice Of The People Has Been Ignored.” The Center for Food Safety “expressed deep disappointment” in the bill’s passage, noting in a statement that “over 300 farmer, consumer and environmental groups opposed the bill.” Andrew Kimbrell, the group’s executive director, said the bill’s passage “is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored.” [Center for Food Safety, 7/23/15]

NRDC Attorney: House Is “Trying To Keep Us In The Dark About What Is In Our Food.” Mae Wu, a health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), called the bill “concerning,” and said House members who support the bill are “trying to keep us in the dark about what is in our food.” [NRDC Switchboard, 7/22/15]

EWG: House Voted To “Deny Americans The Right To Know What’s In Their Food.” In a statement on the Environmental Working Group’s website, EWG Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Faber said:

It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans. … Today’s vote to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown was a foregone conclusion. This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food. [EWG, 7/23/15]

Union of Concerned Scientists: GMO Foods Should Be Labeled So “Consumers Can Make Informed Decisions.” In a section of its website devoted to “Genetic Engineering in Agriculture,” the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) stated that policy makers should “[s]upport food labeling laws that require foods containing [genetically engineered or GE] crops to be clearly identified as such, so that consumers can make informed decisions about supporting GE applications in agriculture.” UCS also said that although the risks from genetic engineering “are often exaggerated or misrepresented,” GE crops still “have the potential to cause a variety of health problems and environmental impacts”:

While the risks of genetic engineering are often exaggerated or misrepresented, GE crops do have the potential to cause a variety of health problems and environmental impacts. For instance, they may spread undesirable traits to weeds and non-GE crops, produce new allergens and toxins, or harm animals that consume them.

At least one major environmental impact of genetic engineering has already reached critical proportions: overuse of herbicide-tolerant GE crops has spurred an increase in herbicide use and an epidemic of herbicide-resistant “superweeds,” which will lead to even more herbicide use.

How likely are other harmful GE impacts to occur? This is a difficult question to answer. Each crop-gene combination poses its own set of risks. While risk assessments are conducted as part of GE product approval, the data are generally supplied by the company seeking approval, and GE companies use their patent rights to exercise tight control over research on their products.

In short, there is a lot we don’t know about the long-term and epidemiological risks of GE–which is no reason for panic, but a good reason for caution, particularly in view of alternatives that are more effective and economical. [Union of Concerned Scientists, accessed 7/24/15]

Associated Press Poll: Strong Majority Of Americans Support GMO Labeling. On January 13, the Associated Press reported that a December AP-GfK poll found that “66 percent of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7 percent are opposed to the idea, and 24 percent are neutral.” The AP added that the portion of Americans who say it is very or extremely important to know whether a product contains GMOs is “higher than the share who say it’s important to know whether a food is organic, and about on par with the share saying they consider the amount of protein in a food an important factor.” [Associated Press, 1/13/15]
*According to a Nexis search of GMO or “genetically modified” for all news shows on PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC, and the primetime news shows on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN, from when the bill began to be marked up by the House Agriculture Committee on July 14 until the time of this publication. 


Burlington Free Press: Neil Young rocks VT, talks GMOs

By Brent Hollenbeck
7/20/15
Full Article

ESSEX JUNCTION – Neil Young had barely said anything to the crowd a half hour into his sold-out concert Sunday night until he and his band got ready to play “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”

Then he paid tribute to the state whose law requiring labeling for a controversial agricultural practice was a big part of the reason he came to Essex Junction.

“Strong Vermont — standing up while other states are lying down!” he yelled to loud cheers.

Young’s appearance — the rock legend’s first-ever headlining show in the state — was more than a concert. It was a chance for Young to spread the word about genetically modified organisms, which he worries might be harmful to the health of people who eat foods containing GMOs.

Vermont passed a law mandating labeling of foods containing GMOs, a law that food manufacturers are fighting in court. Young supports the law and references Vermont’s fight on his new album, “The Monsanto Years.”

A half-dozen booths highlighting agricultural and environmental organizations lined the midway lawn outside the Champlain Valley Exposition’s grandstand, where the concert was held. One booth was run by an organization called GMO Free USA.

Diana Reeves, executive director of GMO Free USA, said Young’s inclusion of her organization on his national tour brings the issue to music fans who might have otherwise not known about it.

