How can consumers choose without informed consent?

August 16, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More

A summary of California’s Proposition 37:

“Requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits labeling or advertising such food as “natural.” Exempts foods that are: certified organic; unintentionally produced with genetically engineered material; made from animals fed or injected with genetically engineered material but not genetically engineered themselves; processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients; administered for treatment of medical conditions; sold for immediate consumption such as in a restaurant; or alcoholic beverages.”

Essentially, it requires a label on foods that are genetically modified.  That’s it.  A label indicating whether or not the food one is considering buying has been tampered with at the genetic level.  It doesn’t ban or tax such products, it just offers you, the consumer, the chance to know what is in the food you are purchasing.

GM crops look like real food. GM rice on the right with added beta-carotene. Image via Wikipedia (commons).

Here is a list of the companies opposed to this Proposition, and the amount they have spent just this week to defeat it:

  • E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & CO.: $1,273,600.00
  • MONSANTO COMPANY: $4,208,000.00
  • DOW AGROSCIENCES LLC : $1,184,800.00
  • BAYER CROPSCIENCE: $554,400.00
  • SYNGENTA CORPORATION: $260,000.00
  • BASF PLANT SCIENCE: $519,200.00
  • RICH PRODUCTS CORPORATION: $160,123.18
  • PEPSICO, INC.: $1,126,079.94
  • OCEAN SPRAY CRANBERRIES, INC.: $199,506.32
  • NESTLE USA, INC.: $607,928.61
  • KELLOGG COMPANY: $516,952.06
  • HERSHEY COMPANY: $283,753.06
  • CONAGRA FOODS: $520,101.54
  • COCA-COLA NORTH AMERICA:  $603,191.45
  • CARGILL, INC.: $143,575.49

These corporations spent millions of dollars this week to ensure that Californians will not know if their foods are GM or not.  I wonder if that amounts to a tacit admission that consumers wouldn’t buy the products if they knew?

Contrast the corporate spending with the receipts of the three groups that have formed to support the measure:

Talk about a David vs. Goliath matchup.  $14,000 in receipts by groups supporting the Proposition, versus millions spent by huge multinational corporations to defeat the labeling requirement.
Just for fun, let’s detour through some of the news I’ve bookmarked on the subject of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs):

The companies supporting GMOs say that it expands customer choice.  But how can it be a customer choice without the information to make such a choice?

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Category: Biology, Food, Health

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is a full-time wage slave and part-time philosopher, writing and living just outside Omaha with his lovely wife and two feline roommates.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Brynn: This is regrettably a new variation on an old theme: big money overwhelming reasonable regulation. You’re right that it’s also David and Goliath, given the disparity of the financial resources of the two sides.

    Your article reminded me of a new post by Steve Gardner, the Litigation Director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Steve’s job is to follow private lawsuits involving deceptive marketing claims for foods. He comments as follows on the advertising term “natural”:

    Thus, companies slap the “natural” claim on foods with completely unnatural — and heavily processed — ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat oils, and (a relative newcomer to the food ingredients category) high-maltose corn syrup. Companies like to say that these ingredients are natural because they come from corn or other plants. To me, that’s like saying that a plastic spoon is natural because it comes from dinosaur.

    Steve’s main issue is with the FDA, which has refused to adopt a reasonable definition of “natural.” He contrasts this with the USDA, which “has a definition of natural that’s pretty workable (the ingredient must be “minimally processed”).”

    • Brynn Jacobs says:

      Erich-

      Yeah, it’s a variation on an old story, but what’s interesting to me is the hypocrisy and double-standards the industry uses here.

      On the one hand, they claim that customers have no problems with GMOs and that they are providing a choice in the marketplace. Then with the other hand, they actively work to remove that choice at every turn and prevent customers from expressing their concerns about GMOs.

      Your point on the definition of “natural” applies in this area as well. The biotech firms claim on the one hand that these GMOs are “natural”, that they are not substantially different from ordinary crops such that they would require differential regulation. Then on the other hand, they spend billions to defend their “intellectual property” by suing farmers while asserting how special, unique, and highly-advanced these GMOs are.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: I should make it clear that I would enact laws that easily allow consumers to know what kind of food they are buying and eating. They should be allowed to know. Many millions of Americans have concerns about GMOs. The industry might be correct that some GMOs are not harmful, but this doesn’t mean that consumers should be denied the information they seek. And further more, the consumers who want to avoid GMOs might be absolutey right that GMOs are harmful. Freedom of choice presumes that one has the information one seeks for making that choice.

      Thus I strongly believe that we should enact strong laws that require all food producers to tell us what kind of food they are trying to sell. That information should include whether that food contains any GMO ingredients.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I think a lot of people don’t understand why GMOs are a threat.

    The 2004 indy film, “Corn”, provides a fictional account of what could happen.

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