On The Organic Trade Association’s Betrayal Of The Movement For Mandatory GMO Labeling
Last week President Obama signed the DARK (Deny Americans their Right to Know) Act into law that pre-empts Vermont’s and all other state’s mandatory GMO labeling laws. This bill, passed by Congress two weeks ago, was championed by Senators Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts (Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Ag committee) along with USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. It creates a federal “non-labeling” standard for foods produced in part or entirely with genetic engineering. The legislation is a gift to the pesticide and food industries who make and sell GMOs. It allows companies to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers instead of clear on-pack labeling to disclose the presence of GMOs, forcing consumers to scan the code or make a call, effectively burying and hiding the information.
Millions of American consumers have been fighting for what 64 countries around the world already require: a clear on-pack statement indicating a presence of GMO ingredients. Vermont’s law was the first in the nation and took effect July 1st, with more states soon to follow with the same requirements. Major food brands had already clearly labeled their products nationwide in response without raising prices, disclosing whether products were produced in part or entirely with genetic engineering. Over 90% of GMO crop acreage is engineered to be saturated and survive huge doses of toxic weed killers, including Glyphosate, which has been deemed a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Consumers and physicians are rightly concerned about increasing residues of this and other herbicides on GMO foods as well as their impact on the environment.
This DARK Act was made possible in large part by what I and other movement leaders see clearly as the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA’s) betrayal of the movement to mandate labeling of GMOs in America, forever preempting Vermont and all other states from mandating disclosure of GMOs on packaging. Apparently Executive Director of the OTA, Laura Batcha, and board chair Missy Hughes, General Counsel of Organic Valley, with support from Organic Valley CEO George Siemon, decided to act unilaterally and endorse the Stabenow Roberts legislation, without review and approval of the OTA board. The explanation given is pathetic and self-serving: that organic products can claim to be produced without genetic engineering, which was already the case; and that dairy and meat products from animals fed GMO grain cannot automatically make a GMO-free claim. The latter is a trivial issue compared to pre-empting citizens’ right to mandate disclosure of the presence of GMOs, and should be addressed through separate litigation and legislation.
More importantly, OTA’s leadership demonstrated a complete lack of integrity and courage in standing against the biotech agenda championed by Vilsack, Roberts and Stabenow. As a movement we already went through this exact scenario in February, when Vilsack and Stabenow were leaning hard on multiple movement representatives to take this deal, myself included, and then focused on pressuring Just Label It (JLI) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to split the movement and provide enough political cover to wavering Democrats to get 60 votes to cloture. At that time movement leaders counseled JLI and EWG that the broader movement did not support making a deal that would allow the QR code plan to move forward.