“The reception has been very positive,” according to Reeves, who said people in farm-centered communities such as Lincoln, Nebraska have frequented the booth. “When people find out what’s been done to their food they’re horrified.”

Young and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin held a backstage press conference after sound check just before 6 p.m. Sunday. Young announced that he donated $100,000 to Vermont’s legal fight against the GMO-labeling lawsuit and asked the state’s “high rollers” who support the law to do the same.

“I’m just a rock-n-roller who believes people should know what they’re eating,” Young said. “There’s so much that we don’t know, and people deserve freedom of choice.”

Barbara Fitzpatrick and Scott Lynk, a couple from Vergennes, said they’ve been listening to Young’s music since the 1970s. They said they like the variety of his folk-meets-rock music and the quality of his lyrics.

“He always has something to say,” according to Lynk. He also likes that Young told presidential candidate Donald Trump to stop using Young’s song “Rockin’ in the Free World” at campaign events and instead granted use of his song to the presidential candidate Young favors, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

They’re happy that Young is addressing concerns about GMOs. “We would come anyway but we like that he’s taking it on” Fitzpatrick said at a picnic table on the fairground’s midway. She was eating garlic chicken from The Skinny Pancake and the namesake food from Al’s French Frys before the concert.

“When we shop (for food) we know what we’re buying,” she said.

“We try to buy locally” and avoid mass-produced food, Lynk added.

He expected Young’s concert to reach people unfamiliar with concerns about GMOs. “He has a lot of fans,” Lynk said. More than 10,000 of those fans were expected at Sunday’s show.

“People listen to him,” Fitzpatrick said, “and pay attention.”


Natural Products Insider: House Committee Moves Congress Closer to Stifling Vermont’s GMO Labeling Bill

By Josh Long
7/15/15
Full Article

The House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would thwart Vermont’s requirement to label genetically engineered (GE) foods, moving one step closer to a federal solution in the escalating national debate over food labeling.

If enacted into law, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 would preempt states from requiring GE labels and create a voluntary national labeling regime. The bill, first introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), has changed through discussions between the House Agriculture Committee and the Commerce Committee.

The legislation would create a program administered by USDA through which foods could be certified as being produced with or without genetic engineering, with a seal identifying covered products. Foods produced through genetic engineering have been in the food supply for about two decades, according to FDA.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) urged the House and Senate to pass the amended bill. The powerful trade association has been fighting Vermont’s attorney general in federal court to overturn the nation’s first GE labeling law. Vermont’s Act 120—requiring labeling of GE foods and preventing such foods from being marketed as “natural”—is set to take effect next summer. Connecticut and Maine also have labeling laws, but they won’t take effect unless neighboring states pass similar legislation.

Just Label It, an organization that favors mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, on Monday blasted the latest version of Pompeo’s bill. Critics last year dubbed the legislation the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.

Among other provisions that have angered critics, the House bill would prevent states and local governments from imposing any requirements regarding GE plants that are not identical to a requirement under section 461 of the Plant Protection Act (PPA). USDA is responsible for ensuring GE plants pose no risk of pests to other plants.

“The DARK Act has always been a bad bill, but these new provisions are a drastic government overreach by undermining the ability of state or local governments from placing safeguards around production of GMO crops,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the yogurt maker Stonyfield and chairman of Just Label It, in a statement. “Moreover, we know consumers already believe so-called ‘natural’ foods are GMO-free, and this bill will write that confusion into law.”

The House legislation would require FDA to examine the safety profile of new GE foods, replacing a voluntary consultation process that is currently in effect. As of 2012, FDA had completed 95 consultations on a number of crops, including canola, corn, cottonwood and soybean.

A number of government and research bodies have not identified safety concerns with GE foods, but consumers and others continue to question the effects of genetic engineering on the environment and whether bioengineered foods are truly benign. Consumer advocacy groups say consumers have a right to know what is in their food and point to 64 countries around the world that require labels on GE foods.

FDA would have authority under the bill to require labeling on GE foods, but only if two requirements were satisfied. First, the agency would need to find “a meaningful difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between” the relevant food and a comparable food. Second, the labeling disclosure must be “necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading.”

