Calls for labelling GM food reveal attempts at market domination

[American business interests that are behind the current push for GM food labelling in California play a major part in this Australian story, reposted from The Conversation website.]
By Richard Roush, University of Melbourne and David Tribe, University of Melbourne
Australia has one of the more rigorous food labelling systems in the world for genetically modified (GM) attributes. All foods with more than 1% GM in any ingredient are required to be identified as “genetically modified” on the label, other than at restaurants.
But some stakeholders are demanding more extensive labelling. Given that the current system is already quite tough, we need to ask why more is needed. But first, let’s look at what we do right now.

Peculiar attention

There’s a great disparity between how different foods are labelled in Australia.
Non-GM food products with very real serious risks of containing allergens, such as nuts, are allowed on the market with no more than a “may contain” label. And we still accept artificial food ingredients with established health risks, such as trans fats, without a labelling requirement.
But lobbyists and consumer interest groups have focused on the labelling of genetically modified food. This seems to be much more of a political and commercial marketing campaign than one based on science, the environment or health.
There’s no scientific evidence for health or environmental risks from genetically modified crops. To the contrary, there’s scientific consensus that foods from GM crops are at least as safe as foods from conventional crops.
And, in contrast to genetically modified crops, conventional plant breeding is not routinely evaluated for unintended effects, even though detailed evaluation consistently shows GM crops to be less risky than conventionally bred crops.
Despite the greater riskiness of conventional breeding, there has been no major campaign for special labelling of new crop varieties.
What’s more, there is no concerted campaign for compulsory labelling for other food-related issues of concern to consumers, such pesticide use or child labour. Indeed, despite international concern about child labour in cocoa production, there is no required labelling of chocolate for such disclosure.
The Greens can’t even get much support for a campaign on country-of-origin labelling for food. It seems odd that if you want to eat GM-free in Australia for whatever reason, you can make choices more easily than trying to find foods sourced from Australian farms.

Canola crop in Australia. Jan Smith

Consumers already have access to a range of labels and information allowing them to avoid foods grown from genetically modified crops. And even though there are no genetically-modified fresh fruits or vegetables in Australia, you’ll see plenty of “non-GM” labels if you take a quick walk through the supermarket.
This is peculiar in itself because there are such labels on canola oil even though genetically-modified commercial canola oil is not detectably different from oil originating from plants that are not genetically modified.

Consumer choice?

Consumer choice is clearly not the most important value here. So, what else could be going on?
The leading Australian promoters of campaigns for GM labelling don’t reveal their funding sources. But information about the financial interests behind the same push is available in California, where there’s a current ballot proposition to require labelling of GM foods.
The leading funder of the labelling campaign in California, businessman Joseph Mercola, is refreshingly honest about his motivation – and it’s not consumer choice. Mercola has contributed more than $1.1 million to the campaign so far, and also does business in Australia.
Mercola has said, “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labelling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85% of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market just the way it was done in Europe.”
Mercola is a colourful character. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 warned him against making illegal claims regarding the usefulness of his alternative medicines for detecting, preventing and treating disease.

Protests in the United States for GM labels on food. Alexis Baden-Mayer

It seems his campaign is not about better consumer choice, but rather elimination of consumer choice. Consumers tend to believe that labels warn of unspecified dangers and people such as Mercola seek to exploit their fears.
Retailers of organic food and other “natural products” also gain a marketing advantage from frightening publicity about genetically-modified foods.
Besides Mercola, the major funders of the GM labelling initiative in California include Nature’s Path Foods, the Organic Consumers Fund (which includes 3000 cooperating retail coops, natural food stores, and farmers markets) and Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps. All these companies contributed between $300,000 to $985,000 each to the campaign.
Debate about GM crops and their labelling will undoubtedly continue. But we need to be honest about the motivations of at least some of the business interests behind these campaigns. And we need to be aware that the campaign to go further than what is already a rigorous labelling regime is more complicated than just giving consumers choice.
More than 10 years ago, Richard Roush was part of a team that was given $20,000 in total from Monsanto and Bayer in partial support (about 20% of the research budget) for a project on pollen flow in canola. He currently has a grant from the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (which is part funded by the Australian government) for risk assessment for GM canola. The GRDC is not opposed to GM crops per se.
David Tribe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article except the University of Melbourne, where he is paid for teaching research and community outreach by a standard salary arrangement with the University. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.
The Conversation
This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.



