In the great tradition of legislative titles such as “No Child Left Behind,” Congress’ latest bit of corporate protectionism, “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling” Act, is yet another highly deceiving act of Corporate protection over Consumer protection.
While Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-KY) claims it “establishes a voluntary nationwide marketing program that gives consumers access to consistent, reliable information,” it effectively prevents states from requiring GMO foods to carry labels identifying them as such (or, in Conaway’s words, “[protects] advancements in food production technology and innovation”). The bill, HR 1599, passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, 275 to 150.
Who’s behind this legislation? The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA). It’s an organization that goes back over a century, and is the largest food and beverage trade association in the world. Sitting on the GMA’s Board of Directors are CEOs of nearly every major commercial food manufacturing company, including ConAgra, General Mills, Kellogg, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Nestlé, H.J. Heinz, Cargill, Kraft, Del Monte and Hillshire Brands – to name only a few.
In December 2013, the GMA announced its intention to petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with a rule that would allow food producers to label GMO products as “natural.” Six months later, the Consumers Union (publisher of Consumers Union) fired back, reminding federal regulators that: “The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA) states that ‘a food shall be deemed to be misbranded’ if ‘its labeling is false or misleading in any particular’ (21 USC §343(a)(1)).”
According to Consumer Union’s data, there is a major disconnect between the FDA definition of “natural” and consumer perceptions. To most people surveyed, a “natural” product is raised without pesticides, contains no artificial ingredients, and does not contain GMOs. The overwhelming majority of those surveyed – 85% – stated that anything labeled as “natural” should not contain GMOs.
There have been attempts at the state level to force food companies to identify GMO ingredients. One such law was on the ballot in Oregon in 2014. The vote was extremely close, and required an expensive recount. The measure was defeated by a slim margin – primarily due to an aggressive propaganda campaign designed to convince ignorant, low-information voters that such “burdensome” regulation would lead to significant increases in food prices.
Ironically, there have also been campaigns to convince consumers that GMOs are somehow a “good thing” – or that the jury is still out. If this is the case, why do these food producers want to prohibit labeling? What are they hiding? In a “free market” system, shouldn’t consumers have access to as much information as possible about the products they are purchasing?
The passage of HR 1599 represents the rankest kind of hypocrisy on many levels. Conservative politicians claiming to believe in “states’ rights” and limited federal control are clearly talking out both sides of their mouths. This kind of blatant corporate protectionism also flies in the face of the “free market principles” for which they claim to stand.
Maybe there is some good in GMO foods – but if this is the case, why is the GMA purchasing legislation allowing it to hide the fact of their existence and preventing us from knowing?
As this bill goes to the U.S. Senate, these are the questions constituents need to be asking.