In testimony last month on Capitol Hill, Vermont Assistant Attorney General Todd Daloz urged lawmakers to reject the House legislation.

The bill not only would kill Vermont’s Act 120, Daloz said, it would “provide only an incomplete federal structure for the labeling of GE foods, and one that lacks any meaningful statutory standards and places much, if not all, of the responsibility for creating the structure in the hands of a federal agency.”


WCAX: Neil Young joins Vermont GMO fight

Musician donates to Vermont Food Fight Fund
7/2/15
By Rachel Carcz
Full article and video

ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. —With less than a year until Vermont’s GMO law goes into effect, music legend, Neil Young met with Gov. Peter Shumlin to voice his opinion about the GMO labeling controversy.

“I’m just a rock and roller who believes people should know what they’re eating,” Young said.

In his first trip to the Green Mountain State in years, Neil Young had more than just singing on the agenda.

“He called me out of the blue about ten days ago and said, ‘I’m coming to Vermont. I want to help you raise money for the Vermont food fight so you can beat Monsanto, beat the big corporations,’” Shumlin said.

Young has been vocal in the past about transparency in the food industry. Many manufactured foods contain ingredients whose DNA was altered in a lab to improve efficiency. Next year, a new law will take effect that would require food manufacturers to let consumers know if their foods contain GMOs.

“We knew Monsanto and the food manufacturers would sue us. They have, we are now raising money through the Vermont food fight fund to fight back against Monsanto. This is a simple example of corporate greed against people’s right to know what’s in their food and make an informed choice,” Shumlin said.

Before Sunday, the state had raised $450,000. Young donated $100,000 from his ticket sales.

“We would like to see some of the high rollers to come out and match that. Because if you got it, break it out,” Young said.

“This food fight is so critically important because if we win in Vermont, we’ll win in America,” Shumlin said.

If things go as planned, the law will take effect July 2016.


Natural Products Insider: GMO labeling fight heats up on Capitol Hill

By Josh Long
7/2/15
Full Article

The national fight over whether to require labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods has increasingly shifted from the state legislatures to the U.S. Congress.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, last month introduced modified legislation that would not only preempt states from requiring GE labels, local governments and states would be barred from restricting crops that have been genetically modified, according to the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. Opposing legislation in Congress would create a national mandatory labeling standard for GMOs.

“Increasingly this fight has come to Washington D.C. and now legislatures are battling over whether states will retain the right to label genetically engineered foods,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs with the Center for Food Safety, in a phone interview. “We’ve seen legislation introduced on both sides of the issue.”

Debate on Pompeo Bill

In testimony June 18 before a health subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Vermont Assistant Attorney General Todd Daloz urged lawmakers to reject Pompeo’s Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell is charged with implementing and defending Act 120; the Vermont law requires labels on genetically engineered food and takes effect in about a year. But dietary supplements are not subject to the state requirement under a final rule that was adopted by Sorrell’s office.

“If enacted as drafted, H.R. 1599 would have two central, and in my view, negative effects,” Daloz testified, referencing Pompeo’s bill. “The first would be to immediately—upon enactment—cancel existing legislation like Vermont’s Act 120. The second would be to provide only an incomplete federal structure for the labeling of GE foods, and one that lacks any meaningful statutory standards and places much, if not all, of the responsibility for creating the structure in the hands of a federal agency.”

In introducing a version of the bill last year, Pompeo said his legislation affirmed the authority of the FDA to require a label for foods that are considered unsafe and would eliminate the potential for a patchwork of state regulations that could drive up food costs, mislead consumers and burden farmers.

Pompeo’s bill, however, may not have adequate support to get through both chambers of Congress. “This bill faces a really steep climb in the Senate,” said the Center for Food Safety’s O’Neil, “where no Senate Democrat has come out saying they are willing to cosponsor such a preemption bill.”

Vermont Litigation

Only one state in the nation has a GE labeling law that is set to take effect soon: Vermont. That is unless the judiciary finds Act 120 unconstitutional.

A number of food groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have moved to overturn Act 120 in federal court. In April, a federal judge Christina Reiss denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction and indicated she would find constitutional the labeling requirement. The plaintiffs have filed an appeal and recently laid out their arguments for why Act 120 runs afoul of the First Amendment. Still, the initial ruling may have emboldened the states.

