If the Label Fits

It’s purely coincidence that Argylesock and I were having a dialogue about GMO labeling just last week. Then, last Monday, Connecticut, a blue state with the highest per capita income in the U.S., became the first to require food manufacturers to label products that contain GMOs. Well, they almost did. IMG_1008

You see, the bill was passed with a contingency placed upon it by Governor Dannel Malloy. And that is, that it will not take effect until at least four other states, one of which shares a border with Connecticut, pass bills requiring similar conditions. The Connecticut Governor’s agreement with the legislature also requires that the states have a total population of at least 20 million people. It passed with a vote of 134 to 3.

This idea of contingent legislation is not unique. Further north, lawmakers in Maine passed a bill prohibiting the sale of gasoline if it contains more than 10% ethanol. However, similar to the labeling bill, the law will only go effect if two other New England states pass similar legislation.

The argument behind making the fuel bill contingent is that Maine would experience a price hike if refiners are required to create a custom gasoline blend. Hence, it protects consumers from a jump in fuel prices. Conversely, the contingency placed upon the food labeling bill is defended as a method of shielding small business from the labeling liability that will create more costs. It’s really the same argument – just told differently.

In the European Union, citizens are legally entitled to know whether or not the foods and products that they’re using are from genetically modified crops or livestock. In the U.S., another 20 states are considering labeling laws, including New York and Vermont – significant because they border Connecticut. Across the country in the state of Washington, polls suggest widespread support for a ballot initiative that would require labeling. Much of that concern centers on the state’s banner food crops of apples and salmon. And while Connecticut would be the first to embrace widespread labeling, Alaska already requires labeling of any genetically engineered fish or shellfish.

Even with a rising tide of support for labeling, there is formidable opposition. Food and seed giants such as Monsanto spent millions last year to defeat a ballot measure that required labeling in California. The state Senate of New Mexico voted not to adopt the report of the committee that it had assigned to study the issue of labeling. Efforts are stalled in Hawaii, Maine and Vermont and also on Monday, a New York labeling bill was defeated after intense lobbying from a trade group of makers of genetically modified seeds.

Arguments against labeling suggest that it will disadvantage businesses by encumbering them with the cost of the requirement. Some groups suggest that labeling be voluntary and required only per the FDA. Still, others believe that understanding the source of our food is a basic right.

One thing that is clear is that this is an issue that will continue to be discussed. Where do you stand?

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68 Comments

  1. You know my answer. I want to know what I’m buying and eating.

    Reply
    • And you have a right to both.

      Reply
      • Morally, yes, and so do you.

        Legally? I have that right now but we in Europe might lose that right, depending on what’s decided in trade negotiations with the US later this month.

        Even if those trade negotiations leave Europeans entitled to know whether we’re eating GM, we in Britain might lose that right if our referendum about EU membership leads to a ‘Brexit’ (British exit).

        I was undecided about how to vote in that referendum, until this conversation with you about labelling, and a conversation with Finn Holding at The Naturephile about Monsanto’s hold on our seed markets. Now I find myself moving towards voting ‘Stay In the EU’.

        Reply
  2. I was rather surprised when a ballor initiative for labeling went down in defeat here in Oregon. But we were flooded with how it was going to raise the cost of food etc etc from the folks experimenting with their product on us consumers.

    Reply
    • It is surprising in Oregon! I think of you as the food leaders.

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      • I think we were ahead of our time. I believe it was before more folks started to understand what was at stake and there were obscene amounts of cash poured into campaigns against the initiative.

        Reply
  3. I think it’s good to know so as to make an informed choice. Food labelling – and details are important to many people.

    Reply
  4. I am pro labeling! Although it is disappointing that recent legislation has been stopped or stalled, I am still glad we have gotten this far and optimistic for the future. Hopefully it is just a matter of time. I want to know what is in my food and the products I purchase. I do feel that it is my right to have this information available. Considering all the other labeling required on foods and products, this too is a must have. Great post and thank you for the updated information on this matter.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for this very informative post, Tammy! A great post! x

    Reply
  6. I wish people would invest equal energy into finding and supporting non-GMO producers as they do into fighting city hall. No label = GMO, fairly simple.

