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Published on September 12th, 2013 | by Jennifer Kaplan

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The Invisible Politics of GMO Labeling

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shutterstock_113389501As someone who follows false ‘natural’ labeling on food, I recently noticed two seemingly contradictory media pieces on GMO labeling that caught my eye. 

A week ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the agency to finalize its policies on the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) marketed as food products or additives:

“We encourage the FDA to implement a regulatory framework that will promote transparency for consumers while providing producers with the certainty they need to label their products appropriately. Standardized labels will prevent misleading or confusing information from being presented to consumers which will help them make informed purchasing decisions that will encourage market competition.”

This effort would seem to reflect the desires of many US consumers. A recent New York Times poll found that 93% of Americans favor labeling of GE food.

GMO Labels: ‘cumbersome for industry’

At almost the same time the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) issued a statement ‘supporting market-driven solutions to GMO labeling issue.’   In other words, no government regulation requiring GMO labels. Their rationale? UNPA says “national legislation is likely to be ineffective, and a patchwork of state regulations would be expensive and cumbersome for industry while not best serving consumers.”

I have for some time now, been writing about how companies who try to sell truly natural foods are self-regulating. Or rather, they are beginning to self-regulate in the face of growing class action lawsuits. By joining the Non-GMO Project or going organic, companies that find value in producing natural food  are doing exactly what the UNPA wants and using market-driven solutions.

But, back to UNPA. A little digging and I found that the United Natural Products Alliance, which like so many industry-backed trade associations has a warm and fuzzy name, is an association representing many ‘large dietary supplement, functional food and analytical companies.’ I didn’t immediately see anything particularly obvious about the roster of UNPA’s members. Sure, there are some large supplement manufacturers. Sure, they wouldn’t want to have to label all the supplements with Non-GMO labels. Why would that be a problem? It turns out that most common vitamins, including children’s vitamins, have been found to contain GMOs because a large number of multivitamins and individual nutrient vitamins are formulated with ingredients derived from genetically modified corn.

And that’s not all. A little more digging and that’s when I saw an interesting circle of political maneuvering. Last month Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) reintroduced legislation called the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act. The act would allow the Food & Drug Administration to regulate dietary supplements like they were drugs.

Not surprisingly, the UNPA opposes Dietary Supplement Labeling Act. The legislation would be truly cumbersome for their entire industry (not jsut vitamin companies). What’s the connection? As an article in NaturalSociety.com titled Senator Calls For Dietary Supplement Labeling Act’ Instaed of GMO Labeling: No One Is Fooled states:

Senator Dick Durbin thinks that one of the safest food supplements on the planet – supplements that causes less deaths per year than bee stings, should be labeled. Why so much attention to dietary supplements that can boost fat loss and improve health when GMO foods, which are known to cause cancer, organ failure and reproductive issues as drastic as uterine swelling and endometriosis, go unnoticed? Perhaps the supplement industry is competing with Big Pharma and Big Agriculture …

Apparently, Durbin and a handful of other Big Pharma and Big Ag state senators are against GMO-labeling. Hmm … Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Mark Udall were previously among them. Go figure.

I suppose it was naive of me to think that our elected officials could support anything other than market-driven solutions. Thank goodness we can all still demand those market-driven solutions and vote with our pocketbooks — and our class action lawyers.

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About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .



  • Robert Wager

    Cause cancer? Hmmm then why did the WHO say:
    “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

  • http://www.alainbraux.com Chef Alain

    Hello Jennifer

    I work for a small family-owned pharmacy in Austin, TX.

    My job is to clean GMOs out of our food, groceries, supplements and cosmetics.

    According to my research, yo would be AMAZED at the amount of genetically engineered ingredients present in supplements and cosmetics.

    Most of the supplements companies I contact with the results of my research refuse to answer or deny having GM ingredients. They even tried to pressure my boss into telling me to back off.

    Contact me if you questions about this issue. I have (so far) a 65 pages list of GM ingredients or derivatives.

    Sincerely,

    Chef Alain Braux
    Executive Chef-Nutrition Therapist
    Peoples Pharmacy. Austin, TX

    Award-winning Health Author of:
    “Paleo French Cuisine”
    “Healthy French Cuisine for Less Than $10/Day”
    “Living Gluten and Dairy-Free with French Gourmet Food”
    “How to Lower your Cholesterol with French Gourmet Food”

    Check out my site, books and blog at: http://www.alainbraux.com

    LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=26543696&trk=hb_tab_pro_top

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chef-Alain-Braux/120298891508707?ref=ts&fref=ts

    Twitter: @chefalainbraux

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