“It’s no secret a lot of legislators were waiting to see what happened in Vermont and given the judge’s initial decision, I think that gives state legislators a little more confidence to move forward on this,” O’Neil said.

Supplements and GMO Labels

Whether dietary supplements will be subject to state labeling measures remains to be seen. Under a final rule implementing Act 120, dietary supplements are excluded from the definition of food.

“Our read of the statute was that the Legislature was focused on providing consumers with information about grocery food items and not on the labeling of a tangential category like supplements,” Daloz explained in an emailed statement. “That’s not to say supplements will always be excluded from labeling, but they are currently.”

Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now, a group in favor of GMO labeling, said last year in a phone interview that the “main fight” is not over whether supplements should be labeled.

“People are going into grocery stores and really having no idea what they are feeding their families,” Murphy said. “We believe that people are eating food three times a day. Mothers and families eating their food should know how it’s produced.”

Connecticut and Maine also have passed GE labeling laws that define food broadly, but they don’t take effect unless neighboring states pass similar legislation and it’s unknown whether rules implementing the laws would bring supplements within their scope.

Still, the industry is taking interest in the labeling debate. For instance, the Natural Products Association (NPA) supports a federal solution.

“NPA supports and encourages the voluntary labeling of non GMO foods,” the trade association explains on its website. “NPA believes that consideration of federal law promoting a uniform standard is warranted to avoid separate standards for GMO labeling at the state level.”


Consumer Reports: Don’t weaken GMO labeling American consumers have the right—and overwhelmingly want—to know what’s in their food

June 26, 2015
Full Article

At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we strongly support labels that give consumers valuable, meaningful information about the products they purchase—whether it’s for food, cars, or any other product.

For more than 20 years, we’ve supported the labeling of genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. And consumers agree with us about GMO labeling. Survey after survey, including our own, has shown that more than 90 percent of consumers want GMO foods to be labeled accordingly. Some 64 countries currently require GMO labeling, and several states, including Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, have passed legislation requiring GMO labeling.

But legislation currently moving through Congress would bring these and any future efforts to an end by prohibiting GMO labeling requirements at the local, state, and federal level. The misleadingly named Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) would also make current federal voluntary labeling policy permanent, even though these guidelines have not produced a GMO-labeled product in their 15-year history.

​And that’s not all. A new draft version of this anti-consumer legislation that is being discussed in the House of Representatives is far more sweeping, also barring states and local communities from regulating genetically modified crops in other ways. Several counties in California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington have measures in place that restrict where GMO crops can be grown. The bill would nullify these measures.

Moreover, this new version would also further prevent businesses from creating voluntary labels for non-engineered products that are more stringent than a yet-to-be-determined U.S. Department of Agriculture standard. For example, the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which now appears on thousands of products, establishes a threshold of GMO contamination (0.9 percent). This legislation, however, could potentially force such​ meaningful non-GMO labeling programs to weaken their standards.

Consumers Union strongly opposes this legislation and has called on lawmakers repeatedly to reject it. In letters to Congress, we have also voiced support for other legislative efforts, such as the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act introduced by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled and recognize consumers’ right to know what they’re buying.

And we need your help with GMO labeling. Consumers Union encourages you to make your voice heard and share your support for GMO labeling with your members of Congress. Visit NotInMyFood.org to take action and send Congress the message that you want, and have the right, to know what’s in you food.


Metrowest Daily News: Levin: Agribusiness confuses issues on GMO labeling

By Martin E. Levin
Guest Columnist
May. 16, 2015
Full Article

A federal court has just turned back industry efforts to stop Vermont from enforcing its first-in-the-nation law requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods. Similar labeling legislation is now pending in Massachusetts, and has the support of over 75 percent of the Legislature.

One day after the court decision, a group calling itself the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food pressed the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill (H.R. 1599) that would prohibit such labeling in Vermont, Massachusetts, and every other state. The Coalition includes the four large food trade associations that were unsuccessful in the court case, as well as companies such as Monsanto and Dow – each big agrichemical companies at the forefront of developing and marketing genetically engineered seed.

