The biotech company Monsanto, a major opponent of Washington state’s GMO-labeling Initiative 522, actually once supported the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
During the late 1990s, the biotech giant initiated an advertising campaign in the United Kingdom which supported the labeling of GMO foods. The news is significant because Monsanto is spending at least $4.2 million to try and defeat I-522, which if passed in November would make Washington the first state to require the labeling of GMO foods, as Off The Grid News previously reported.
The tagline in the Monsanto British ad campaign said, “We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase.”
An excerpt from the UK Monsanto GMO labeling advertisement: “Recently you may have noticed a label appearing on some of the food in your supermarket. This is to inform you about the use of biotechnology in food. Monsanto fully supports UK food manufacturers and retailers in their introduction of these labels. We believe you should be aware of all the facts before making a purchase.”
When questioned recently about the genetically modified food labeling flip-flop, company spokesman Tom Helscher stated that the United Kingdom advertising did not support mandatory GMO labeling, but only the voluntary efforts of businesses to address what they felt were the concerns of their customers.
A New York Times poll earlier this year found that 93 percent of adults support labeling GMO foods. Additionally, three-fourths of Americans said they are concerned about GMO products in their foods.
Meanwhile, GMO labeling efforts may have gained the support of General Mills, with a major caveat. Company leader Ken Powell told shareholders that he agrees with the idea of labeling genetically modified products – if the issue is solved on the federal level with a nationwide rule.
Powell’s stance likely is strategic: The likelihood that the plethora of Monsanto-backed politicians in Washington, D.C. would ever pass a national GMO labeling bill is slim to none.
The USDA, EPA, and FDA all have former Monsanto executives and attorneys in key positions, further reducing the possibility of support for putting even the slightest restrictions or labeling regulations on genetically engineered products. During a 2008 Iowa campaign stop, then-candidate Barack Obama told the crowd that Americans had a right to know what was in their food – a position he has yet to hold as president.
“Industry will agree to federal labeling, but in exchange, they say, ‘we want to preempt or stop any states from going further,’” said Eat Drink Politics public health lawyer Michele Simon. “Industry will try to get the weakest possible law at the national level and stop states from passing anything stronger.”
During the Fortune Brainstorm Green event in California earlier this year, the General Mills’ CEO stated that is was unnecessary to label GE food because the modified ingredients are safe and such a regulations would be “too onerous.”
“Consumers tell us—and I think they’re right—they want to know about the ingredients, nutrition information, and safety of things like peanuts,” Ken Powell said. “They need to know these things. But we should restrict the use of that label to these important things. If we broaden it to together things, we’ll have to add pages to the label. We don’t think we should do that.”
Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, has endorsed Initiative-522, with Consumers Union scientist Michael Hansen appearing in a TV ad for I-522.
“For decades we’ve fought for consumer rights and cut through the hype to give you unbiased, accurate information,” Michael Hansen said. “After extensive research, we endorsed I-522 as the right choice for Washington consumers. It provides clear, useful information and should not raise food prices. 522 is well-written and makes sense.”