Do the wrong thing: How corporations bring out the worst in us. (Part 2)

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    Here’s an excerpt from the January, 2013 edition of PCC’s Sound Consumer newsletter. It shows a partial list of giant food companies that gave money to help DEFEAT California’s GMO food labeling ballot initiative last November.

    Presumably many of these same corporations will also be donating money to defeat Washington’s GMO food initiative (I-522) when it comes on the ballot later this year.

    Alongside each company is a list of one or more “natural/organic” type food products that they sell:

    •PepsiCo (donated $2.5M to defeat Prop 37): Naked Juice

    •Kraft (donated $2M): Back to Nature

    •Safeway (member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M): “O” Organics

    •Coca-Cola (donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla

    •General Mills (donated $1.2M): Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Lara Bar

    •ConAgra (donated $1.2M): Alexia

    •Kellogg’s (donated $791K): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Garden Burger

    •Smucker’s (donated $555K): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic

    •Unilever (donated $467K): Ben & Jerry’s

    •Dean Foods (donated $254K): Horizon, Silk, White Wave

    —Robert Haverlock, sustainability consultant, Sierra Club Snohomish County chapter

    Now, no one should be surprised that big agribusiness companies like Unilever and Coca-Cola would be against GMO labeling. These giants are the ones who stand the most to lose if they have to tell the public what’s actually in some of their products.

    What IS surprising, though, is how many of these same corporate behemoths are associated with brands that consumers normally associate with progressive food policies.

    For each big company in the list, there are one or more natural/organic labels that most PCC shoppers would not expect to be connected with an effort to defeat a progressive food labeling bill.

    I mean . . . Ben & Jerry’s ice cream?

    Trying to stop GMO labeling?

    . . . . Really!?

                                        * * * * * * * * *

    I would say that Ben & Jerry must be turning over in their graves right now, except that these guys are still very much alive, and were even more alive 12 years ago when “their” company and “their” names were sold to the Unilever Corporation.

    See how corporations screw us up?

    More on I-522:



    Here’s an Op-Ed on I-522 from today’s Seattle Times . . .

    The writer is hostile to the idea of GMO-food labeling, but I think it’s a useful read, because it reminds me of how weak the argument against I-522 really is.

    What it amounts to is this: GMO labeling is a hassle for the food industry.

    –To which I reply: Too bad / so sad.

    Complying with other labeling requirements is a hassle, too, but they still manage to do it.

    The author’s premise is that before you can require food to be labeled for GMOs, you should be able to prove that GMOs are somehow unsafe or otherwise significantly different from non-GMO foods.

    –To which I reply: Nonsense.

    When people wanted organic food labeling, we didn’t have to prove that organic food was somehow better or safer than non-organic food. All we had to do was say that we wanted to know how food is produced so we could make our own decision about what to buy.

    Consider country-of-origin labeling on clothes. That’s a hassle, too. Oh well . . . clothes manufacturers have to do it anyway. If I choose not to buy clothes that come from a certain country, that is entirely my business; I don’t have to justify it to anyone.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Bottom line: As a consumer, I have an absolute right to know how the food I buy is produced and what it’s made of. If agribusiness companies don’t like that, they’re always free NOT to sell me their um . . . “food.”



    totally agree



    Ha … and right after explaining why I don’t post in DBP threads …

    So while many focus on global warning, clean water (which frankly I think is more of an emergency but doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention comparatively), hunger, poverty, etc. etc., I’ve been seriously focused on clean food going on 3 years now–not the politics of it but moving toward 100% self-sustainment. On 4500 sq ft, with a ~1000 sq ft house footprint, I’ve got 9 months of foodstuffs down, minus grains, dairy, and petfood. This summer will be about getting through 12 months and moving into seed harvesting that will account for 25% of next year’s plants–I’m doing well on germination of “the easy stuff.” It’s quite a learning curve and I don’t think I could even tackle grains. Also would need to give up all dairy as a major step. Am venturing into tea plants soon. Anyhow … an excellent resource for doing this, along with getting good updates on the GMOs, is Baker Creek ( I mean … to heck with all these “organic” brands, and the PCCs and Whole Foods, too.



    someone pointed out today to be sure if your home garden is going to be “organic” , to make sure your seeds are organic, too. Good reminder this time of year. And, wow, singularname, props to you !! :)



    Here’s what I don’t understand about the initiative, and I’m hoping that someone can explain it to me, because I haven’t found the answer elsewhere: Why does I-522 apply to the retailer, instead of the producer or processor? I just don’t get that.



    where does it say the onus is on the retailer specifically, not the producer/packager and labeler of the product..



