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Big Food Companies Spend Millions to Defeat GMO Labeling

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Libby Foley

Big Food Companies Spend Millions to Defeat GMO Labeling

Big food and biotechnology companies and trade associations have reported spending $51.6 million over the first half of this year, some or all of which went to lobby for legislation that would block state and federal agencies from requiring food companies to label products that contain GMO ingredients, according to new analysis by EWG.

The biggest spenders among individual companies were Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Kraft, General Mills and Land O’Lakes.  Over the first two quarters of this year, these six companies disclosed $12.6 million on lobbying expenses that made reference to legislation aimed at killing state and federal GMO labeling.  Food companies that disclosed lobbying expenditures tied to GMO labeling for the first time this year includes Unilever and Ocean Spray.

 

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Center for Responsive Politics and lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary of the U.S. Senate.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents these and other food manufacturers, reported spending $5.1 million so far this year on anti-labeling lobbying efforts and other legislative priorities.  In disclosure forms examined by EWG, GMA said it hired 32 lobbyists and spent $1.4 million on lobbying that went exclusively to advocate anti-GMO-labeling legislation since 2014. 

 

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Center for Responsive Politics and lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary of the U.S. Senate.

All told, since 2013, the food and biotech industries have spent $143 million in lobbying expenditures that mentioned GMO labeling. 

If the industry continues to bankroll K Street lobbying at this rate, by the end of this year, it will have laid out more than $100 million, a steep increase from last year’s total of $66 million for similar purposes and quadruple the comparable 2013 figure of $25.4 million

EWG’s analysis is based upon documents filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary of the U.S. Senate. The filings mention GMO labeling legislation along with other policy issues. EWG did not count lobbying disclosure forms that made no reference to GMO labeling legislation.

Three states have enacted laws that require food makers to label products that contain GMO ingredients.  All food sold in Vermont that contains GMO ingredients will need to be labeled by July 1, 2016; the labeling laws in Connecticut and Maine are scheduled to go into effect when other northeastern states pass similar legislation.  Another 17 states are considering similar legislation.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., countered with H.R. 1599, a bill which critics have dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know – or DARK – Act.   

The DARK Act would bar states from enacting laws to require GMO labeling, block state laws prohibiting “natural” on advertising and labels of GMO foods, and make it virtually impossible for U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set up a mandatory national GMO labeling system.  

The bill would limit the ability of states and counties to regulate GMO crop production.  It would set up a new voluntary program at U.S. Department of Agriculture that would allow food manufacturers to label their wares “GMO-free.”  The rationale for the last provision is baffling: food manufacturers can make “GMO-free” claims today if they so choose.

The House passed the DARK Act on July 23 by a vote of 275 to 150.  A similar bill has not been introduced in the senate.

Industry lobbying has dwarfed that of GMO labeling advocates, who disclosed $2.5 million in the first half of this year, $2 million last year and nearly $1 million in 2013. Since 2013, industry lobbyists have outspent GMO labeling advocates by 25-to-1.

A separate tally shows that food companies and trade associations have spent more than $100 million to oppose state GMO labeling ballot initiatives.

 

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from Center for Responsive Politics and lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Secretary of the U.S. Senate.

Polls show nine of 10 Americans support mandatory GMO food labeling. Some 64 other nations have labeling laws.  EWG and other advocates of labeling point out that the practice has not increased food prices in other nations.  Studies show that a simple GMO disclosure on food labels will have no impact on food prices or food security needs.

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