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Blog Posts: Labeling

July 1st, 2015

Swindled by Suds?

By Kate Fried Beer_Can

When consumers see that Beck’s beer is “brewed under the German purity law of 1516,” many think they know what they’re getting. But is this popular pilsner really German? Not according to a lawsuit filed by customers who feel they were mislead into drinking a beer imported from Germany, when actually they were downing a beverage brewed in…St. Louis. Whomp whomp. Anheuser-Busch InBev recently reached a class action settlement in the case and could pay out millions to disgruntled customers.

We talk a lot about food labels, typically in regards to GMOs and meat imports, and this incident shows once again that people want to know where their food and drink comes from. If you look at a bottle of Beck’s and squint a little, you can see printed on it: “Product of USA.” But most beer drinkers aren’t going to scour their bottles for this information, particular when Beck’s packaging spins the product as German beer. And many American beer drinkers are willing to pay more for a brew they believe is imported.

By settling the case, Anheuser-Busch InBev doesn’t admit it did anything wrong. But the fact that a major class action lawsuit will result in payouts to consumers based on confusion about the origin of a product should give our lawmakers pause. We didn’t get country of origin labeling for food until we changed the law to require mandatory labeling for seafood, beef, poultry, pork, goat, some nuts and fresh and frozen fruits and veggies. And the meat and grocery industries are even trying to gut those rules for labeling meat.

Maybe lawmakers don’t think we need to know what’s in our food. Recently, comedian Bill Maher brilliantly renamed efforts to ban country of origin labeling altogether the “Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head About it Act.” But the public is worried about where its food comes from, and for good reason.

This case about beer labeling highlights another food industry trend we’ve told you about, and that’s mergers between already large companies. Beck’s was produced in Germany until 2002, when it was sold to a Belgian company, which several mergers later became Anheuser-Busch InBev. In fact, only two companies own most of the brands of beer sold in the United States, controlling 80 percent of sales. This beeropoly not only limits choices for you, it can also block smaller, innovative craft brewers from entering mainstream markets.

While this latest development with Beck’s may not hurt Anheuser-Bush too badly in the long run, it reminds us that fancy packaging can mislead and distract us from the truth about what we’re buying. And if people are this upset about poorly labeled beer, shouldn’t they be downright furious about efforts to rescind country of origin labeling on meat?  If that’s the case for you, there’s still something you can do about it. Click on the link to tell your Senator to protect country of origin labels.

March 18th, 2015

Beware of the Corporate GMO Spin Doctors

By Wenonah Hauter

This piece originally appeared on Food Tank.

BlogThumb_BillNyeYou may have heard that popular scientist Bill Nye has mysteriously revised his outlook on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Several years ago, the children’s show host advocated for the labeling of genetically modified foods, citing concerns about what GMOs could do to ecosystems. But now his position on the controversial technology has flipped. This development is the latest in a trend spearheaded by agribusiness giants to discredit the GMO labeling movement, and it’s especially hard to disassociate his reversal from this PR blitz since it coincided with Nye’s recent trip to Monsanto’s headquarters.

We’ll never know what actually went down during Nye’s visit, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, but we do know that Monsanto has poured millions of dollars into public relation efforts to sell the public on GMOs. Because that’s what you do when you are a corporation with deep coffers and a product that the public is wisely skeptical of.

Read the full article…

February 13th, 2015

Congress: Don’t Mess With Meat Labels

By Katherine Cirullo

COOL_Labeling_USDA_MeatThis week brought progress for consumers, ranchers and food safety advocates who want to know where their food is produced. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dropped an anti-consumer lawsuit filed by meatpackers and industry groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that would have denied U.S. shoppers the right to know where the meat they purchase was born, raised and slaughtered. The dismissal marks a major victory in the long history of industry attacks on country of origin labeling (COOL), but the battle to this labeling law isn’t over just yet, as the rule remains vulnerable to the whims of Congress.

The lawsuit, filed in July of 2013 by the American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. (a conglomerate of domestic and international meatpacking and commodity groups) sought to strike-down COOL, a popular meat labeling law that gives consumers basic information about the origin of meat products. The court entertained three rounds of challenges by the industry groups. And those groups lost at every round.

First, in September of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the meatpackers’ request that the USDA stop using an updated version of COOL requirements that gave consumers more precise information about the origin of meat. Then, in March of 2014, a three-judge panel of the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. And in July, the entire circuit appeals court upheld the legitimacy of USDA’s rules for the popular COOL labels – rejecting the industry’s claim that companies have a First Amendment right to not give consumers basic information about where food comes from. Read the full article…

December 15th, 2014

No Surprise: Congress Gets it Wrong on GMO Labels

By Genna Reed

Genna_ReedThe FDA issued voluntary guidance for labeling GMO foods in 2001 and has basically been inactive on the topic ever since. Since the agency has for years neglected citizen petitions to require the mandatory labeling of GMOs, a movement is afoot to introduce bills on the state level. In 2012 and 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed bills with trigger mechanisms that would require additional New England states to pass similar bills of their own. And just this year, Vermont passed a labeling bill, with no strings attached, which is now being fought in court by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA)Read the full article…

September 23rd, 2014

How your Tax Dollars are Helping Distort the GMO-Labeling Debate

By Tim Schwab

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThese days, one of the biggest debates around food concerns labeling genetically engineered foods. State-level ballot initiatives and legislative efforts to require labeling of GMOs have sprung up in more than twenty states, with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont already declaring victories for consumers by mandating labeling.