    The milk producers now want to put artificial sweeteners in milk.



    Clark…I read about that…my first thought was – what a stupid idea..milk is milk…



    i don’t do nearly as well as singularname, but i too am growing food on our little urban plot. this week i will be sacrificing some of my parking area off the alley to an extended veggie garden.

    i have moved to raised bed and/or container gardening for food after i read about West Seattle’s soil..



    DBP.. my shopping options got much smaller after that list was published …

    that is the reason those companies don’t want to label their products.



    Speaking of milk . . . does everyone recognize the term “rBST”?

    You should by now. It’s that growth hormone for dairy cows, remember? Sort of like steroids for Elsie. Makes her produce more milk. LOTS more milk.

    Most brands of milk sold in Seattle now say that their milk is NOT produced by cows treated with this stuff, so consumers here pretty much expect that now. But rBST labeling almost didn’t happen. There was a huge battle over it about ten years ago, in fact.

    Here’s what happened . . .

    When organic milk producers first started labeling their products as “not rBST” the dairy industry trade got in a huff and started pressing the FDA to make them stop. Saying that milk is “not rBST” implies that it has some nutritional advantage over rBST milk, or that it is safer — they claimed — which would be misleading to consumers and unfair to the dairy farmers who did use the stuff.

    I won’t debate the trade group’s claim. I will say, however, that they were missing the point. rBST labeling was driven as much by consumers as by organic milk producers. See, consumers weren’t just concerned about what was IN the milk they were drinking; they also wanted to know how the cows that produce it were being treated.

    Gee . . . people caring about how farm animals are treated. Why does that come as such a shock to some folks?

    Yes, for the same reason that many people would rather buy eggs from hens that are uncaged and treated humanely, people also prefer to buy milk produced by cows that have NOT been injected with artificial hormones to force their bodies to produce unnatural quantities of milk.

    Did you get that, Dairy Industry? —Some people actually care about how animals are treated. Even farm animals! They’re not just milk- or egg- or meat-producing THINGS; they’re sentient creatures, and they deserve the most humane treatment we can reasonably give them.

    Fortunately, after some initial legal wrangling, the Dairy Industry gave in on the labeling thing and a solution was reached that was satisfactory to all parties.* And now, since most producers have voluntarily abandoned rBST anyway, there’s no pressure on any one producer to try and get ahead by using it. In fact, using rBST would be more of a disadvantage, at least in the Seattle market.

    Fortunately, this story had a happy ending for all concerned:

    ☺ The Dairy Industry won by keeping the playing field level

    ☺ Consumers won by getting the product they wanted

    ☺ Even the cows won, in a manner of moo-ing . . .

    I mean, yeah, heh-heh . . . they were still cows. But that’s better than being a tractor, isn’t it?

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    *In the end, Big Dairy worked out a compromise with the FDA whereby milk that was labeled “not rBST” also had to include a clarification that as far as the milk itself goes, non-rBST milk is not “measurably different” from rBST milk.



    Think cows can’t feel joy? Watch this sweet :) video showing what some cows in Holland did after they were let out into a grassy field after a long winter.

    Warning: If you’re a softie, better get yourself a hankie first:




    Thank DBP. Those cows are so cute! Happy! Of course animals have emotions. How can they not?

    You already know that I’m one of the people you described. I care about how the animal lived before it was killed. Wait, I also care what the animal goes through when it was killed. They should be killed onsite; at the farm; and only have a bad 5-10 secs.

    The 13 U.S. corporate slaughters are terrifying for all the ‘livestock’. I’ll wait for your personal blog before I share the horrific detail.

    There are choices for humanely treated and non-humanely treated animal flesh. Humanely treated costs more…so it’s one of the reasons I rarely eat animal flesh.



