Full list: GMO News
30 Oct, 2015
By Lucy Nicholson
Farmers of sugar beets, often using seeds from Monsanto and others, are seeing their products lose market share due to consumer demand for non-GMO foods. As a result, beet growers will engage in social media campaigning and amplify their lobbying efforts.
This year, 60 percent of the 8.8 million tons of sugar produced in the US will have originated in sugar beets. But in the last fiscal year, the actual share of deliveries to major users and customers dipped under 41 percent, the lowest rate recorded since the US government began keeping track in 1992. Industry heads say the public’s negative response to genetically modified organisms is at least partially to blame.
In 2008, beet farmers began switching to a Monsanto seed which brought beet production to an all-time high and greatly downsized herbicide expenses.
“If we had to go back to conventional seeds, our cooperative couldn’t survive,” Western Sugar Cooperative research agronomist Rebecca Larson told Reuters.
Survival in the sugar market is all the more difficult because big food companies are turning away from GMO foods, and sugar cane has no GMO version. Even though sugar beet producers – mostly located in Michigan, Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, and California – are able to help produce sugar that tastes and looks exactly the same, the consumer often isn’t buying.
Hershey Company, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Ben & Jerry’s, and General Mills are just a few of the brands abandoning GMOs. Those companies also have a younger audience to cater to.
“Millennials care about the ingredients that are in our products,” Hershey’s director of responsible sourcing, Eric Boyle, told Reuters. “Simple ingredients are a long-term trend. This is where things are going.”
Consumers aren’t the only ones driving change. Legislators in Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont have passed laws requiring food to be labeled when its ingredients include GMOs. Vermont is the only state with such a law that doesn’t come with pre-conditions, and begins enforcing its mandatory labeling law in 2016. The laws in Maine and Connecticut won’t be implemented until more surrounding states take up similar labeling laws.
Breaking from their typical unity, sugar cane farmers and sugar beet farmers find themselves with clashing interests when it comes to the turn away from GMOs. Sugar cane growers in Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas are welcoming their new customers.
Sugar beet suppliers will have to fight their battle alone, and that means getting innovative with social media as well as how they lobby to gain back what they’ve lost in the market.
The core group behind the social media push will be 18 women recruited by Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. They are mainly farmers or wives of farmers who will engage on Facebook and Twitter in an effort to turn public opinion on GMOs, and sugar beets specifically.
One of the women, Laura Rutherford, who farms beets in North Dakota, said the anti-GMO crowd is “trying to drive a wedge between the farmers and the consumers,” in a Reuters interview. She joined the group in a trip to Monsanto headquarters in September to hone their social media skills and study GMO technology, Markwart told Reuters.
A related organization, US Beet Sugar Association, is lobbying on Capitol Hill for the biotechnology, spending nearly a million dollars in the first six months of 2015 on issues like labeling, according to Reuters reviews of US Senate records.
October 25, 2015
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“If governments won’t solve the climate, hunger, health and democracy crisis, then the people will … Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva, speaking at the founding meeting of Regeneration International, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica, June 8
Degenerate (verb): To decline from a noble to a lower state of development; to become worse physically and morally; (noun) a person of low moral standards; having become less than one’s kind …” — New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997 Edition
Welcome to Degeneration Nation.
After decades of self-destructive business-as-usual—empire-building, waging wars for fossil fuels, selling out government to the highest bidder, lacing the environment and the global food supply with GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic sweeteners, artery-clogging fats and synthetic chemicals, attacking the organic and natural health movement, brainwashing the body politic, destroying soils, forests, wetlands and biodiversity and discharging greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere and the oceans like there’s no tomorrow—we’ve reached a new low, physically and morally.
Distracted by know-nothing media conglomerates and betrayed by cowardly politicians and avaricious corporations, homo sapiens are facing and unfortunately in many cases still denying, the most serious existential threat in our 200,000-year evolution—catastrophic climate change, compounded by deteriorating public health and the dictatorial rise of political elites and multinational corporations such as Monsanto.
Unless we move decisively as a global community to transform our degenerative food, farming and energy systems, we are doomed.
To reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate, we will need not only to slash CO2 emissions by 90 percent or more, taking down King Coal and Big Oil and converting to renewable sources of energy, but we must also simultaneously remove or draw down 100-150 ppm of the excess (400 ppm) CO2 and greenhouse gases that are already overheating our supersaturated atmosphere. How do we accomplish the latter? Through regenerative agriculture and land use.
