Monsanto and the rest of the Biotech and Big Food gang have been pounding the California airwaves with nearly $36 million worth of boldface lies and twisted truths.
By Katherine Paul, Ronnie Cummins / AlterNet
Since Oct. 1, Monsanto and the rest of the Biotech and Big Food gang have been pounding the California airwaves with nearly $36 million worth of boldface lies and twisted truths.
Their goal? Misinform and confuse California voters into believing they’d be better off not knowing what pesticide-makers are hiding in their foods, than they would be if food manufacturers had to label genetically modified foods.
The ads are having an impact. After enjoying a 26-point lead for the past six months, the YES on 37 campaign has dropped 19 points in the polls.
But the YES team is fighting back, calling out the lies. And the liars. They’ve already forced the opposition to pull its first TV ad and re-shoot it after exposing the ad’s dubious spokesperson, Henry Miller, for misrepresenting himself and Stanford University.
Miller, a long-time front man for Big Tobacco and Big Oil, doesn’t have an ounce of credibility. Neither do the folks working behind him. No sooner had the Stanford University kerfuffle simmered down, than the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics accused the campaign of misleading voters by falsely stating, in the Official Voter Information Guide, that the Academy opposes Prop 37. In fact, the Academy has not taken an official position on the initiative.
The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization/United Nations also called out the NO campaign for misrepresenting their statements and positions on Prop 37.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s a campaign full of bunk. Lies perpetrated by liars. Yet some voters will continue to buy it unless we de-bunk it for them.
Here are a few of the most confusing, most dishonest, and most widely circulated misstatements and outright lies hitting California’s airwaves, newspapers, and blogs.
1. BUNK: Prop 37 is full of “arbitrary” exemptions that don’t make sense.
Here’s what doesn’t make sense. Trotting out the likes of Henry Miller – a guy who still thinks DDT is a good idea – to convince voters that GMO labeling is a bad idea. Miller does a masterful job of twisting the truth and confusing voters about why, under Prop 37, some products will require labels and others won’t. But if you take away the smoke and mirrors and look at the facts – as carefully explained by the YES on 37 campaign – every single exemption in Prop 37 is guided by common sense.
- Meat, cheese, milk and eggs from animals. If an animal is genetically engineered, the meat from that animal would be labeled under Prop 37. (So far, genetically engineered salmon is the only imminent possibility here). But meat, cheese, dairy, and eggs from animals that have been fed genetically engineered food? No labels. After all, a steak from a cow that ate GE corn is no more a genetically engineered cow, than you’re a genetically engineered human because you ate an ear of GE corn. Soy milk labeled? Yes, if it contains GE soy. Milk from a cow? No GE ingredients, no label. This exemption is common all around the world. Would the NO on 37 campaign have preferred a stricter law in California than the international standard for GMO labeling?
- Food from restaurants and bake sales. When’s the last time you saw a label listing the ingredients in the seafood pasta you ate at a restaurant or the pizza you took out from the local pizza joint? Never. Because while we have strict labeling laws for food purchased at grocery stores, we don’t have similar laws for foods we order in restaurants. Why would GMO labeling laws be any different?
- Alcohol. Alcohol labeling is regulated under different laws than food at both the federal and state levels. Because of the single-subject law in California that requires initiatives to apply to only one subject, Prop 37 doesn’t include alcohol. (This is also true for medical food, which is exempted from Prop 37.)
Check out the YES on 37 website for more on Prop 37 exemptions and why they make perfect sense.
2. BUNK: Prop 37 means higher prices at the checkout counter
What better way to scare consumers than to threaten higher prices at the checkout? Legitimate studies – and more compellingly, evidence from countries that have already passed GMO laws – are clear: Requiring GMO foods to be labeled doesn’t mean you’ll pay more for your food.
In 1997, opponents of GMO labeling laws in Europe used the same scare tactics, threatening double-digit increases in food prices if government required mandatory labeling. But food prices didn’t go up, according to David Byrne, then-European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament.
And they won’t go up in California either, says an independent economic assessment of Prop 37, conducted by Joanna Shepherd Bailey, Ph.D., a professor at Emory University School of Law. Among Bailey’s findings – backed by empirical literature and historical precedents – is that companies would rather absorb the “trivial” costs associated with labeling, than risk passing them on to consumers.
What’s the basis for the NO campaign’s fear mongering? Their own bought-and-paid-for, flawed and highly biased economic analysis of Prop37. It was conducted by Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, a consulting firm with no economic expertise and best known for opposing recycling laws for the soda pop industry.
For more on GMO labeling and food costs, read this statement by the Yes on 37 campaign.
3. BUNK: GMOs have been proven safe for your health.
Who are you going to believe when it comes to whether or not GMOs are bad for your health? Henry Miller, the pro-tobacco guy who once claimed that nicotine is “not particularly bad for you in the amounts delivered by cigarettes or smokeless products”?