Yet our nation’s taxpayer-funded cooperative extension program, created by Congress 100 years ago with a mission to conduct education and outreach around important agricultural topics, has been largely silent in the raging public debate. If so desired, the USDA and our fifty states could marshal their army of extension officers and specialists to weigh in on GMO labeling. Perhaps wisely, extension has not taken a position.

However, individual extension employees are speaking out, and in the places where extension pops up in the GMO-labeling debate, it’s almost always taking the side of the biotechnology industry, using industry studies and talking points to make their case. Extension specialists from the University of California are speaking out about how GMO labeling will increase the cost of food or will discourage consumers from eating healthy food. Extension officers from Cornell University and the University of Connecticut call consumers uninformed or emotional, then proceed to recite industry spin about GMOs.

Such statements not only evidence a bias toward industry, they also are grossly inaccurate and highly misleading. Let’s examine the argument regarding higher costs associated with GMO labeling, the main talking point of industry-funded lobbying campaigns against labeling efforts. Such claims are undergirded not by independent science, but by industry-funded studies. This spring, the biotechnology industry funded a Cornell University professor to conduct a study that found—surprise—that GMO labeling will increase costs for consumers.

While the University of California’s extension highlights the findings of industry studies, it ignores those funded by GMO-labeling advocates or independent sources, which arrive at different conclusions.

Indeed, the GMO labeling debate sure would sound different if extension asserted itself as an impartial disseminator of information, noting that independent studies often show that labeling GMOs will not substantially increase the price of food for consumers, while those studies funded by industry groups, which have a financial interest in prohibiting labeling, show the opposite.

Or what if extension officers instead noted that sixty-four nations require GMO labeling or that many countries have banned or restricted production of GMOs? They could also mention that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and independent researchers have long complained that industry restricts independent research.

The law that created extension charged it with disseminating “useful and practical” information about agriculture to the public, but extension officers are only telling one side of the story on GMOs, that of industry, which is neither useful, nor practical—nor accurate. And the public debate on this controversial issue has suffered for it.

Want to learn more about the 100-year anniversary of extension? Check out the rest of the series here.

August 28th, 2014

Is Cornell the Go-To University for Industry Science?

By Tim Schwab

GMO_CanolaCornell University announced last week that it is embarking on a multi-million dollar campaign to “depolarize the charged debate” around GMOs. Can you guess who’s behind this effort? The biotech industry and its supporters.

The website for this project, the Cornell Alliance for Science, is pretty sparse, but it does note its pro-GMO partners, including the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), which is funded by Monsanto, CropLife and Bayer.

This use of surrogates is par for the course with the biotech industry. Sometimes called the soft lobby, corporations routinely engage neutral-appearing scientists and impartial-sounding front groups to help advance their political and economic agendas. Food & Water Watch detailed the enormous amount of industry research coming out of our public land-grant universities in our 2012 report, Public Research, Private Gain.

Cornell is no stranger to this science-for-sale approach. Earlier this year, Cornell economist William Lesser took money from a biotech front group to produce a questionable analysis showing that GMO labeling will be very costly for consumers. While he noted that the study reflected his personal opinions, not those of Cornell, GMO supporters began publicizing the findings of “the Cornell study” in their campaign to defeat state-labeling initiatives around the country. Independent studies, meanwhile, show that GMO labeling will not increase costs significantly—and perhaps not at all.

Cornell’s newest foray into the GMO debate, the “Alliance for Science,” will add to the confusion and distortion in the public discourse around GMOs. Rather than trying to promote a civil, honest, impartial dialogue about GMOs—as you would expect from a university like Cornell—the school has chosen to partner with some of the biotechnology industry’s most prominent supporters and defenders. Read the full article…

April 17th, 2014

Monsanto’s Dream Bill is a Nightmare for State GMO Labeling Efforts

By Genna Reed

Last week, Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014” (HR 4432), a brainchild of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) that would serve as a real road block to the thousands of people who have been fighting for the right to know what’s in their food. This piece of legislation would make voluntary (not mandatory) labeling for genetically engineered foods the national standard, ensure that GMOs can be ambiguously labeled as “natural,” create its own rules for non-GMO labeling and, most heinously, preempt all state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods.

We have been aware of the GMA’s plot to move into the GMO labeling policy world since Politico leaked its proposed bill language in January and then the GMA launched its “Safe and Affordable Food Coalition” in February. Unsurprisingly, the GMA found a sponsor who would support all of its original intended language in the bill, resulting in an extremely industry-friendly final version.