Fortunately, this is possible because more and more consumers are connecting the dots between what’s on their dinner plates and what’s happening to Planet Earth. They, along with environmentalists, animal rights, food justice, climate and health activists, have created a global grassroots movement aimed at dismantling our destructive, degenerative industrial food and farming system. And despite Big Food’s desperate attempts to maintain the status quo, this powerful movement is escalating the war on degeneration.
Under Siege, Big Food Fights Back
On the food, natural health and anti-GMO fronts, our battles for a new regenerative (non-GMO, non-chemical, non-factory farm, non-fossil fuel) food, farming and land use system are educating and energizing millions of people. The profits of the big junk food, chemical and GMO corporations are falling, while demand for organic and climate-friendly grass fed foods continues to skyrocket.
In the last quarter Monsanto’s profits fell by 34 percent, while the company’s highly publicized attempt to buy out agri-toxics giant Syngenta fell flat, in no small part due to the “worst corporation in the world” reputation that the global Millions Against Monsanto Movement has managed to hang around Monsanto’s neck.
In the U.S., the growing power of the anti-GMO movement has forced the passage of a game-changing mandatory GMO labeling law in Vermont. The Vermont law will go into effect July 1, 2016, forcing national brands to either remove GMOs from their products or label them. The Vermont law will also make it illegal to label GMO-tainted foods as “natural.” Many national brands have already begun removing bogus “natural” or “all natural” claims from their packaging.
Consumer pressure on Whole Foods Market has likewise forced the organic and natural products giant to declare that all 40,000 foods, including meat and take-out, in Whole Foods Market stores will have to be labeled as GMO or GMO-free by 2018.
While a number of major food brands and chains, such as Hershey’s and Chipotle’s, have already begun removing GMOs from their products, the impending Vermont law has created panic among the Biotech Bullies, with Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association attempting to ram through the passage of the draconian, highly unpopular DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act (H.R. 1599) in Congress, even though 90 percent of Americans want GMO foods labeled.
The DARK Act will nullify the Vermont GMO labeling law and take away the long-established constitutional right of states to label foods and regulate food safety. But such a blatant attack on states’ and consumer rights will also likely create a major backlash. Even the mass media has warned that the forced passage of the DARK Act, either through Congressional vote or more likely, a backroom-deal rider inserted into a Federal Appropriations bill, will likely enrage health-and environmentally-conscious consumers. As Fortune magazine reports, Big Food may indeed be able to ram through the unpopular DARK Act, but this outrageous maneuver will likely lead to “a classic case of winning the battle and losing the war.”
The Global Grassroots Swarm: Next Steps
Now that we’ve stung Monsanto and Food Inc. (corporate agribusiness) with thousands of campaigns, boycotts, protests, litigation and legislative efforts, what are our next steps in the great 2015 Food Fight?
1. Defeat the DARK Act
Every major anti-GMO and alternative food and farming network in the U.S. is now mobilizing against the DARK Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives 275-150. We must mobilize, as never before, to stop this outrageous bill in the Senate. But we must also be prepared for dirty tricks, a secret rider inserted into one or more Congressional Appropriations Bills that will not require an open debate or vote in the Senate. And if, despite all our efforts, the DARK Act becomes law, we must be prepared to carry out our own skull-and-crossbones labeling by aggressively testing all of the major (non-organic) U.S. food brands, including meat and animal products and by exposing the GMOs, pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones and growth promoters that make these degenerate foods unfit for human consumption. Following our exposure of Food Inc.’s dirty little secrets, we must then launch an ongoing boycott to drive these foods off the market.
2. Expand and Deepen the Message
We need to change our campaign message from “Boycott and Ban GMOs” to “Boycott and Ban GMOs, as well as the toxic chemicals, animal drugs and factory farms that are an integral part of the industrial/GMO food and farming system.” GMOs in processed foods are a major threat to our health and the environment, but they are only part of the problem of our degenerate food system. Polls consistently show that U.S. consumers are equally alarmed by the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic hormones in non-organic foods. We need to emphasize that GMOs are pesticide delivery systems and that GMOs are not only found in most processed foods and beverages, but they are also found in nearly all non-organic, non-grass fed meat and animal products. Every bite of factory-farmed meat, dairy or eggs, every sip of factory-farmed milk, not only contains GMOs, but also the toxic pesticides, antibiotics and animal drugs that are slowly but surely destroying public health. We also need to point out that every time you pull up to the gas pump, you are filling up your tank with not only greenhouse gas-emitting gasoline, but Monsanto’s chemical-intensive, soil destroying GMO corn ethanol as well.
