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Spending Soars for Anti-GMO Label Lobbying

'These numbers speak for themselves,' says labeling advocate. 'They also speak to everything that's wrong with our government.'

A rally in support of GMO labeling in Connecticut. (Photo: CT Senate Democrats)

Food and biotechnology giants are accelerating their efforts to thwart legislation that mandates labels for food made with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Working Group released Tuesday.

In the first quarter of 2014 alone, major food and biotech companies disclosed over $9 million in lobbying expenditures that made reference to GMO labeling, nearly matching the $9.3 million spent in 2013 fighting against similar initiatives in 2013.

According to Environmental Working Group (EWG) policy analyst Libby Foley, this "burst" of political spending can be seen largely as an effort to "muster Congressional support" for a House bill that was introduced in April that would block states from requiring GMO labeling on food packages. As states nationwide have begun to consider ballot proposals that support labeling transparency, Bill H.R.4432—dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act by critics—threatens those efforts.

Twenty-two of the 26 members of Congress who co-sponsored the DARK Act reportedly received campaign contributions from Super PACs representing the major food and biotech companies, with the lead sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), being the second-largest recipient of those contributions. Further, 8 of those representatives, including Pompeo, serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over GMO labeling.

"The DARK Act is a blatant attack on consumer and states' rights, and a clear indication of just how desperate corporations are to protect their profits at the expense of public health and basic democracy," Katherine Paul, communications director for the Organic Consumers Association, told Common Dreams. However, she noted that the growing support for grassroots labeling initiatives makes it is clear that "corporations are losing this battle, despite their lavish spending."

In May, Vermont became the first state to require GMO labeling, following the earlier passage of similar laws in Connecticut and Maine, which both require a number of other states to follow suit before they are implemented. Oregon has also placed GMO labeling on its November ballot, and in Colorado citizens are gathering signatures for a similar initiative.

In addition to promoting a legislative block on these 'right-to-know' initiatives, this increased political spending roughly coincided with the launch last summer of an industry-backed "information" campaign called GMO Answers. Executives from Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Dupont, among others, have fielded over 600 questions in their online forum meant to "combat consumer fears," Reuters reports.

According to the EWG analysis, the $9 million tally excludes any spending by major GMO producers, including Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow. Their disclosures cited general advocacy on “biotechnology and biotech product issues,” “biotech innovation and regulation” and “biotechnology acceptance”—language that, according to Foley, "could easily include [GMO] labeling, but that wouldn’t be obvious to the general public."

"The Gene Giants and Corporate Agribusiness are stepping up their lobbying in Washington, D.C. in order to keep consumers in the dark about whether their food has been genetically engineered or not; to maintain their routine fraudulent practice of labeling GMO-tainted products as 'natural'; and to stamp out state's rights such as Vermont and others to pass laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs," said Ronnie Cummins, OCA national director. "Despite their frantic efforts, Big Food is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the American consumer."

Among those major food and beverage companies which did report spending big against GMO labeling initiatives, Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo together spent almost $4 million in the first quarter of 2014. The multi-billion dollar lobby group, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association—of which both soda giants are members—disclosed an additional $1.2 million in lobbying expenditures.

Bayer Corporation, which is a producer of GMO seeds, reported over $2 million in lobby costs associated with GMO labeling.

"These numbers speak for themselves," Paul continued. "They also speak to everything that's wrong with our government. More than 60 other countries require mandatory labeling of GMOs, and 93 percent of Americans have told their elected officials that they want this same right."

EWG produced this graph to compare industry spending with lobbying expenditures by the grassroots pro-labeling initiatives:

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