Independent polls have found that 90 percent of consumers want to know which foods on the grocery shelves were the result of genetic modification taking place in biotech labs over the past two decades, rather than traditional agricultural methods developed over hundreds of years. The Coalition asserts that labeling will confuse consumers and cost them more money at the checkout counter. But the confusion being sown is in no small part due to the lengths, and costs, to which labeling opponents go to defeat consumer demand for transparency.

Coalition claims about genetically engineered seed include that they are good for the environment, increase crop yield, and help keep food production costs down. But the Monsanto seed largely responsible for converting over 80 percent of U.S. corn and soy fields to genetically engineered crops was developed to permit the use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup, even during the growing season. Through genetic manipulation, Monsanto developed corn and soy that could survive glyphosate applications that kill surrounding weeds. The outcome after 20 years of cultivation, as reported by the USGS: Glyphosate use has rocketed from 5,000 to over 80,000 metric tons per year, and glyphosate and its related degradation product now occur widely in the environment. Unsurprisingly, a study published last year in the peer-reviewed journal, Food Chemistry, found high glyphosate and related residues on genetically engineered soybeans, while conventionally and organically grown soybeans had none. Moreover, independent scientific research and reviews have concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, and that glyphosate-based herbicides promote antibiotic resistance.

Independent research has also challenged claims of increased crop yield. For example, one study, published last year in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, analyzed 50 years of yield data for U.S. Midwest corn production and production in comparable corn-growing areas of Western Europe. Western Europe, which has largely rejected the genetic engineering approach promoted in the U.S., had corn yields similar to or slightly higher than the U.S.

Nor do claims of lower cost of production acknowledge the costs to develop and bring a genetically engineered product to market. One study put that cost at $136 million, and this does not even account for the many “false starts” that die in the lab. Seeking to maximize profit in the face of such high R&D costs, agribusiness vigorously defends its patents on its seed. Agribusiness will only “license” farmers to use its genetically engineered seed from year to year, rather than permitting farmers to save seed from one season for reuse in the next. Claims that labeling will cause prices of genetically engineered foods to spike ring hollow when coming from an industry that has been willing to pay over $100 million in the past three years to beat back labeling referenda in a handful of western states.

In light of these and other concerns, what consumers want is something simple – to be told whether foods offered in their grocery stores are part of a production method different in nature from what preceded it for many hundreds of years. Then, they can choose to buy or not. There is nothing confusing about that.

Martin E. Levin, formerly Massachusetts’ chief environmental prosecutor, practices environmental law in Framingham.


Eater: Neil Young’s New Music Video Mocks Starbucks, Monsanto, and GMOs

By Khushbu Shah

Folk legend and environmental activist Neil Young has released the first music video from his anti-GMO concept album, The Monsanto Years, with his band Young and Promise of the Real. The song, titled “Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop,” pokes fun at Starbucks, agrochemical giant Monstanto, and genetically modified organisms.

In the video, Young, while singing lyrics like “I want a cup of coffee, but I don’t want a GMO. I’d like to start my day off, without helping Monsanto,” throws Starbucks cups at the camera alongside members of his backing band, which include Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. It’s no surprise that the first single focuses on Starbucks. Young announced last last year that he was boycotting the coffee giant because of its association with Monsanto. Time writes that the agrochemical company “lobbied against proposed legislation in Vermont to label GMOs.”

The album — which rails against the billion-dollar GMO business and its corporate supporters — is set to be released at the end of June. Young and his band will go on an (GMO-free) tour this summer, starting in July.


Burlington Free Press: Vermont businesses ride GMO-free ‘megatrend’

Emilie Teresa Stigliani
May 31, 2015
Full Article

After a long scan of the organic-vegetable cooler, Penelope Wall added several items to her cart.

“Oh my gosh!” Wall said. “I’m about to spend $5 on a bag of baby cucumbers.”

She pinched one of the bright green gherkins and added, “But they look really crunchy and I’m excited to eat one.”

Wall picked her way through City Market’s eclectic-but-lightly-stocked produce section on a Sunday afternoon in May. The Burlington mother of two toddlers, who were napping at home, said she tries to shop organic and local. Her reasons include the desire to get the freshest food possible, to support community agriculture and to avoid genetically modified organisms.