    Now, when corporations try to prevent competitors from labeling their products as free from something as Monsanto did to squelch the inclusion of a “no bovine growth hormones” label, my gloves are on and it’s to the death.

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  7. I cannot believe the issues. What is the problem with properly labeling food. When did companies have the right to decide what we the consumer should and shouldn’t be allowed to know. The evil of Monsanto knows no bounds and the government that defends and protects this sham of a company is just as evil xx

    Reply
  8. Lorna

     /  June 10, 2013

    Great post – as you said here in the UK GMO crops in our food have to be on the label – in fact most stuff does, BUT loads of really bad stuff is labelled under crazy “E numbers” or defined as a food stuff when in fact it is “ground up chicken feathers” as in our processed bread!! Look at how people over here were eating horse meat that was labelled as beef. We definately need to know what is in our food and what we are feeding our children but the big companies that make this stuff have no intention of being transparent.

    Reply
    • Yes! The horsemeat thing bothered me because no one knew – not because it was horse. That’s just wrong.

      Reply
      • Lorna

         /  June 10, 2013

        Luckily for us we were not affected as we don’t eat processed meat, our food is cooked from scratch but it could quiet easily have ended up in the raw mince that I buy.

        Reply
        • It really matters what type of meat you eat. A study came out today showing insanely high antibiotics in several types of meat.

          Reply
      • The (dis) honesty bothers me most too. Just like the pink slime thing.

        It didn’t bother me that they were using pink slime nearly as much as they deliberately worked to keep it a secret, and were allowed to not disclose that there were added
        ingredients.

        Did you know they add sugar to your milk without being required to label it, and currently they’re pounding to for permission to add ingredients like aspartame without being listed as an ingredient so they can reduce the calorie content of milk.

        As a small food producer, I can empathize with the enemy a bit in that our society is so litigious, nobody wants to label anything.

        Reply
        • I knew about sugar from Jamie Oliver but I don’t have an alternative. We use it in coffee and on cereal. I buy organic but…

          Reply
  9. doreenpollack

     /  June 10, 2013

    We have a right to know. Remember when companies were required to put the nutritional label on all of the packaging? I am sure it was the same argument then, that food prices would go up. PHOOEY! They use that excuse so we will back down.

    Let’s continue to inform people and let’s all vote with our dollars.

    Reply
    • As I mentioned below to Nancy, I am at a class today and got a KIND bar on the break. It is clearly labeled NO GMOs. Didn’t seem like it was that difficult.

      Reply
  10. I think labeling should be much more informative than it currently is, including whether food is GMO.

    Reply
  11. Lisa H

     /  June 10, 2013

    I believe our food should be labeled so we as consumers can make an informed choice. I like the fact that I can choose between wild caught and farmed raised salmon; why can’t I do the same for GMO or non-GMO food? This is just another reason to buy from my local farmer’s market–I can ask the farmer directly any questions I may have regarding the produce on her table.

    Reply
  12. The 134-3 vote makes it clear that GMO labeling is wanted and likely to appear in future. Contingency legislation is a fair compromise to help ensure that the people and businesses of that state do not face unfair hardships. Now let’s see what other states step up to the plate (pun intended).

    The food industry fights labeling requirements of any and all kinds: nutrition labeling, use of certain marketing words (“natural,” “free range,” etc), methods of harvesting and growing, ingredients may or may not be left off of ingredients lists, how ingredient descriptions are defined (dairy ingredients are in nearly all products labeled as “dairy free”), allergen notations, the list goes on. Were the industry to have its way, a serving suggestion picture would be on packaging with perhaps one word, such as “delicious” or “sexy” or “want.” For years the food industry has fought transparency at all levels, from production to processing to sales, under the guise that costs would be impacted and customers should not be confused. The industry’s true fear though is that the more we know about processed food, the more we will avoid it.