3. Frame the Fight
The battle must be framed as degenerative versus regenerative agriculture and land use. Even before GMOs hit the market in 1994, in the form of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone, America’s industrial food and farming system was terrible for human health, the for the environment, farm animals and rural communities. If we somehow managed to get rid of all GMOs tomorrow, our (non-organic) food system would still be degenerating our health, biodiversity, water quality and most importantly, our climate. The industrial food and farming system, with its destructive deforestation and land use, is the number one cause of global warming and climate disruption. But at the same time as we expose the hazards of industrial food and farming we must spread the good news that regenerative agriculture is not only better for our health, but that it can fix the climate crisis as well, by sequestering in the soil several hundred billion tons of excess atmospheric carbon over the next two decades. We need to cook organic, not the planet. This requires a new message and a broader coalition beyond simply “GMO-free.”
4. Get Ready to Go to War
Given how desperate Monsanto and Big Ag have become, we must prepare for any eventuality. The reason Big Food and Big Biotech are escalating the war against consumer choice and food safety is because a critical mass of the public no longer believes the lies. Monsanto and Big Food understand full well that they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds and consumer dollars of the majority, not only in the U.S. but globally. That’s why they are pushing the DARK Act and negotiating secret international trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, deals that would take away consumer rights to label and ban GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics and other dangerous animal drugs. This is no longer simply a food fight, but a war. We need to step up our public education, grassroots mobilization and most importantly, our marketplace pressure and boycotts.
5. Join Forces
We must link together the food, farm, forest, climate and economic justice movements. The climate crisis, even though many people don’t understand this yet, is the most important issue that humans have ever faced. The food and farm movement needs to move beyond single-issue campaigning to challenge the entire system of industrial agriculture, junk food, ethanol production and factory farming. We need to educate people to understand that industrial food and farming, GMOs, destructive deforestation and land use and mindless consumerism are the major causes of global warming and climate destabilization. There will be no GMO-free or organic food on a burnt planet. At the same time the climate movement must move beyond its 50-percent solution (reducing and eliminating fossil fuel emissions), to the 100-percent solution of zero emissions plus maximum carbon sequestration in the soils and forests through regenerative organic agriculture, planned rotational grazing reforestation and land use.
The hour is late, but we, the global grassroots, still have time to mobilize and act, to regenerate the system before it further degenerates us.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals is currently in the midst of an interlocutory appeal by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (“GMA”) and others of the District Court of Vermont’s denial of a request for a preliminary injunction against Vermont’s “Right to Know” Act.
The Act, passed by the Vermont legislature on May 8, 2014, and effective July 1, 2016, has the stated goal of establishing a system to allow for informed decisions by consumers with respect to the potential health effects of “genetically engineered foods,” commonly referred to as “GMOs.” The Act applies to products entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering, with a focus on raw agricultural commodities and covered processed foods. Labels on covered food products must either state that they are “produced with genetic engineering” or “may be produced with genetic engineering.” Limited exceptions are made for foods derived entirely from animals, restaurant foods, alcoholic beverages and foods that have been independently verified to have “minimal” GMO content. Penalties under the Act include $1,000.00 per day, per product, fines for food manufacturers.
The GMA filed its initial Complaint with the District Court in June 2014, and sought a preliminary injunction in September 2014. U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss refused to enjoin the law in a ruling issued on April 27, 2015, which was promptly appealed to the Second Circuit. Oral argument in the appeal took place on October 8, 2015.
The crux of the issue before the Second Circuit is the proper standard for evaluating GMA’s position that the Act violates the First Amendment by imposing a burden on speech by, inter alia, food manufacturers, based upon the content of that speech. In reaching her decision to deny the preliminary injunction, Judge Reiss applied the less-stringent First Amendment analysis set forth in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985). Given what the appellants term the “controversial” information/disclosures mandated by the Act, they argue the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980) and its stricter level of scrutiny applies. Appellants further rely on Second Circuit precedent, arguing that the case of Int’l Dairy Foods Ass’n v. Amestoy, 92 F.3d 67 (2d Cir. 1996), bars the state legislature from enacting a law that “trammel[s] manufacturer’s free speech rights to appease “consumer curiosity” and was ignored by the District Court. The State of Vermont continues to argue that the District Court’s reliance on Zauderer and its less-stringent “rational basis” test was proper, in that the Act merely serves to provide consumers with “factual information.”