Wall’s preference of avoiding GMOs contributes to a market for non-GMO labeled food that’s predicted to reach $264 billion in 2017, according to a 2013 article by FoodNavigator-USA, a publication that covers the North American food and beverage industries.

Allison Weinhagen, community engagement director of Burlington’s City Market, said the coop receives few requests to carry more non-GMO labeled products.

“My guess is that our customers already expect us to have these types of products, which we do, and that some of our vendors are headed in the non-GMO labeling direction already,” she said.

Wall, 35, said she hasn’t done enough research to feel certain that GMOs are harmful, she feels equally uncertain about including them in her family’s diet.

“If it’s easy enough and affordable enough to avoid GMOs, I’d rather not buy them,” she said.

Wall also fits into the results of a national survey, reported by FoodNavigator-USA, of 2,000 U.S. adults. Consumers “most concerned” about GMOs, according to the 2013 survey, were urban middle-class mothers in their mid-30s with young children.

While Wall tries to steer clear of GMOs, she’s not militant.

“I tend to buy organic because it’s non-GMO, but then I’ll buy Cheerios,” Wall said. Her children both have food allergies, and she knows that Cheerios are safe for them to eat. Cheerios claim to be GMO-free but have no official certification.

Wall said she supports a more consistent labeling policy, like the one passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2014. Even though, she considers herself a “pretty well-informed” shopper — she worked for a number of years at Shelburne-based EatingWell Magazine — she feels like it’s hard to know if GMOs are present in a product unless she buys organic. A USDA Organic certification automatically means that a product is free of GMOs.

Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Vermont’s GMO labeling bill into law on May 8, 2014, to the applause of proponents and the threat of litigation by food industry manufacturers. The law, which is written to require products containing GMOs to be labeled as such, is slated to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

As the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association and other industry groups fight Vermont’s GMO-labeling law in advance of its enactment, some small Vermont businesses, as well as the multi-billion-dollar Whole Foods grocery chain, are instead focused on responding to a market demand and embracing GMO-free labeling.

“It’s a growing segment that customers are looking for,” Vermont Retail & Grocers Association President Jim Harrison said during a May 12 interview.

Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture seems to be taking note. The department recently developed a process for voluntary GMO-free certification, according to the Associated Press.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture employees that this label was spurred by a request from a “leading global company.” In the same letter, Vilsack stated that companies were “lining up to take advantage of this service.”

Whole Foods has publicly pledged to label all food products in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018. And some Vermont food businesses, facing the state’s deadline, have already certified their products as non-GMO.

Above and beyond the law

Liz Holtz, owner of Waitsfield-based Liz Lovely, began the process of certifying her cookies as GMO-free in July 2013. Holtz said her decision to certify was unrelated to the passage of Act 120, Vermont’s GMO-labeling bill.

“We were choosing that anyway,” Holtz said.

The certification fit with her vision of responsible business practices. That vision includes offering a range of vegan, gluten-free treats and paying her employees a living wage, at least $13 per hour as set by the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Vermont’s law does not require labeling for non-GMO products. A grower or manufacturer could prove a product is GMO-free by signing a sworn statement that the food was not knowingly or intentionally produced or contaminated with GMOs.

State Reps. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, and Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, two of the bill’s original sponsors, said the law was written to place the onus on food producers using GMO technology.

McCullough said his rationale was twofold.

“My personal belief is it is the responsibility for the seller/manufacturer to reveal what their food product contains,” McCullough wrote in an email. “It seems silly to me to require a seller/manufacturer to list all the things their product does not contain.”

Weinhagen, City Market community engagement director, said she supports placing the labeling responsibility on those using GMOs.

“It’s a heated topic,” Weinhagen said. “We look forward to more people going through the verification, for sure, but we still support the legislation. And we think that you should say what goes into the product.”

The state’s GMO law says that no additional verification is required for food that is non-GMO certified by an independent organization approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

Holtz chose to work with third-party verifier Non-GMO Project.

The Washington-based nonprofit touts itself as North America’s fastest-growing third party to offer non-GMO verification and labeling. The nonprofit has verified more than 27,000 products and its monarch-butterfly label can be spotted on almost any shelf in Burlington-area grocery stores.