  1. It’s good business for the litigation lawyers to, including James Wheaton, who “wrote” the proposition. He stands to make good money from predatory lawsuits, as he has from other propositions he fostered in CA. CA is letting the fox build the chicken coop, with a special fox only entrance, and stuffing it with taxpayer and Mom & Pop producer chickens.
    Michael Pollan argued yesterday on Reddit that prop 37 will set a precedent for the rest of the US, but this is false. Few states harbor quarter to the “short circuit the legislative branch”, mob rule procedures of the voter initiative process. All this will do is drive small producers out of CA. Big companies will spread out the costs nationally and globally, but smaller outfits will pack it in (or go barter and black market).

  2. I want to know what will happen to small groceries, specifically ethnic ones. If they don’t source exclusively from CA (or those few places that also have CA’s type of labeling), what will happen to them? If prop 65 (everything may cause cancer) is any example, they will go out of business. This would be a huge blow to any neighborhoods that rely on small and/or ethnic groceries.

  3. GMO Food – The Greatest Threat to Health in the History of Western Civilization
    Jeff Smith’s book, Seeds of Deception, compiles 20 years of data on the health risks of genetically modified foods from scientists such as Arpad Pusztai and Trudy Netherwood who reported that feeding GMO food to laboratory animals resulted in thousands of sick, sterile and dead laboratory animals. The greater health issue is the increasing food allergies resulting from consumption of GMO food in the US. While American consumers remain oblivious, GMO Foods have been introduced into the US food supply without safety testing or even labeling. Already 80% of our US food supply is GMO, affecting corn, soy, cotton seed oil and canola oil. Many civilized nations have banned GMO Food. The British Medical Association has asked for a moratorium on GMO foods.
    To
    Jeffrey Dach MD

  4. One of the problems I find with this proposition (and the proposition process in California) is that there is no requirement that the proposition pay for itself. The state determined that it could cost the State of California a million dollars per year to regulate it, so where will that money come from? Somewhere else that needed it. I think that a proposition that could cost the state money should also come up with a way to pay for that cost. Otherwise, the state lawmakers have their hands tied trying to pay for these things without raising taxes. Of course, if it included a new tax, it would be very hard to pass. I wonder what that might mean?

  5. Thousands of sick, sterile, and dead laboratory animals? That is clearly an exaggeration. Pusztai has been roundly criticized and I’m not sure how Netherwood’s research fits into that because her papers don’t even address that. There is no evidence that allergies have been affected by genetically engineered crops. Yes, there has been safety testing – where do you get this? Oh yeah, Jeffrey Smith. I think that someone with an MD should be able to research these things on their own and not rely on people with questionable expertise and accuracy.

  6. Wow! MD indeed. I guess only “civilized” societies know what’s best.
    How arrogant can one get!?

  7. Ya gotta wonder how all those biomedical research animals have managed to be produced over the last decade, eh? They aren’t eating “organic” chows.
    I used to work at The Jackson Lab. I know how carefully the mouse colonies were monitored. But there’s also Charles River. Harlan. Somehow they’ve managed to stay in business. How do you supposed that’s happened?

  8. This comes down to the epidemiological rebuttal; if it’s such a tremendous threat, then why isn’t the effect obvious? Something can’t simultaneously be “The Greatest Threat To Health” and also so subtle as to avoid detection except by certain especially careful observers. If “80% of our food is GMO,” and that’s a bad thing, wouldn’t it be obvious from looking at the stats? Sort of like the “Thimerosol causes Autism” people, when you point-out that thimerosol is gone….
    I have a friend who was convinced by someone she met at a party that microwave ovens made everything put into them Deadly Poison, even water. I pointed-out that we don’t see people dropping dead all over the place from Microwave Free Radicals, so the tale was not credible. When I pressed, I found the guy was trying very hard to get into her pants: NOT, I think, a credible source for health advice. A Drunk Guy At a Party (DGAP), is not the most trustworthy. Nor is advice from people whose livelihood depends on faith and hysteria instead of evidence and ratiocination ($5). Ulterior motives must be considered.