Or real doctors and real scientists – not the ones that are on biotech company payrolls – who are calling for mandatory pre-market safety testing and more health studies with each passing day?
Thanks to a decision made 20 years ago and credited to Michael Taylor, the former Monsanto lobbyist-turned- Deputy Commissioner for Policy for the FDA (1991 to 1994), the FDA declared GMOs “not substantially different” from non-GMOs. That fateful decision cleared the way for Big Biotech and Big Food to serve up GMO-tainted foods without any pre-market safety testing whatsoever.
Is it mere coincidence that over the past 15 years – since GMOs have become almost ubiquitous in processed foods – allergies, auto-immune diseases, obesity, liver disease, infertility, and cancer have been on the rise?
The American Public Health Association, American Medical Students Association, American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Physicians for Social Responsibility, California chapters, the California Nurses Association, and other public health groups that have endorsed Prop 37 don’t think so.
Neither do scientists in France who recently released results of the first-ever long-term study of the health consequences for rats fed a lifetime diet of GMO corn. Nor does Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Consumer Reports, who points out that if GE ingredients aren’t labeled it’s awfully difficult to even identify an unexpected health effect resulting from a GE food.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence linking GMOs to a wide spectrum of health issues. And yet according to a recent report, Americans eat their weight in GMO foods every year. If the FDA won’t require mandatory safety testing to guarantee the safety of GMO foods, then labeling them – so we can avoid them – is our only defense against eating foods that could damage our health.
4. BUNK: Prop 37 will provoke an avalanche of lawsuits.
Not true. And beyond ironic, coming from a campaign whose largest donor ($7.2 million) has a long history of ruthlessly suing farmers for growing their own seeds.
The NO on 37 campaign depicts Prop 37 as a “measure for trial lawyers written by trial lawyers.” But in fact, the initiative was written by a group of food industry, farm, science, consumer protection, and public health groups. The original instigator of California’s historic GMO labeling law? Pamm Larry, a mom and grandmother, and former midwife and farmer. In 2011, Pamm started organizing mothers and volunteers across the state toward a 2012 ballot drive with only one goal in mind – to let California consumers know if the food they are eating is genetically engineered. Lawyers and lawsuits couldn’t have been further from her mind.
Prop 37 was intentionally written to provide no economic incentives for lawyers to sue. So who’s most likely to sue? Consumers. But consumers can’t file a class action suit without first giving notice. Once notified, all the defendant has to do is fix the label to avoid the class action suit. Any penalties resulting from labeling violations will go to the state – none to plaintiffs (consumers) or lawyers.
The argument that retailers and farmers will be subject to lawsuits? More bunk. Under Prop 37, legal liability for labeling processed foods lies with the person responsible for putting the label on the product. That’s the manufacturer. Not the farmer, not the retailer.
And just to make certain retailers aren’t targeted by lawyers or consumers, prop 37 goes even further by shielding them from lawsuits or penalties in the event they unintentionally, or accidentally, violate the law. Since retailers have no reason to know what’s inside the packages of food on their shelves, they aren’t liable. Period.
Read this YES campaign article for more on Prop 37 and false claims about lawsuits.
5. BUNK: Prop 37 will create “reams of paperwork” for grocers and retailers.
The only items grocers would have to label are raw agricultural commodities – such as sweet corn, papaya, squash – that are genetically engineered. They can either stick a simple label on the bin or if they’d rather, they can ask their supplier for a sworn statement that the crop is not genetically engineered. Reams of paperwork? Nightmare scenario? Really?
Remember: It’s the food manufacturer who bears the responsibility for labeling genetically engineered ingredients. And food manufacturers already label food ingredients – as they’re required to do by law. It’s just one more ingredient. No big deal.
6. BUNK: Prop 37 favors special interest groups over consumers
This one takes the GMO-free cake. Who is better served by being able to put genetically modified ingredients in 80% – 85% of all processed foods – without your knowledge – than companies like Monsanto and PepsiCo?
Let’s not forget who started the campaign in California to label GMO foods: Pamm Larry, Mom and Grandma. What did she – what do any of us – have to gain other than the right to know what’s in our food – and the ability to avoid gene-altered ingredients that haven’t been tested, and may be harmful to our health?
According to recent national polls, more than 90% of consumers want GMOs labeled. Who doesn’t want them labeled? A host of “special interests” who have been manipulating the government, consumers, and our food – and denying us the right to know – for the past 20 years. Now is the time to stop them. Passing Prop 37, California’s historic citizens GMO labeling ballot initiative, is our best hope.
Katherine Paul is director of development and communications at the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. Cummins is author of numerous articles and books, including “Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers” (Second Revised Edition Marlowe & Company 2004).