Senate’s Consideration of a GMO Labeling Law
Compiled by Nathan Batalion PhD
This paper offers a highly organized and concise overview, condensing a great deal of information to arrive at the most important arguments pro and con in regard to GMO labeling.
It is a follow up to a recent series of Senate offices visits, and as part of a larger delegation representing the 650,000 member strong Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
I – MAJOR BILL PROVISION & LEGAL BRIEF
Major Bill Provisions:
- THREE STATE PREEMPTIONS - Precludes all states or counties from passing any laws that claim jurisdiction over:
- Labeling foods as GMO-free or laden
- Protecting consumers from claims of health harms
- Protecting farmers from GMO contamination of their crops and then claiming take-over ownership rights or similar harms to local farmers.
- FEDERAL PREEMPTION – Greatly restricts the FDA from making determinations on GMOs and their safety.
- “NATURAL” LABEL – Allows the industry to use the term “natural” for its ingredients.
- RESTRICTS GMO-FREE LABELS – Sets burdensome roadblocks to discourage those who want to put GMO-free labels on their products.
Full Legal Brief:
By Jonathan W. Emord, Esq. Peter A. Arhangelsky, Esq. and Bethany R. Kennedy, Esq.
They also point out that this law is an unconstitutional abrogation of states’ and the consumer’s legal rights. https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/downloads/2015-8-7_-_legal_analysis_of_h_r_1599.pdf.
II – THREE MAIN INDUSTRY ARGUMENTS
FIRST ARGUMENT: Federal government must step in to prevent a restriction of trade – This pro-industry side argument has two sides:
A) STOP A STATE-BY-STATE LEGISLATIVE MESS - State laws presumably are a hodge-podge of regulations that will be impossible to comply with. Part III-D of the legal brief indicates that this is simply untrue, and that the various state initiatives do not create inconsistent compliance terms or costs. https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/downloads/2015-8-7_-_legal_analysis_of_h_r_1599.pd
B) STOP HIGH COSTS – It will supposedly cost the average family $500 a year to institute labeling. The study claiming this figure was commissioned by the industry and was conducted at Cornell University (the university whose labs invented the gene gun and whose researchers have been the highly paid friend of that industry since its inception). In a review of this Cornell study by Consumer’s Union, it was stated that “this industry-funded study is based on many faulty assumptions” and that relevant legislative bills “will not lead to any appreciable increase in the price of food bought by consumers.” See: http://consumersunion.org/research/cu-response-to-cornell-study-on-cost-of-ge-labeling/
SECOND ARGUMENT: Federal government must also step in to protect the industry because it helps the advancement of agriculture.
The biotech industry naturally wants to put forward its best image to our legislators. But the dedicated organic consumer will likely not hold the same view. The biotech industry does far more than just produce GMOs and related chemicals. Not openly disclosed are wider agriculturally controlling impacts of that industry and both in the US and globally.
A) CONTROL IMPACTS – The industry has been on an international buying spree to own all the major sources of organic and non-organic seeds. As a result of their efforts, they already own approximately 75% of all international agricultural seed stocks. Recently, Monsanto tried to merge with Syngenta to further own, in a single company, an unprecedented 50% of the world’s agricultural seeds. Their stated aim is to own 100%. The industry is 3/4rds of the way toward that goal. This means they could have an unacceptable strangle hold and ability to financially take advantage of farmers and consumers. This could represent an unprecedented threat to not only modern agriculture but humanity as such.
B) BIODIVERSITY LOSSES - Over the last century, crops have suffered a loss of 75 percent of genetic diversity, and largely as locally-adapted varieties were abandoned in favor of genetically uniform varieties. The average nutritional contents of agricultural foods coming to market are also a shadow of what they used to be, with some exceptions. But the main and most serious problem is the loss of biodiversity, weakening the agricultural gene pool, which, again, threatens modern agriculture to its core.
C) SUPER WEEDS - The development of GMOs to resist lethal herbicides has resulted in super weeds showing up in nearly half of US GMO planted fields , another unprecedented threat to modern agriculture, creating a system of planting that is long-term non-sustainable. This has developed so rapidly, in just a couple decades, that these weeds have prompted the use of combinations of chemicals creating a yet more toxic mix, such as of glyphosate (which WHO declared a probable carcinogen and the footnote link explains why)  and 2-4-D (one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange). That combo is currently allowed to be applied to corn and soybeans crops in the US. Agent Orange caused more than a dozen serious major diseases in veterans of the Vietnam War (leukemia, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s, etc.). Monsanto was the main producer of that chemical, among others known to be super-toxic. As nature responds to this onslaught with more potent super weeds, no herbicide in the future may be able to stop them.