    If GMOs are truly safe for biodiversity, soil, water, animals, and humans then the industry has nothing at all to fear and should welcome GMO labeling as a chance to proudly display how the industry has embraced a technology that they claim will feed the world. If however the industry understands that many people are more concerned with science than profits, happen to place great value on biodiversity, soil, water, animals, and humans, and will not purchase products that contain GMOs, then it makes sense that they would pour millions of dollars into fighting labeling.

    Until labeling is a reality, buy and grow organics.

    Reply
    • I agree Rob. All we are asking is to know whether or not there are GMOs. I believe that you and Jackie have the correct methodology down. If it doesn’t say No, then it has them. Otherwise go organic.

      Reply
  13. I am absolutely in favor or requiring GMO labeling, but perhaps for a different reason than your other correspondents. These monster companies are producing seeds that are patented. Now if a farmer uses those seeds, he cannot ever save his seed for future crops, because the PROGENY of the GMO seeds have the same patented traits. Monsanto has sued farmers who did NOT buy their seeds because the neighbor’s GMO crop cross-pollinated the other farmer’s crop, so it no has the pantented traits. If we’re not careful, there will be NO seeds available that don’t come from the GMO company and that company can charge ridiculous prices for its seeds. (They’re already ridiculous from my perspective.)

    Now, in corn, the advantage of the GMO seeds is that the plants are resistant to glyphosate, a weed-killer. So the farmer can spray his crop with glyphosate (Roundup) to get rid of weeds without killing his corn. Trouble is, the weeds are fast developing a resistence to glyphosate. So now the farmer pours on a cocktail of toxic chemicals, adding that much more to his cost of production and to the risk that our foods will be contaminated with chemicals..

    That’s bad enough, but what happens when there aren’t enough non-GMO seeds available to plant the crops needed to feed people and the weeds are completely resistent to glyphosate?

    If our foods had to be labeled, we could refuse to buy GMO crops, so that we wouldn’t run out of non GMO seeds.

    Reply
    • I do understand your concerns about seeds. I am a big supporter of the seed savers and the beautiful heritage crops that they preserve.

      Reply
      • It just seems that a near-monopoly of such a basic means for production could be dangerous. I used to know a guy who was farming specifically to make sure heritage crops would still be available when things go wrong with the GMOs.

        Reply
  14. This is why I buy organic. By law, organic can not contain GMO, therefore for my purposes, the organic label is the same as saying “this product does not contain GMOs” and that’s what I buy. Vote with your pocket book, I say. Stop buying their products – by any means necessary – and then it won’t matter if they label or not.

    Reply
    • Yes, organic is the way around it right now and as Jackie says above, if it doesn’t say No GMO, then it likely is. I don’t care a bit if products have GMOs – only that we’re made aware so that I can make a choice about whether or not I use them.

      Reply
  15. Ben & Jerry’s has announced that it will go “NO GMO” by 2014. Hope others follow suit and no one will buy Monsanto’s Franken-food.

    Reply
    • I had a KIND bar today. It is clearly labeled No GMOs. Didn’t seem that hard for them.

      Reply
  16. I’m very proud of my homestate for taking this step. It makes an important statement, even if it isn’t as comprehensive as it could be. In the past, CT was the first to pass laws on things like speed limits and lead poisoning prevention measures. I have the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before GMO-labeling is a given.

    Reply
    • You may be right Mary. I am anxious to watch this and see what takes place. I believe the people are beginning to ask for something other than what we have.

      Reply
  17. This whole issue amazes me! If I owned a company that didn’t use GMO products I would shout it from the rooftops to in effect make the labeling requirements unnecessary. I think everyone has a right to know what they are consuming :)

    Reply
  18. I’ve not followed contingent legislation before. That’s new to me. Here in California we came very close a year ago to passing legislation requiring GMO food labeling. It was put to the voters. It was a popular bill, until just before the election the onslaught of fear-based advertising swept through, funded, of course, by Big M. The message was that labeling was going to be very expensive and wasn’t a reasonable request of small grocers and food establishments. It was entirely bogus, but the bill went down in defeat. It gets discouraging sometimes. I hope that Connecticut is successful!

    Reply
    • The argument is always about small business and the consumers. We have to show that it is a competitive advantage for both.