The Second Circuit panel reviewing the case addressed the issue of ripeness during oral argument, and remains, given the impact of the Act as the first of its kind to have a set effective date, at the forefront of debate over the regulation of GMO food and food products. The Second Circuit’s decision bears watching, as the costs to industry resulting from enactment of the Act and the potential domino effect of similar acts being passed by other state legislatures could be significant and will require extensive advanced planning to ensure compliance.
The Second Circuit case is Grocery Manufacturers Association, et al. v. Sorrell, Case No. 15-1504. A link to a .pdf copy of the Order is provided immediately here.
By Anita Hofschneider
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin signed onto a brief defending Vermont’s right to require labels on food containing genetically engineered ingredients.
Vermont’s law has been challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and several other groups representing the food industry. They are appealing the case before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Chin joined attorneys general from Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington in signing an amicus brief contending that the Vermont law is constitutional and legal.
The Hawaii Legislature has repeatedly considered GMO food labeling bills but hasn’t passed them. County councils on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island have separately passed bills aiming to regulate GMO farming but those have been struck down by federal courts.
In the brief, Chin and the other attorneys general argue that the label “produced with genetic engineering” is “factual and uncontroversial.”
“Because it mandates disclosing only accurate factual information, Vermont’s labeling requirement furthers, rather than obstructs, the availability and flow of commercial information,” the brief says.
The brief also emphasizes that there are “legitimate and substantial policy interests” for imposing GMO food labels, such as reducing consumer confusion and deception when some genetically modified products are labeled “natural.”
That’s in response to the plaintiffs’ contention that “consumer curiosity” is behind the desire for labels.
“Through their elected representatives, the citizens of Vermont have expressed not just a “curiosity” about genetically engineered foods; they want to have the opportunity to learn, before they purchase a food product, whether a product was produced with genetic engineering, and with that accurate, factual information, make their own decisions whether to purchase the product,” the brief says. “This is a decision, reached through the legislative process, deserving of respect by the courts.”
Sep. 2 2015
Eight states and several organizations have filed briefs in federal appeals court supporting Vermont’s food labeling law from 2014, joining the state in its battle against corporate interests.
Attorneys general in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington filed a friend-of-the-court brief this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City.
Four environmental groups — the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, or VPIRG, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Cedar Circle Farm, and Rural Vermont — also filed a friend-of-the-court brief. Several doctors, scientists, and business groups also support Vermont.
Laura Murphy, associate director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, said in a statement that Vermont Law School was “honored” to file the brief on behalf of the four environmental groups that were “so instrumental in passing Act 120.”
“The legislative process for this law was very thorough and thoughtful, and there are many reasons why this law is different from Vermont’s rBST labeling law,” Murphy said. “We look forward to seeing this case through.”
The case is on track for the Second Circuit to hear oral arguments by this fall and make a decision by the end of 2015. Depending on what’s decided, that could push the case back down to U.S. District Court in Vermont for a trial, according to Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
“We’re pleased to have the help of businesses, of states, and the various other organizations favoring food safety and consumer rights,” Sorrell said. “Basically, it’s a First Amendment case, freedom of speech.”
The law would go into effect in on July 1, 2016 with two main parts: manufacturers would need to say there are genetically engineered products in their food, and they would not be allowed to call their products “natural” if the food contained genetically engineered materials.
Sorrell is comparing the case to an historic case that required meat packaging to show what country the meat came from. “It’s a straightforward, non-editorialized (labeling),” he said. “It’s not like tobacco products that say ‘hazardous to your health’ or whatever.”
The plaintiffs are four food manufacturers associations: the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association. The groups appealed a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss that upheld Vermont’s law.
Most recently, in June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrote to Gov. Peter Shumlin to say that its members could end up paying $10 million per day in fines. The group said that was too much money considering that Vermont is the second-smallest state in the country.
