I have to hand it to Monsanto.
A company representative on Twitter recently engaged me in a dialog about whether labeling products containing GMO food would do any harm, and, if so, to whom.
While the dialog felt like another cut-and-paste debate between me and previously published Monsanto paraphernalia, it offered just enough information about how Monsanto defends against mandatory GMO labeling. Clearly, anyone informed about consumer sentiments regarding GMO food knows that such labeling would devastate Monsanto and other GM seed companies’ bottom line. Which explains the vigorous, even suffocating effort by Monsanto to control the conversation.
The specific question I asked on Twitter was: Dear Monsanto, What would be the harm in labeling GMO foods, regardless of whether same as non-GMO food?
I didn’t send the tweet to a specific person, so anyone was welcome to jump in. Thankfully, @Mica_MonsantoCo (Twitter name of Mica Veihman, Monsanto Public Affairs) decided to take a crack at answering my question. Some of her responses included:
- “U.S. labeling laws are based on health & safety, not choice.”
- “Harm is having mandated labeling of something that doesn’t have a scientific reason for it.”
- “I don’t want food companies passing along cost of labeling to me for something they say has no bearing on my health or safety.”
- “No it [organic] doesn’t have a scientific reason, that’s why organic is a marketing program.”
- “Harm is making people think there is health or safety problem with their food.”
- “We do not support a government-mandated label which is reserved for health or safety issues.”
Do you see a pattern? Visit the Monsanto link Mica provided during our chat and you will see the theme continued:
Some might ask what the harm would be in requiring the labeling of products. U.S. labeling laws are based on health and safety. Requiring labeling for ingredients that don’t pose a health issue would undermine both our labeling laws and consumer confidence. Ensuring that such labeling is accurate would also put a huge burden on regulatory agencies.
Again and again, Monsanto stresses that mandatory labeling for foods containing GMOs would undermine the U.S. labeling system. At first, it seemed like Monsanto might have a point. After all, “Certified Organic” is not mandatory, nor is “Non-GMO,” since neither relates to health or safety, at least not from the industrial food system’s perspective.
Then I remembered the recently launched USDA Country of Origin Label (COOL) program, mandated by Congress through the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills.
The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of muscle cut and ground meats including beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, and goat meat; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); peanut, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng.
Did Congress implement this law because of health and safety concerns? No. It did so to assist U.S. food producers in establishing competitive advantage based on the assumption that U.S. consumers, if given country of origin information, would buy U.S. products over imported ones. No mention of health. No mention of safety. Nor have I read anywhere how COOL has undermined our country’s labeling laws or consumer confidence.
Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, summed COOL up nicely: “I strongly support Country of Origin Labeling—it’s a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food.“
Did you catch that? The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture highlighted consumer choice as the reason for a mandatory food labeling program. Given that 95 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed want GMO labeling, incidentally the same percentage that favor country of origin labeling, doesn’t it seem like leaders in Washington should step up for consumer choice again?
A less important, but still interesting question is how Monsanto can make supposedly definitive statements over and over again that are factually incorrect and misleading?
That’s the Monsanto way.