Ben Maniscalco, owner of Montpelier-based Benito’s Hot Sauce, also chose to certify his fiery condiments with the Non-GMO Project. He started the verification process in September 2013 to show customers that he supported GMO labeling guidelines. He now has five products verified with the organization and two more certifications in the works.

Harrison, of Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, noted that non-GMO labeling bears similarities to gluten-free labeling. When consumers took an interest in avoiding gluten, some companies began labeling their products as gluten-free even if it was never even present in the food.

Non-GMO Project Associate Director Courtney Papineau called non-GMO labeling a “megatrend.”

While there a is a limited list of foods the are high-risk for containing GMOs — such as canola, corn and soy — they can be pervasive in manufactured products, Papineau said.

Papineau noted that some products may seem like they’re low risk but actually contain high-risk ingredients. She gave the example of trail mix that is sprayed with GMO canola oil. She pointed out that only labeling high-risk products could leave a gap in information available to the consumer.

“What we are after is transparency,” Papineau said.

Managing ‘red tape’

Liz Lovely had to wait about six month before the company received its first Non-GMO Project Verified label, said Holtz, who added, “The red tape is a nightmare.”

While Non-GMO Project issues the certification, the scientific review of products must be done by one of four approved companies that specialize in auditing and testing for GMOs. There is a bottleneck in the review process, which the Non-GMO Project is trying to address. When Holtz switched to a new reviewer the process sped up, but at double the cost.

The Non-GMO Project offers no help with finding ingredient substitutes, Holtz said, because of confidentiality issues with other companies. Liz Lovely’s regular cream of tartar vendor was able to find a new source that supplied the unmodified ingredient. The GMO-free version cost only a little more than the brand Holtz previously used.

Holtz — whose 18 employees include one dedicated “compliance guy” — also has gluten-free, vegan and kosher certifications. All those certifications take continued work. For example, a rabbi visits the bakery once a month to maintain the kosher certification.

The Non-GMO Project website states that the price of verification depends on how many products are certified and whether they contain ingredients that are high-GMO-risk ingredients such as corn or soy.

Holtz said her company’s Non-GMO Project Verified label cost $5,000, which excludes the fees paid to the reviewing company for its audit and testing. Holtz spent $2,050 for the initial review and an additional $4,390 for continued monitoring. She noted that the number will go up as Liz Lovely adds new products to its line of cookies.

Maniscalco, on the other hand, has tackled the compliance process for his hot sauces on his own.

“I keep all my records. It was a lot of back and forth with the non-GMO guys,” Maniscalco said. “It was not easy to do.”

He noted that his products have a limited number of ingredients, which makes certification easier. For example, Benito’s Local Tang sauce contains six ingredients, if you don’t distinguish between the different kinds of chile peppers.

Maniscalco said that he spends about $3,000 per year on certifications. Although most of his certifications are with Non-GMO Project, the figure includes two certification with USDA Organic.

Harrison, of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, said it is hard to predict how GMO-free labeling would impact the cost of food.

“There is the cost of the certification, and if you have a high volume of product the cost will be more,” he said referring to the number of different products that one company makes.

Maddie Monty, office manager and policy adviser for Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Vermont, said that she doesn’t feel particularly concerned that GMO-free labeling is going to have an impact the price of foods.

“By embracing the labeling,” she said, “companies might get access to a new market that could help them be more profitable.”

So far, Holtz said that her business has absorbed the cost of the Non-GMO Project verification, but the certification comes at a creative cost. Holtz said before testing any recipes with new ingredients, she will run the ingredients by her compliance expert.

“I don’t want to come up with something and love it,” Holtz said, only to find out it won’t work. “It kind of kills the creative process.”

Labeling options abound

Before getting Non-GMO Project Verified, Liz Lovely cookies bore the less-stringent label of Vermont Certified Organic, issued by Vermont Organic Farmers.

Holtz said that the state’s organic certification is good for small businesses that sell their products locally.

Another option is for local producers to focus on complying with the state’s law.

City Market staff, for example, have no plans to pursue voluntary non-GMO labeling, according Weinhagen.

However, the coop will evaluate food production processes in advance of Vermont’s GMO labeling law going into effect, Weinhagen said. Although the products at the coop’s hot bar are exempt for the state law, the items in their prepared foods cooler would fall under regulation.