      Reply
  19. I heard the legislation passed, but enforcement is contingent upon several other states passing similar bills. So it seems it’s not a complete victory just yet.

    One other thing – I notice there is a growing reliance on the organic label as a symbol of purity. That label is no longer what it was and Agribusiness is quietly, methodically and successfully imploding the standards of organic.

    There is no single, transparent and reliable indicator of good food – we need to stop expecting a logo to mean we don’t have to pay attention.

    Reply
    • You’re right on both accounts. It is contingent and many are now relying on the organic label.

      Reply
  20. Hi Tammy–the awareness is growing, despite all the big corporate monied efforts. If given the right information, people do want the labeling, plain and simple. The fight on Monsanto’s side against it points up the inherent problems of GMOs. In Nashville, there was an organized march against Monsanto and many attended. (I was in Italy at the time.) For those of us who grow our own food, or have access to local farmers markets, CSAs and Co-ops, we have an edge–we know the food is safe, and GMO free. But for most, that truth is obscured.

    Reply
    • I went to the local Monsanto march. It was hot but there were a lot of people there. I was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t more dialogue around practical things like labeling as opposed to just strong end-all Monsanto statements. I have some terrific photos too.

      Reply
  21. What’s taking the US so long??? Countries all over Europe are already taking a stand.

    Reply
    • Countries all over the world are doing so. I think it’s that the food industry has such powerful lobbyists and many of the former lobbyists work inside the government entities that do the regulating. I am trying to decide if I agree with the small business costs of this and I’m not certain that I do.

      Reply
  22. Since we eat mostly organic, I know that those foods are not genetically modified. But it’s upsetting to hear of a possible backslide in Europe due to U.S. corporate pressure. The contingent legislation concept is interesting.

    Reply
    • Sounds like there is some tinkering with the organic label going on. I’ll try to research it. Honestly, this gets tiring sometimes. That’s why I love my CSA.

      Reply
  23. You have such a great way of keeping readers willing to read, learn, consider, grow and act. I respect you so much for being so gently tenacious. Five stars, Tammy!

    Reply
    • Thanks Amy. I’m trying to bring information without bias so that everyone can form their own opinions. In this debate, it’s important to acknowledge what we don’t know.

      Reply
  24. Different laws in different states; it seems so complicated, Tammy! So just because locals say they want their petrol a certain way and their food labelled it is contingent on other states voting likewise. It’s a bit of a millstone…
    I think it’s vital we know when we’re buying the results of GM crops. Transparency is everything.

    Reply
    • And i’m meeting successful and struggling small business owners who are already doing it so i’m not going to buy the cost line much longer.

      Reply
  25. Great post!

    I fully agree, we need to be informed.

    Reply
  26. princessiyaaffo

     /  June 18, 2013

    Thank you. I am on the road —and now, in Asia. I have so much to tell you because thjis post has reminded of the life I decided to leave. But for now, I want to thank you for a very informative post.

    Reply
  27. I like to know what I’m buying and eating. Simple as that.
    And unfortunately, living in Europe, doesn’t automatically mean I do. Companies have ways of being tricky when labeling…

    PS: Tammy, do I recall correctly, have you asked me about caring for Kalanchoes? I’m happy to report mine is growing nicely and the trick turns out to be – it needs to be cut back (no mercy!) after blooming :)

    Reply
    • yeah. yes, I did ask you about Kalanchoes. i buy them when they are blooming and pretty but haven’t been able to keep them going.

      Reply
  28. I remember back in the early 2000s when a group called R-CALF from the Heartland (South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana mainly) were trying to get Country of Origin labeling for meat. You would have thought they were asking for the moon. They were trying to protect consumers from beef that was fed things that could cause Mad Cow among other things. I did some stories for a local paper on them, but things never did pan out. The bill was passed in the Congress, but without funding to back it up, so as usual .

    Reply
  29. OMG, I just read the comment before mine about Kalanchoes. I can’t seem to get rid of them. I give them away with a life-time guarantee. If it dies, I promise to replace it. Light, but not too much light and water every now and again. Also every leaf that falls off can be rooted into a new plant, no lie.

    Reply

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