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Is a Secret Plan by Big Food Behind Whole Foods Decision to Label GMO?

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Being first to move to mandatory GMO labeling would preserve Whole Foods’ ‘organic’ image, as industry seeks federal GMO labeling laws.

Aaron Dykes
March 12, 2013

Whole Foods relies on its natural image, as seen in their slogan “Nothing Artificial Ever.”

There’s more to Whole Foods’ decision to label all their GMO products by 2018 than appears at first glance.

Their five year plan to label genetically-modified ingredients is a victory — albeit a cautious victory — that is only one step in taking dangerous and untested genetically-modified foods off American plates and stopping biotech’s takeover of the world’s food supply.

While grassroots pressure and consumer activism — including investigative reports by Infowars and Organic Spies — has indeed played an important role in pressuring the grocer to change its course, further research shows that the company is reacting to pressure from above as well as from below.

Biotech and Big Food interests teamed up to spend more than $45 million to defeat California’s Prop 37, which would have mandated the labeling of GMO ingredients.

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But now, many of the biggest conglomerates are trying to avoid the cost of funding future fights against GMO labeling, which could spread to 20 states or the local level and beyond.


What seemed impossible was happening in Washington in early January 2013: Wal-Mart, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, Mars, Coca-Cola and other major food conglomerates were meeting in secret with the FDA to lobby FOR a mandatory federal GMO labeling law.

Ronnie Cummins, of Organic Consumers Association, who exposed the meetings asked, “Is Big Food just cozying up to the FDA so they can derail the growing organic and anti-GMO movement, and finagle a federal labeling law so toothless it won’t be worth the ink it takes to sign it?

Then, with Washington States’ labeling initiative in mind, some 20 of the biggest food companies, including Wal-Mart, PepsiCo and ConAgra, met with labeling advocates at the Meridian Institute in January to discuss strategies on quelling consumer uprisings over GMO. The NY Times reported:

“The big food companies found themselves in an uncomfortable position after Prop. 37, and they’re talking among themselves about alternatives to merely replaying that fight over and over again,” said Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University who attended the meeting.

“They spent a lot of money, got a lot of bad press that propelled the issue into the national debate and alienated some of their customer base, as well as raising issues with some trading partners,” said Mr. Benbrook, who does work on sustainable agriculture.

So the outstanding question is obvious. Why would the same industry that paid big bucks to defeat Prop 37 and keep their heavily GMO-sourced junk foods unlabeled turn around and pressure the FDA for federal labeling laws?

According to Michele Simon (AppetiteforProfit.com), the use of federal regulators — already in the pockets of Big Agra and biotech — could be useful in staving off grassroots efforts aimed at state battles that may yield stricter laws, including liability and outright bans of GMO. Simon writes:

“But missing from both of these accounts is the ominous potential downside of federal GMO labeling: a sneaky legal concept known as preemption. […] Preemption simply means that a higher law trumps a lower law: so federal trumps state, and state trumps local. But in practice, it’s industry’s way of ensuring uniformity and stopping grassroots efforts. How I do know this? From years of experience of seeing it happen in various public health issues.”

If the biggest industry players are ready to cave on GMO labeling, Whole Foods then knows that it MUST move towards mandatory labeling. Why? As much as we’d like to believe in altruism or the preeminence of consumer pressure, it is most likely because Whole Foods knows its entire business image is based around healthy and ‘organic’ foods.

Thus, in making themselves the first big grocer to require the labeling of all genetically-modified ingredients, Whole Foods preserves its reputation among shoppers who are making an effort to avoid GMOs, and clearly they realize that customer trust and the perception of integrity is key to remaining profitable in a changing market.

While any labeling effort is positive in the struggle for the right to know what we’re eating, activists and consumers alike should be wary of half-measures implemented by Washington appointees who represent anything but our best interests.

Only vigilance will keep enough pressure on industries to one day roll back insane, untested laboratory foods and make it possible for the average citizen to eat real food.

This article was posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm

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