GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS: WHY NO LABELS?

ABSTRACT: There aren’t laws in the US requiring labeling of genetically modified (GM) food (as there are in the other developed countries) because the large food and agricultural-biotechnology corporations and their trade associations have spent years working to block labeling. They’ve spent $572 million on lobbying and campaign contributions over the last 10 years. In addition, the revolving door moves people back and forth between their organizations and the relevant government agencies. GM organisms are patented and provide their creators with a monopoly, significant market place power, and potentially substantial profits. Farmers are prohibited from producing their own seed for next year’s crop; they are required to buy it from the corporation.

The costs and benefits of GM foods are, at best, unclear. The large agro-biotech corporations and the related chemical corporations are working hard, through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door, to have minimal regulation and oversight, and to prevent requirements to label foods as having GM content. This is another example of corporate power riding roughshod over the public interest. Our public officials need to stand up to the corporate interests and serve the public interest and demand of over 90% of the public for GM food labeling and oversight.

FULL POST: There aren’t laws in the US requiring labeling of GM food (as there are in the other developed countries) because the large food and agricultural-biotechnology corporations and their trade associations have spent the years since 1994 (when the first GM tomatoes were marketed) working to block labeling. They’ve spent $572 million on lobbying and campaign contributions over the last 10 years. In addition, the revolving door moves people back and forth between their organizations and the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – most recently President Obama appointed Michael Taylor, a former vice president and lobbyist for Monsanto, as a senior advisor to the Commissioner at the FDA – they have successful prevented federal and state efforts to require GM food labeling.

GM organisms serve corporate interests in a way that naturally occurring seeds, plants, and animals don’t. Because they are patented, they provide their creators with a monopoly, significant market place power, and potentially substantial profits. This also allows the corporations to restrict independent, objective research into the efficacy, safety, costs, and benefits of GM organisms. It gives seed corporations great power because in their contracts with farmers, the farmers are prohibited from producing their own seed for next year’s crop; they are required to buy it from the seed corporation. The large seed corporations have, through acquisition and other means, concentrated their scope and power and now four large corporations control 50% of the market. Over 200 independent seed companies have ceased to exist over the last 15 years. One of those large seed corporations, Monsanto, has gone so far as to sue thousands of individual farmers whose crops were contaminated by Monsanto’s GM crops for illegally possessing their GM plants. [1]

The costs and benefits of GM foods are, at best, unclear. The costs, beyond the immediate ones (seed, pesticides, and herbicides), are largely uncalculated, and to some extent are unknown. The benefits have not been as great as the agro-biotech corporations have claimed, for example in increased yields, reduced herbicide and pesticide use, improvement of farmers’ economic conditions, and reduction of world hunger. The large agro-biotech corporations and the chemical corporations that produce the herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers that GM crops require, have substantial market power and profit potential. They are working hard through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of sharing personnel with government, to have minimal regulation and oversight, and to prevent requirements to label foods as having GM content. [2]

This is another example of corporate power in the US, in contrast to other countries, riding roughshod over the public interest. There is a clear public interest, as well as public desire (over 90% in multiple polls), to have foods with GM content labeled. And there is a clear need for more effective oversight of the introduction of GM organisms into the environment and our food, as well as monitoring of long term costs and benefits. Our public officials need to stand up to the corporate interests and serve the public interest on GM food labeling and oversight.


[1]       Farm Aid, see above

[2]       Moyers, B., with Shiva, V., 7/13/12, “The problem with genetically modified seeds,” Moyers & Company

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2 comments

  1. This is absolutely correct. It is frightening to think that a handful of companies now controls over 90% of most of the major food crops worldwide – corn, soy, canola, cotton and sugar beets. Not ot mention all the problems that these crops cause and are themselves now experiencing, such as increased diseases and increasing use of the very hazardous herbicide, Roundup. I am glad to see that you are writing about thie critical topic. We all need to be calling food corporations every day and telling them we will boycott their products until they are GM free. This is our only recourse. Our government agencies and courts have done nothing and will do nothing. But hitting companies on their bottom line will get the job done. It worked in the EU, It can work here.

    If all of you who are reading this tell 10 people and this pattern goes onfor six round of people out from you, that will be 10 million households. It is estimated that 5.6 million households is enough to get the corps to listen, so spread the word!

    1. Pam, thanks! I would suggest that everyone also contact their elected officials at the state and national levels and demand that foods be labeled so we know if they contain GM ingredients. Without the labeling it’s very hard to figure out what not to buy and who to boycott. Moreover, we have a right to know what’s in the food we eat!

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