Shumlin issued a snarky response: “Here’s an idea for the industry: Just label your products. All of them, nationwide. Sixty-four countries already do it. I’m sure the food industry in America could summon the moral imagination to be the 65th.”
Maryellen Apelquist, Director of Communications, Vermont Law School
office: 802-831-1228, cell: 802-299-5593, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Murphy, ENRLC, 802-831-1123, email@example.com
Falko Schilling, VPIRG, 802-223-5221, ext. 26, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Stander, Rural VT, 802-223-7222, email@example.com
SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., Sept. 2, 2015––Monday, Aug. 31, four Vermont groups filed an amicus curiae brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Vermont’s genetically engineered (GE) food labeling law. Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Cedar Circle Farm, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) and Rural Vermont were instrumental in passing Act 120, Vermont’s labeling law, and are continuing to fight for it in court.
“The outpouring of support for the State of Vermont is compelling,” said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate for VPIRG. “In addition to our brief, national consumer, environmental and farming groups, other states, scientists, First Amendment specialists, and Vermont’s own Ben and Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility all came together to make a strong case for Vermont’s law.”
After Vermont’s GE labeling bill became law in May 2014, several industry associations sued the State of Vermont claiming the bill was unconstitutional. In April 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont issued a ruling that was largely in favor of the state, and held that Vermont’s law was constitutional under the First Amendment. Industry appealed part of that ruling to the appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that Vermont’s law violates the First Amendment.
The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) at Vermont Law School, which represents the Vermont groups, prepared and filed the brief. The clinic has represented VPIRG for the past several years on legal advocacy for the bill, and continues to represent VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety, along with co-counsel from the Center for Food Safety, as amici curiae in ongoing proceedings in District Court.
The brief filed Monday lays out the legislative process for Act 120, explaining why Vermont’s legislative decisions are reasonable and constitutional, and drawing upon the extensive legislative record in this case. The brief also explains in detail why a 1996 rBST decision—in which the court held that Vermont’s dairy labeling law violated the First Amendment—does not apply in this case. The brief can be found on the ENRLC website. The State of Vermont’s own brief, which was filed last week, is available here.
“We were honored to file this brief on behalf of the coalition of groups that was so instrumental in passing Act 120,” said Laura Murphy, associate director of the ENRLC. “The legislative process for this law was very thorough and thoughtful, and there are many reasons why this law is different from Vermont’s rBST labeling law. We look forward to seeing this case through.”
Many other organizations also filed briefs in support of the law. They are:
– States of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Washington (represented by attorneys general)
– Consumers Union, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and Ben & Jerry’s (represented by Earthjustice)
– Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Dr. Jack Heinemann, Dr. David Schubert, Dr. Allison K. Wilson, Dr. Jonathan Latham, National Family Farm Coalition, Our Family Farms Coalition, Sierra Club, and Center for Food Safety (represented by the Center for Food Safety)
– Public Good Law Center, Free Speech for People, and Consumer Action (represented by Ronald A. Fein, Seth Mermin, and Tom Bennigson)
– Public Citizen (represented by Julie A. Murray, Scott L. Nelson, and Allison M. Zieve)
The briefing at the Second Circuit will be complete in September, and oral argument likely will be scheduled for the fall.
Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
August 20, 2015
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not high on most physicians’ worry lists. If we think at all about biotechnology, most of us probably focus on direct threats to human health, such as prospects for converting pathogens to biologic weapons or the implications of new technologies for editing the human germline. But while those debates simmer, the application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive. The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now genetically engineered. Foods produced from GM crops have become ubiquitous. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.
Two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape. First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases — the largest in a generation — are scheduled to occur in the next few years. Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen”1 and classified a second herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “possible human carcinogen.”2
The application of genetic engineering to agriculture builds on the ancient practice of selective breeding. But unlike traditional selective breeding, genetic engineering vastly expands the range of traits that can be moved into plants and enables breeders to import DNA from virtually anywhere in the biosphere. Depending on the traits selected, genetically engineered crops can increase yields, thrive when irrigated with salty water, or produce fruits and vegetables resistant to mold and rot.
The National Academy of Sciences has twice reviewed the safety of GM crops — in 2000 and 2004.3 Those reviews, which focused almost entirely on the genetic aspects of biotechnology, concluded that GM crops pose no unique hazards to human health. They noted that genetic transformation has the potential to produce unanticipated allergens or toxins and might alter the nutritional quality of food. Both reports recommended development of new risk-assessment tools and postmarketing surveillance. Those recommendations have largely gone unheeded.