    JanS: Back to the issue of what the initiative says about who bears the onus of labeling the food, the text of the Initiative says this:

    Sec. 3. (1) Beginning July 1, 2015, any food offered for retail sale in Washington is misbranded if it is, or may have been, entirely or partly produced with genetic engineering and that fact is not disclosed as follows: …

    Following that, there is a list of three types of foods, namely raw agricultural commodities, processed food, and seeds or seed stock. What distinguishes this language from a typical misbranding or mislabeling statute is that it only applies to “food offered for retail sale.” Nothing in the statue requires the producers, processors, or distributors to actually put this information on their labels; it subjects retailers to a penalty if they sell certain GE foods that are not labeled as such.

    I haven’t seen any discussion of this issue anywhere, although I admit I have not gone looking around all that much. But I can read a statute and I can compare it to other statutes related to consumer goods, and the difference between this statutory structure and others in this state is striking.

    Also — and this is completely unrelated to my first question — now that I’ve read the rest of the proposed law, I am truly surprised at all of the exceptions built in, and by how little the statute requires a label to disclose. Consider the following examples and ask yourself whether this initiative will actually ensure that you are provided useful information about the foods you buy:

    (1) In the case of processed foods, the label must say either “partially produced with genetic engineering,” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.” The next section of the initiative says that there is no requirement to list or identify “any ingredient or ingredients that were genetically engineered, nor that the term ‘genetically engineered’ be placed immediately preceding any common name or primary product descriptor of a food.” In other words, all the label must reveal is the the food “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.” The consumer will not be informed of which parts or ingredients are genetically engineered, in what way, or for what purpose.

    (2) Section 3, subsection (3)(a) of the initiative exempts foods that consist of or come from animals that have been fed or injected with any food or drug made through genetic engineering (so long as the animal itself was not genetically engineered). This clause effectively exempts dairy, eggs, poultry, meat, and farmed seafoods that are fed, injected, or treated with GE products. This subsection alone exempts a significant portion of the food produced in this state from the labeling requirements.

    (3) Section 3, subsection (3)(c) exempts processed foods that would be covered by the law “solely because of one or more processing aids or enzymes were produced or derived with genetic engineering.” The statute defines “enzymes” and “processing aids,” in an earlier section, and it is not at all obvious why these would be exempted, given that most of them remain in the final food product. Mostly, this provision covers things like genetically engineered rennet used in most commercial cheeses, and enzymes used in making yogurt and baked goods.

    (4) Section 3, subsection (3)(d) exempts alcoholic beverages. Whether the makers of wine, beer, and distilled beverages use genetic engineering yet, I do not know. But why exclude them from the law?

    (5) Section 3, subsection (3)(h) exempts food served in restaurants. I guess our right to know what’s in our food doesn’t extend to the restaurant industry. I remember that it took a long time before even big chain restaurants were required to make available ingredient lists and nutritional information, but now it is the norm. So why these food sellers would be left out of this statute is unclear to me.

    This is the sort of thing that drives me nuts about the initiative process sometimes. Assuming it is a good idea to provide consumers useful information about whether the foods they are eating are genetically engineered, then the law should reach the areas where much of this engineering is going on and should required more detailed disclosures. Instead, this statute effectively puts the burden on the ultimate seller, which makes no sense, and totally exempts some of the most powerful interest groups involved in food production.



    Thanks, WW. I think that’s one of the reasons people throw up their hands and don ‘t bother. Seriously confusing. I think I would not vote yes on this in it ‘s current form. Something to really think about.



    Thanks for the research, WW. Very thorough, as always. I will try to answer some of your objections in a post below.

    In the meantime . . .

    Jan, just because the bill is not as comprehensive as it could be is not a good reason to vote it down. Consider what will happen if it gets voted down. When it comes back a second time in a more comprehensive form . . . Agribusiness will say: “The people of Washington don’t want this. They voted it down already.”

    The Agribusiness lobby would not hesitate to bankroll any group that was telling people to vote against this — even if the group was against it because they thought it was too lenient.

    Considering that Agribusiness has more than enough money to spend, we need to get our foot in the door while we can.

    Vote “Yes” on I-522. Then, when it’s time to add to the rules to include restaurants and so on, vote “Yes” on that bill, too!



    DBP: I don’t know that I would characterize my observations as “objections.” I’m not lobbying for a vote one way or another. I think it’s important to go beyond the claims of promoters and detractors and try to understand what a proposed law really says and what it really will do.