So, what is the GMA and why is it so powerful that congressmen do its bidding? Well, this massive trade organization represents 300 of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies as well as agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta. The GMA and its member companies have poured over $50 million into political action committees to help block GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington state over the past two years. To illustrate the type of political power GMA is wielding with its big pockets, here’s a paragraph from Food & Water Watch’s new profile on the GMA:

“Between 2001 and 2012, the GMA political action committee donated more than $1 million to federal candidates, political parties and other campaign committees. But it is a much bigger presence roaming the halls of Congress. From 2004 to 2013, the GMA spent $38.9 million lobbying the U.S. Congress and federal officials. In 2013 alone, the GMA spent $14.3 million lobbying on food labeling, country-of-origin labeling, labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients (commonly known as GMO labeling), food marketing to children and other regulations affecting the food and beverage industry.” 

This kind of spending activity on the GMA’s part makes the food movement’s state-level efforts that much more significant. Not only does it show that grassroots organizing is working to hold elected officials accountable on food issues, but it also shows how work in the states is truly bothering the industry and impacting national policy. It gives us even more reason to keep pressuring our lawmakers to protect consumers because they want the right to know if GMOs are in their food. What consumers definitely don’t want is a voluntary labeling policy created by the very companies who have kept that information from them for 20 years.

Now is the time to stop the GMA from getting its way and fueling its own profit-driven interests. Food & Water Watch will continue to work with the grassroots movement to fight for  GMO labeling around the country. You can take action by telling your members of Congress not to pass Monsanto’s dream bill. For more information on the GMA, you can view our industry profile, here

March 25th, 2014

Q & A: Wenonah Hauter on GMOs and Activism

By Marissa Sherman, for GMO Inside

Wenonah Hauter has worked extensively on food, water, energy and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Her book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America looks into the corporate consolidation and control over our food system and how that affects farmers and consumers. She is a skilled and accomplished organizer. She’s lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans concerning many food and environmental issues. She has an M.S. in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland.

Q: In your opinion, what is the root of the GMO problem? Why should people care?

A: People should care because very little unbiased, independent scientific research has been done into the health and environmental implications of GMOs, and the industry works hard to keep it that way through inappropriately influencing our academic institutions and bullying scientists who don’t comply with their worldview. What we do know about GMO crops is troubling: the vast majority are designed with the sole purpose of withstanding large quantities of toxic pesticides and herbicides that pollute our environment and are linked to serious health problems. This overuse of agrichemicals is also giving rise to uncontrollable superweeds that cost farmers thousands to deal with. But the root of the problem is that GMOs are a tool that giant agribusinesses like Monsanto have used to dominate multiple sectors of agriculture and make the marketplace less competitive and more expensive for farmers.

Q: Do you see GMO labeling happening anytime soon? How do you think it might happen? State-by-state or at the national level?

A: A huge grassroots movement is gaining ground around the country. I’m excited about the grassroots state legislative campaigns going on now that are advancing GMO labeling and have the industry on the defensive. While strong national labeling legislation is the end game, we believe that Oregon’s ballot fight for labeling can be won this November and are on the steering committee of that effort. The legislative fights we’re involved with in New York, Illinois, California and Florida also look promising and coalitions in several other states are making great progress as well. The industry is on the wrong side of history on this issue – eventually this labeling will be required. Read the full article…

March 21st, 2014

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GMOs: Marching Forward

On March 19, 2014, Food & Water Watch and its allies delivered a 2,500-signature petition to New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney to urge him to support GMO labeling legislation. From Left to Right: Katie McCarthy, Jim Wilday, Stephanie Rossi, Jennifer Kolarsick, Steph Compton and Nicole Souza.

By Anna Ghosh

Food & Water Watch has been fighting – and winning – campaigns to defend consumers’ right to know what’s in their food since its inception in 2005. As a result of our campaign, Starbucks committed to make its stores rBGH-free in 2007, and in 2008, we successfully fought in nine states to keep rBGH-Free labels on dairy products. In 2009 we won a campaign to get the federal school lunch program to specifically allow schools to use federal dollars to choose rBGH-Free milk for their students.

Since 2010, we’ve collected more than 150,000 signatures opposing the FDA’s approval on AquaBounty’s GE salmon, and in 2011 and 2012, along with our allies Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Sum of Us, Corporate Accountability International and CREDO Action, we collected more than half a million signatures from consumers refusing to purchase genetically engineered (GMO) sweet corn and asking Walmart not to sell the biotech corn. We’ve also been involved in collecting and submitting official comments to oppose dozens of new GMO crops that have been considered since we started in 2005.

Over the past few years, our focus has been on the fight to label GMOs. Despite the narrow defeats of Prop 37 in California in 2012 and I-522 in Washington last year, momentum around GMO labels has never been stronger. Food & Water Watch is on the ground in over 12 states, joining with national, regional, and local allies to make GMO food labels the law once and for all. Here are the latest updates from our field team: Read the full article…

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

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