Who’s Deceiving Whom?
By Anna Ghosh
Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Pepsi and Coke are scared. They’re afraid that California’s proposition 37 to make labeling of genetically engineered foods mandatory will end their unchecked, unquestioned power to hide GE ingredients in the majority processed foods without their customers’ knowledge. Which is why they’ve poured millions into an anti-Prop 37 propaganda campaign they’re calling “Stop the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme.” But who’s deceiving whom?
These corporations have enjoyed the transgenic food version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” that lax regulation has afforded them for more than two decades. During this time, GE ingredients have permeated the vast majority of our food supply with little independent, long-term scientific scrutiny (Finally this week, the first long-term peer-reviewed study on GE food was released and the results are frightening). Proposition 37 and several other statewide mandatory labeling initiatives in the works are about giving the power of information back to consumers and ending the tyranny that large corporations have had over our food supply.
But first, let’s dispel some of the top myths that the “Stop the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme” front group has been busy spinning.
Myth #1: GE labeling will mean higher food costs. TRUTH: Opponents of labeling claim that mandatory GE food labeling would increase food costs for the average family by $600 to $825 per year, but since the opponents are the ones doing the analysis, it’s not surprising that they’re grossly overestimated. On the contrary, an impartial consulting firm did a study in 2001 for the U.K. Food Standards Agency and found that GE labeling would increase a household’s annual food spending by only 0.01 to 0.17 percent — a very small figure ranging from an increase of $.33 to $5.58 in 2010 real U.S. dollars (inflation-adjusted) annually. Plus, food companies change their labels all the time (New and Improved! Heart Healthy!).
Myth #2: GE labeling means more bureaucracy and taxpayer costs. TRUTH: The monitoring and enforcement required for mandatory labeling doesn’t have to be difficult as long as all players participated in labeling along all steps of the food chain. Federal and state agencies could simply add GE labeling to existing food labeling requirements that they already assess during compliance inspections.
Myth #3: GE labeling would burden grocers and retailers with mountains of paperwork. TRUTH: Changing food labeling to indicate the presence of a GE ingredient wouldn’t be any different for grocery stores than stocking a product that has changed its ingredients or added a nutritional-benefit claim to the package. For foods that the store handles (such as produce or some meat that is repackaged on site), retailers will have to be sure that GE and non-GE products are kept separately and labeled as such, just like they currently do with country-of-origin and pricing information.
Myth #4: It is not the responsibility of the states to create food-labeling requirements. TRUTH: States often lead the way when the federal government is too slow, too gridlocked or too weak to take action. Long before the United States enacted a mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) policy, eight states required this labeling on their own. Renewable energy standards are a good example – California has been building its renewable energy program since 1998 and today leads the country in renewable energy use and is the standard other states strive to match. Hopefully California will also lead the country in establishing mandatory GE labeling when a majority of Californians vote for Prop 37 this November.
Myth #5: GE labeling conflicts with science. TRUTH: This one couldn’t be further from the truth. The chronic effects of eating GE foods are still largely unknown. And without labeling of GE foods, we cannot associate any health problems with people who ate them — because we do not know who ate them. Since the FDA has no way to track adverse health effects in people consuming GE foods, and because there is no requirement that food containing GE ingredients be labeled, there is no effective way to gather data on health problems that may be happening. Science is all about knowledge, testing and discovery. GE labels will only increase everyone’s knowledge and institute a system whereby more testing and track-back is available to trace the possible health problems that could arise through ingesting certain GE ingredients.
MYTH #6: California’s Proposition 37 will result in frivolous lawsuits. TRUTH: According to the California Right to Know Campaign, the lawsuits argument is a red herring. Food companies accurately label for calories, fat content and other information required by law; likewise they will abide by the requirements of Prop 37. According to an independent legal analysis by James Cooper, JD, PhD, of George Mason University School of Law, Proposition 37 is unlikely to result in frivolous lawsuits.
MYTH #7: Prop. 37 would prohibit processed foods from being marketed as “natural.” TRUTH: According to the California Right to Know Campaign, Proposition 37 applies only to genetically engineered foods, not other foods. Processed foods such as canned olives could still be marketed as “natural” as long as the food is not genetically engineered.
The fight to make GE labels the law is a battle of more information vs. less. These corporations are not spending millions for our benefit. They are spending millions to protect their profits and maintain the status quo of keeping it customers in the dark. To learn more, read Food & Water Watch’s latest fact sheet: How Much Will Labeling Genetically Engineered Foods Really Cost and join the campaign to make GE labels the law.