  9. Speaking of funding sources, who funds your publications? Don’t divert the issue by focusing on child labour laws, etc, etc.
    In fact there isn’t ENOUGH focus on genetically modified foods. Monsanto has already ruined hundreds of farmers lives in India.
    It was the Monsantos of the world that poured hundreds of millions of dollars into fighting the California proposition to label foods that contain GMOs. If GMOs are so harmless and in fact are a requirement to feed the growing population, why is it necessary to hide the labelling? Why are they not pouring hundreds of millions dollars into labelling AND why are they not giving the equivalent $$ into advertising their beloved GMOs?

  10. If you will check our About page, Joanne, you will find that we are funded by reader donations, and a couple grants. As a rule, we do not accept money from private corporations. Thanks for asking, and I have no idea what that has to do with child labor laws…

  11. Monsanto does label every GMO product they sell. It’s a selling point that their customers (farmers) look and ask for.
    Monsanto spent a reported 8.1 million dollars, not “hundreds of millions of dollars”. In fact, all opponents of prop 37 spent less than fifty million combined.

  12. Total pro-gmo funding against prop 37: $46 million, anti-gmo funding for prop 37: $9.6 million.
    Hundreds of millions of dollars, Joanne? Why should we believe any anti-gmo arguments when there is such grevious exaggerations, to put it mildly, are constantly proliferated by anti-gmoer’s? You can still find anti-gmo posts stating Golden Rice poisons with too much vitamin A (it never had vitamin A, just beta-carotene) and anti-gmo posts stating it has too little beta-carotene.
    And,as far as so gt cotton only boosting yields for 5 years and Indian cotton prodcution declining since 2008….
    I know, i know, i must be working for Monsanto.

  13. BALONEY!!!
    Scan and send me ONE label from Monsanto or OTHERWISE indicating the ingredients contain GMOs. Karl Haro, you are precisely correct when you say you don’t know what it has to do with child labor laws. Read the original post where said ‘laws’ are presented as a diversionary tactic.

  14. Listen Karo Von Whatever….I’m talking about the millions, yes millions, Monsanto and the like poured into the California Prop 37. Not seed obtained by farmers….

  15. Damn you Mr Karl von Whatever! I wanted that prize!
    Yes Joanne (or is it JOANNE!!). Monsanto spent multiple of millions of dollars against P37. While you are at it, admit that the Organic Industry (TM) also spent multiple of millions of dollars supporting it. These include, the business of a noted health guru fraud, The Organic Consumers Fund, the financial offshoot of the OCA who states their goal of “A global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops”, and Kent Whealy, cofounder of Seed Savers Exchange, who was kicked off its board of directors for refusing to be open minded and also supports a ban on GMO. All the above gave 1 million or more to the support effort. Labeling in P37 had nothing to do with “providing information” or “right to know”. It was all about forcing GMO off the store shelves to the advantage of the producers of organic commodities, Big O. Major supporters of P37 admitted as much after the campaign.
    Labeling may be a possibility that many here would accept, albeit relunctantly, but only if it is done in a truly informative manner and not biased towards competing interests. None of the past or current labeling efforts in the US comes close to this ideal.

  16. Also, if you check the public records, it states that the Organic Consumers Association (not the fund) donated an additional $40,000… which might actually be illegal since it is a non-profit charity. Oops!

  17. “It was all about forcing GMO off the store shelves to the advantage of the producers of organic commodities, Big O” GOOD!
    Regarding the organics spending $$$ for support of Prop 37. I can NOT imagine why they would do that. Can you?

  18. Not sure on that. They can’t donate to or support candidates, but propositions may not be covered.

  19. No, actually I can’t. They already have a self imposed separation from all other ag. There is no direct confusion of organic products with GMO now and labeling will not enhance that. They make sales and money off GMO scare mongering. The only advantage of labeling is to drive more customers to their products. Using the law to enhance ones business by repressing others is unethical and an abuse of the system. People cry out when the big nasty corporations do these things, but evidently it’s ok when the businesses doing it are ones you like. I think it stinks both ways. But apparently the Organic brand and all the Bally hoo around it isn’t sufficient to increase the customer base by itself.

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