GMO Food Labeling: Lies and the Lying GMO Food Liars Who Tell Them

It’s no surprise that Monsanto and their agribusiness and Big Food industry friends are spending upwards of $40 million to keep Californians in the dark about genetically modified (GMO) foods. Their anti-Prop 37 campaign intends to run nonstop TV, radio and (if they could) subliminal-beamed-into-your -brain messages designed to scare you about this simple ballot measure that would require labels on GMO foods sold in California grocery stores.

Political science professor Steven Schier of Carleton College called spending the “key variable” in the Prop 37 race, but the good professor is missing the other key variable that the anti-choice corporations have on their side: the ability and willingness to lie about labeling GMO foods.

Perhaps the biggest lie told by the anti-choice crowd is that GMO labels will result in increased food costs for needy families. To support this lie, the industry points to studies (funded by (surprise!) industry) that use absurd assumptions coupled with seemingly complex formulas to come up with ridiculous “estimates” of cost increases. But they never talk about any of the dozens of countries that have adopted GMO food labeling. Why don’t they want to talk about these countries? Because there is not a single real-world case they can point to where GMO labels have resulted in increased food costs. As Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine) has stated about GMO labeling, “Based on the experience of the European Union [countries] that have instituted mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food, we anticipate that the impact on consumer food prices will be negligible.”

The San Francisco Chronicle has pointed out that the anti-choice campaign’s cost increase estimates have not been independently verified, and noted that the anti-campaign lied about an increased state bureaucracy that would cost the state “millions” of dollars. This whopper is just one of the lies told by Monsanto and their allies. Their desperate campaign of lies and distortions has already been exposed for the following dirty tricks:

  • Including the FDA logo along with a phony FDA statement suggesting the agency opposes the initiative in a mailer that went to thousands of Californians. In fact, the agency has taken no position, and use of the FDA logo by private groups is prohibited.
  • Stating in the official voters’ guide that the Academy of Nutrition opposes Prop 37. The nutritionists’ group put out a statement to correct the Monsanto lie, noting that “Voters need accurate information in order to make an informed choice” (which sounds delightfully similar to the Yes on 37 argument that consumers need accurate labels to make an informed choice when they shop).
  • Claiming that no foods could be labeled as “natural” under Prop 37. An NPR blogger uncritically repeated this claim, until CEH staff pointed out that it was a total lie. When the blogger went back to the author of the study with the CEH critique, she recanted her claim and admitted that Prop 37 “could be interpreted different ways.”
  • Relying on a phony “expert” with a false affiliation. In an early TV ad, the anti-37 campaign spokesperson was identified as “Dr. Henry Miller, MD, Stanford University.” In fact, Miller works for the far-right Hoover Institute, and has a long history of denying climate change, promoting pesticide use and nuclear power, and attacking the FDA. When Stanford (where the Institute is based) learned about the false use of its name, they demanded the ad be changed.

What else does the anti-choice campaign say? They say Prop 37 was written by trial lawyers so they can pursue lawsuits and big paydays. In fact, the Yes on Prop 37 effort is a grassroots campaign led by Californians who simply want to know what’s in our food. The Monsanto campaign says Prop 37 has “loopholes,” but the exemptions in the measure are there to protect businesses (like restaurants) that generally don’t have the same labeling requirements that grocery food has. They say Prop 37 is anti-science and would ban safe foods. But Prop 37 doesn’t ban anything – it simply says people have a right to know what’s in our food. Further, there is nothing to back their argument that GMO foods have been around for many years without health problems. As pediatric neurologist Dr. Martha Herbert (who is actually a professor at Harvard) says, “Tracing health problems to genetically engineered foods is almost impossible right now, because these foods are not labeled and there is no way to keep track of them. So there is no scientific basis at this time for saying that these foods are problem-free.”

But maybe the biggest lie Monsanto told about GMO labeling was in the 1990’s, when the company told consumers in Great Britain that “Food labeling has Monsanto’s full backing.” Apparently this is a company will say anything to get your vote. Don’t fall for it – vote Yes on Prop 37!