Holtz said that non-GMO labeling could most benefit businesses hoping to sell to larger markets.

“If you’re looking to expand, it’s going to be forced on you,” Holtz said. She referred to the 2018 GMO labeling deadline set by Whole Foods, which carries her cookies.

Harrison, the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association president, summed it up like this:

“If you’re a specialty food producer and Whole Foods is an important customer to you, you’re going to respond to that.”

Whole Foods spokeswoman Heather McCready stated in an email that the company will accept verifications by third-party auditors including Non-GMO Project and USDA Organic.

Holtz said that she didn’t pursue USDA Organic certification, which automatically means that a product does not contain GMOs, because it’s hard to consistently source organic gluten-free ingredients. She added that purchasing organic products are also cost prohibitive on top of the extra cost of gluten free ingredients.

“I’m afraid we’d be priced out,” Holtz said. The suggested retail price of Liz Lovely’s two-pack cookies is $3.99.

Papineau, of the Non-GMO Project, said that many companies are using their label as a transition to USDA Organic.

“Some products contain both labels,” she said. “I’m fine with that. I think it’s great.”

Hot sauce maker Maniscalco has certified with both voluntary GMO-free programs. He was able to get the USDA Organic certification for products with few ingredients. His Maple Chipotle BBQ rub, for example, contains only Vermont maple sugar and chipotle peppers, which are easy to source organic.

Maniscalco’s ultimate goal is to get USDA Organic certification for all Benito’s products, but he said that’s a difficult proposition for a small business. This would be possible only if he purchased larger ingredient orders and found more refrigeration space to store fresh produce.

Monty, of NOFA Vermont, said that she wants consumers to know that while organic is GMO-free, they are not entirely the same. Organic also means no synthetic fertilizers or prohibited pesticides, among other things.

Still, Monty is happy about the proliferation of food labeling.

“Our biggest concern overall is to support consumers having as much information as they can about their food.”


Burlington Free Press: Greenfield urges mandatory GMO labeling

By CHRISTOPHER DOERING and NICOLE GAUDIANO
May 20, 2015
Full Article

A co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. returned to the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to protest the reintroduction of legislation that would block states from requiring labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Jerry Greenfield, who in 1978 started the Vermont ice cream company known for its Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey flavors, said the bill would undermine Vermont law.

Last year, Vermont became the first state to require mandatory labeling of foods containing ingredients made from GMOs, starting in 2016. But the law has been challenged in court by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other groups.

“We should be screaming it from the rooftops what our ingredients are, and the idea that we don’t want to tell people is insane,” Greenfield said during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

The congressional bill, introduced in March by Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., would allow companies to voluntarily use a government-backed label to tout their foods as GMO-free if they’ve gone through a certification process overseen by the Agriculture Department. The process would be similar to the popular “USDA organic” labeling used now.

The new label would be seen as a marketing tool that companies could use to promote their goods. The legislation also would ban states from adopting individual state labeling laws, and would override any state laws now in place.

The legislation also would require the Food and Drug Administration to review the safety of products before they enter the marketplace, putting into law a process that is currently voluntary but widely used by food companies.

The agency would require labeling of food containing genetically modified ingredients if those ingredients are found to be unsafe or materially different from those produced without biotech ingredients.

Greenfield visited Washington last year to protest Pompeo’s bill. That version did not include the certification option by the USDA.

Greenfield joined Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., on Wednesday to rally support for the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require the FDA to clearly label genetically engineered foods.

Welch said Pompeo’s bill would “take away the right of people to know” and expressed confidence it can be defeated.

“It’s just too much for a legislator to actually pull the lever and say, ‘We’re going to deny the citizens I represent the opportunity to make a choice,'” he said.

As much as 80 percent of packaged foods contain genetically modified ingredients, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The group represents more than 300 food and beverage companies, including Kellogg and H.J. Heinz.

The labeling argument has pitted consumer groups against major food and agribusiness companies. Both sides agree on the need to label genetically engineered foods but have failed to agree on how, or on whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.

The food industry has said mandatory labeling implies GMOs are somehow unsafe. They also argue that a state-by-state labeling framework is confusing and leads to higher costs that get passed on to shoppers.

Supporters of mandatory labeling say most Americans want to know if their food contains GMOs.