Herbicide resistance is the main characteristic that the biotechnology industry has chosen to introduce into plants. Corn and soybeans with genetically engineered tolerance to glyphosate (Roundup) were first introduced in the mid-1990s. These “Roundup-Ready” crops now account for more than 90% of the corn and soybeans planted in the United States.4 Their advantage, especially in the first years after introduction, is that they greatly simplify weed management. Farmers can spray herbicide both before and during the growing season, leaving their crops unharmed.
But widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops has led to overreliance on herbicides and, in particular, on glyphosate.5 In the United States, glyphosate use has increased by a factor of more than 250 — from 0.4 million kg in 1974 to 113 million kg in 2014. Global use has increased by a factor of more than 10. Not surprisingly, glyphosate-resistant weeds have emerged and are found today on nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. Fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.
The first of the two developments that raise fresh concerns about the safety of GM crops is a 2014 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve Enlist Duo, a new combination herbicide comprising glyphosate plus 2,4-D. Enlist Duo was formulated to combat herbicide resistance. It will be marketed in tandem with newly approved seeds genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, 2,4-D, and multiple other herbicides. The EPA anticipates that a 3-to-7-fold increase in 2,4-D use will result.
In our view, the science and the risk assessment supporting the Enlist Duo decision are flawed. The science consisted solely of toxicologic studies commissioned by the herbicide manufacturers in the 1980s and 1990s and never published, not an uncommon practice in U.S. pesticide regulation. These studies predated current knowledge of low-dose, endocrine-mediated, and epigenetic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assessment gave little consideration to potential health effects in infants and children, thus contravening federal pesticide law. It failed to consider ecologic impact, such as effects on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. It considered only pure glyphosate, despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.
The second new development is the determination by the IARC in 2015 that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”1 and 2,4-D a “possible human carcinogen.”2 These classifications were based on comprehensive assessments of the toxicologic and epidemiologic literature that linked both herbicides to dose-related increases in malignant tumors at multiple anatomical sites in animals and linked glyphosate to an increased incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans.
These developments suggest that GM foods and the herbicides applied to them may pose hazards to human health that were not examined in previous assessments. We believe that the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology. The National Academy of Sciences has convened a new committee to reassess the social, economic, environmental, and human health effects of GM crops. This development is welcome, but the committee’s report is not expected until at least 2016.
In the meantime, we offer two recommendations. First, we believe the EPA should delay implementation of its decision to permit use of Enlist Duo. This decision was made in haste. It was based on poorly designed and outdated studies and on an incomplete assessment of human exposure and environmental effects. It would have benefited from deeper consideration of independently funded studies published in the peer-reviewed literature. Second, the National Toxicology Program should urgently assess the toxicology of pure glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides.
Finally, we believe the time has come to revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term postmarketing surveillance.
By the Editorial Board
Should food companies be required to label products that include GMOs — genetically modified organisms? At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be credible evidence that GMOs can harm human health. But in the absence of long-term studies, many consumers are skeptical and want to know more about what goes into their food.
Grass-roots movements in some states seek to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Vermont passed a law that will require GMO labeling beginning next year.
But Republicans in Congress, for all their talk about states’ rights, want to make that impossible. The GOP-controlled House approved a bill in July that would prevent states from requiring GMO labeling. Instead, the measure would create a voluntary national program that would let companies apply for GMO-free labels through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The bill’s sponsors point out that the scientific community agrees that GMOs, which are present in most supermarket foods, are safe for consumption. But supporters of labeling say genetically modified ingredients have been widespread in foods for less than 40 years — not enough time to study long-term effects.
The European Union, Japan, Australia and other advanced countries require GMO labeling. The American College of Physicians argues that the lack of transparency around bioengineered food prevents doctors from diagnosing allergies or other adverse reactions to GMOs.
Opponents of labeling say it would mislead consumers about the safety of bioengineered foods, but no proposed state labeling system would make inaccurate claims about GMO safety. Like ingredient lists, the labels would simply inform consumers how their food was made.
This is a debate about access to information. Congress shouldn’t prohibit states from offering food labels that will enhance consumers’ knowledge.