    OK, now to waterworld’s criticisms:

    Item: I-522 doesn’t apply to wholesalers, only retailers.

    –Yeah. So? By the time a product gets to a store, it’s got to have a label on it. It makes sense that retailers be responsible for reading and verifying the truth of product labels before they sell us stuff. PCC does it all the time. No sweat.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    (1) No specific ingredient labeling. Just whole product.

    –Yes, this could be better. In a future iteration of the law, it will be. Be that as it may, I think most consumers who would reject a GMO product would reject it on the basis of the product containing any GMO ingredient; it wouldn’t matter what that ingredient was. So, in terms of the consumer’s basic concern, the law does what it intends to do.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    (2) Animals that are fed GMO feeds are exempted.

    –Clearly. I-522 is not trying for labels on animal products. And I don’t blame the sponsors for not putting that in there. That would just be too comprehensive for a first step.

    It might also have been written that way because there is no way to even DETECT whether a cow ate GMO wheat or not. Hormones, pesticides, and other organic chemicals are easy to trace through the food chain. GMOs are not.

    In any case, organic rules already cover animals for GMOs, I believe, so, until another initiative gets passed to include animal feeds, and you want to know what your cow ate, you can buy organic.

    You know, if I-522 passes, some meat/dairy producers might just decide to jump on the bandwagon on their own, just like they did with rBST labeling. (See my post above.)

    * * * * * * * * * *

    (3) Processing aids excluded

    –Not sure why they excluded those . . . unless they do not remain in the final product. For example, if no GMO rennet remains in the cheese after production, then you can’t really say that the cheese contains a GMO ingredient. So that would be more of production issue than an ingredient issue, just like the animal feeds.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    (4) Doesn’t include alcohol.

    –Again, it could be an issue with detectability of a GMO ingredient. Maybe the science just isn’t there yet. In any case, that’s certainly not a good reason to take the risk of handing a victory to Agribusiness by voting I-522 down.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    (5) Doesn’t apply to restaurants.

    –Correct. It shouldn’t apply to restaurants for the same reason that food labeling laws don’t apply to most restaurants. (Sorry, McDonald’s)

    When they serve you a meal at a restaurant, they don’t put any kind of label on it, GMO or otherwise.

    Remember: This law is about retail food labeling, nothing more. You want food labels in restaurants, file another initiative.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    waterworld some of your “observations” [edit] are valid, but with some of them I feel like you’re just looking for reasons to be against this thing. Or perhaps you’re just being too analytical. ;-)



    WW: You don’t have to call your “observations” objections for them to have the same discouraging effect.

    Look at Jan’s response. Right after she read what you wrote, she said, “I’m not gonna vote for this thing.” A lot of folks would’ve had the same reaction.



    DBP.I said. “Something to think about ” Period. I will study more. We (Inc. You) should do that thoroughly.

    And WW said she was not objecting, just informing. K? K :)



    Jan, immediately after reading ww’s post you said that I-522 was “seriously confusing.”


    You also said:

    “I think I would not vote yes on this in it ‘s current form.”


    How many periods do you count in your post? I count five.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    I say ww was muddying the water, not informing.

    She wasn’t doing it intentionally. But she was still doing it.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    I don’t think I-522 is particularly confusing. No more confusing than any other initiative. Take the alcohol thing, for example.

    I-522 is a food labeling bill. Alcohol is not food, so it doesn’t apply to alcohol.

    What’s confusing about that?

    Alcohol is an obvious exemption. Unfortunately, they HAD to put that exemption in there – even at the risk of making the thing seem more complicated than it is. Do you know why they had to do that? Because if they didn’t, someone would object to the initiative on the grounds that it “leaves the question of alcohol open”!



    hey, I can be confused if I want :)

    Confusing as to…why the retailer carrying the labeling load. Why not balance it out my making the producer, etc. somewhat responsible for correctly labeling what it produces.

    Yes, I understand why they did that. Yes, I understand that everything has to be covered. Gee, DP, I am not obtuse. I just need to think on it more. You, on the other hand, have your mind made up. Differences make the world go ’round.



    Yowza.. methinks some folks didn’t get their wheaties this morning..

    breakfast is the most important meal of the day

    just saying

    i think that while the proposed law has good intent..

    it has too many exceptions to meet that intent

    would i vote for it anyway?

    i don’t know.

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