D) INTIMIDATION OF SMALL FARMERS – Monsanto has been claiming control of farmer’s neighboring seed stocks and plantings when polluted by Monsanto’s GMOs .They have been using lawsuits for that purpose.This film details what Monsanto has been doing to farmers and does not see them as working for the best interests of the American farmer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsglbfZLc_0
E) FURTHER IMPACT ON SMALL FARMS INTERNATIONALLY – Another must see film details how, for example, in India Monsanto has been harming alternative seed supplies of Indian farmers, pushing many farmers into non-sustainable conditions. According to Ananda Shiva, nearly 300,000 suicides by Indian farmers have occurred as a result. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoXTzhfpDQw
THIRD ARGUMENT: Why label GMOs if they are completely safe, and if there is a scientific consensus backing up the industry’s claim that they are entirely safe; detractors are disreputable rabble rousers with crude, unscientific and fraudulent arguments.
There is an aggressiveness to the genetic engineering industry in trying to squash the full spectrum of opposition of scientists, farmers, stray reporters, politicians and consumers. But the other side does not agree they are in the right and has its own cogent positions.
A) CONSENSUS A MYTH - Internationally, Scientist, Farmers, Politicians and Consumers Are Not Tagging Along — Precisely because the scientific lack of consensus and dispute is widespread, with 64 out of 195 countries or a third of the globe is now mandating labeling or outright banning of GMOs (including most of Europe), the industry worries that with akin efforts at home it will lose market share and is seeking federal legislative protection.
B) CLEAR SUPPRESSION OF SCIENTIFIC OPINIONS – Information in this regard can be found through the following resources:
i) Groundbreaking Book – Anyone reading the following book will have a hard time supporting HR 1599 or comparable versions. The book is entitled Altered Genes, Twisted Truth.  The information contained therein came to light through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act and revealing a suppression of the scientific opposition. A summary of that text can be found at: https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/why-fda%E2%80%99s-policy-genetically-
ii) Video – A must see short 10 minute video to backup Steven Drucker’s book’s main contention that Monsanto is engaged in a some chilling suppression of information, with little or no regard to the extent of harm and damage it does to the public. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsglbfZLc_0
iii) A Joint No-Consensus Statement Text – 300 credentialed researchers and scientists have signed a joint statement saying there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMO foods. The following link provides both the full text and the abstract of what they signed; http://www.enveurope.com/content/pdf/s12302-014-0034-1.pdf
iv) cience Overview: GMO Myths and Truths –This is a review of over 500 research studies and show it is unthinkable to close down the debate over GMOs through legislative action. The link provides both the full text and an abstract of 10 main points why the dispute over GMOs is far from over, and how, on the contrary, the concerns have continued, if not strengthened over recent years. This is why the industry is seeking protection not only from the public’s call for labeling, but from opposing scientists, consumers, farmers and local politicians. The text can be found at: http://gmomythsandtruths.earthopensource.org/
v) Out-Dated Mechanistic Science Driven Deeply – Monsanto claims Europe is a scientific museum, and is therefore losing its edge in competition with countries that have newly advanced GMO technologies. But the exact opposite appears the truth to many in the pro-organic community. True science might be said to be simply the pursuit of impartial truths, not the pursuit of a certain favored truths of mechanistic science — a view mostly introduced 400 years ago, and more valuable for inventing machines than for fathoming the depths of life. When that mechanistic approach is applied chiefly by chemical companies, meta-morphing into life-science companies, this can result in a mix of high and low levels of science. High science may be said to be open minded. In the life sciences, high science looks at the impact on a whole organism and its environment over the long term. Low science, by contrast, would look more through a narrow window at isolated and favored factors of commercial value, such as the impact of single gene, for example, in producing a single protein… changing a single characteristic…and over the short-term.
Unlike fixing a machine made of separate parts, and where, for example, we can just replace a battery and the car runs fine again, living organisms can more often function differently. They have a life force which binds them together as a whole. Many scientists coming from a mechanical orientation, especially from the chemical industry, do not well distinguish between these two forms of science, claiming their orientation is the only true high science. Genetic engineering, when using a gene gun, however, is often a violent process that disturbs the whole genome to create a single characteristic of commercial value – such as pesticide, herbicide, virus or drought resistance. Focusing on that single characteristic is what best markets to the consumer and thus sells. Focusing on what happens to the rest of the genome, especially if disturbing, could hamper sales. For example GMO virus-resistant cassava was touted as the greatest breakthrough discovery, the answer to Africa’s hunger problems. Yet the experiment failed over and over again, but the industry kept up its message. 
III – TWO INDEPENDENT ARGUMENTS IN OPPOSITION
Most opposing arguments revolve around the countering of industry claims. In addition, at least two uniquely independent arguments are as follows:
FIRST ARGUMENT: Open Disclosure
Consumers are entitled to demand open disclosure, and to ask that the US government first protects consumers and farmers, and in the face of a considerable history of industry secrecy, power grabs over seed stocks and a suppression of opposing scientific information. By the very fact that the industry resists labeling, it breeds public uncertainty and distrust. If a science is so good for all of us, labeling should be highly welcomed and sought after with open arms – as with anti-oxidant rich, anti-inflammatory, Vitamin-C enriched or other such highly positive health labels. As Kevin Coupe wrote in Forbes magazine, arguing for transparency, “In the end, this is not about mistrusting science. Rather, it is about trusting science to be willing to make the case on an ongoing basis.”
SECOND ARGUMENT: Freedom of Choice
Consumers do no need to defend the reasons for their freedom of choice. There can be a hundred thousand different reasons for why a consumer chooses one product over another. The reasons need not have anything to do with health or safety or science or anything government mandated. It is up to the consumer to have his or her choice. Again, as Kevin Coupe writes, “The people who do not want to consume GMOs deserve as much consideration as vegetarians who don’t want to eat meat, Jewish people who want to keep Kosher, people with wheat allergies who need to stay away from gluten, or people with nut allergies who need to know if a product contains nuts … I don’t think that’s too much to ask. And they can only be obliged if GMOs are labeled when they are in food products.” If a person feels strongly that they do not want to buy GMO products, and just because they philosophically are against patenting life or having a monopoly control of global seed stocks and its implications, that person is entitled to make their particular choice and in a knowledgeable way when products are labeled. Governments should not take away that freedom, that right to reject genetically engineered products and in order to protect those who do not want to proudly display their approach. Let the consumer decide.
IV – INDUSTRY SCIENTIST AND SPOKESPERSON CHANGES VIEWS
In-between the industry and opposition views, that of an insider and whistle blower who changed his mind. http://foodrevolution.org/blog/former-pro-gmo-scientist/
 Christina Sarich, “The 10 Companies Controlling the World’s Seed Supply,” Nation of Change (October 21, 2013): http://www.nationofchange.org/10-companies-controlling-world-s-seed-supply-1382363748.
 Andrea Germanos, “UN: Accelerating Biodiversity Loss a ‘Fundamental Threat’ to the ‘Survival of Humankind’,” Common Dreams (May 28, 2013): http://www.commondreams.org/news/2013/05/28/un-accelerating-biodiversity-loss-fundamental-threat-survival-humankind.
 Tom Philpott, “Nearly Half of All US Farms Now Have Superweeds,” Mother Jones (February 6, 2013): http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/02/report-spread-monsantos-superweeds-speeds-12-0
 Daniel Cressey, “Widely Used Herbicide Linked to Cancer,” Scientific American (March 25, 2015): http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/widely-used-herbicide-linked-to-cancer/
 Veterans’ Diseases Associated with Agent Orange, US Department of Veteran’s Affairs,
 Christina Sarich, “64 Nations Say No to GMO, Yet US Government Nears Illegal GMO Labeling,” Natural Society (July 30, 2015): http://naturalsociety.com/64-nations-say-no-to-gmo-yet-us-govt-nears-illegal-gmo-labeling/
 Steven Drucker, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public (Clear River Press, 2015).
 “ GM Cassava Our Only Hope,” GM Watch, http://gmwatch.org/gm-cassava-our-only-hope
 Kevin Coupe, “The Clear and Utterly Unscientific Case for GMO Transparency,” Forbes (June 7, 2013): http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevincoupe/2013/06/07/the-clear-utterly-unscientific-case-for-gmo-transparency/