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Organic Leaders Turn On Whole Foods And Each Other Over GMO Labeling Bill

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“Organic Traitors Team Up with Monsanto and [Grocery Manufacturers Association] on DARK Act,” reads a recent headline from Ronnie Cummins, director of the organic industry-funded Organic Consumers Association. With over a million followers and network activists, Cummins leads OCA's lobbying toward "a global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops."

Condemning supporters of the GMO-labeling bill passed earlier this month, which requires food companies to tell consumers whether there are genetically engineered ingredients in their products, Cummins and others in his camp make clear that the bill’s requirements don’t suffice. That’s because although the bill, by Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (R) and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow (D), federally mandates labeling of foods containing GMOs, companies don’t necessarily need to stamp “produced with genetic engineering” on the package, allowing either a direct label, a link to a web site or a phone number or smartphone-scannable QR code that provides more information.

Formerly united in their commitment to misleading the public about the benefits of organic and in their opposition to modern molecular genetic engineering techniques, better known by the meaningless term “GMO” (more on that later), the OCA is now turning on its own, calling anyone who supports the bill, dubbed the DARK--for Deny Americans the Right to Know--Act, “traitors” because they won’t push for explicit on-package labels, among other disputes. With an undeniably incendiary image of Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Organic and chairman of the organic-funded Just Label It campaign, and Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, both with QR codes stamped on their foreheads like targets because of their support of the bill, Cummins’ diatribe marks a stark divide in the formerly united organic front.

With some organic industry parties against and some for the bipartisan bill, one thing remains clear: the labeling movement was never about consumers’ right to know. This "right" has always been a subterfuge for something more nefarious, as I wrote earlier this year:

We know that organic food is no healthier than conventional food. We know that organic farming tends to produce lower yields. And we know that genetic engineering is prohibited in organic farming though the technology can lead to beneficial traits, many of which cannot be achieved by other methods.

So what’s the organic industry to do? Perpetuate frightening myths about the very technology it’s not allowed to use, of course. Then, with an altruistic guise, demand in the name of a so-called "right" that products of this technology be labeled.

Informative, relevant food labeling is necessary, empowering consumers to provide their families with varied, balanced and healthy diets. For example, labeling for nut, milk or egg residue is relevant because severe allergic reactions are a pressing concern. Protein, fat, fiber, sugar, vitamin and mineral content is also relevant. (Just this week, I checked labels on applesauce, which my son loves, because I always purchase the least expensive brand without added sugar.) But as I’ve discussed several times, including here and here, there is no logical “right to know” whether a food contains GMOs:

Self-proclaimed consumer rights champions wave this right-to-know flag when it comes to genetically engineered foods. The proclamation begins on high, and trickles down to anti-GMO activists wielding figurative torches and pitchforks, demanding the right to know what’s in their food. With visions of syringe-laden GMO tomatoes dancing menacingly in their heads consumers wonder, "Why not just label it?" But the labeling call is mired in ideology. Where does this "just label it" demand originate?

A long-waged battle disguised as a consumer-driven trend, the mandatory GMO labeling movement is a ruse to eliminate genetic engineering technologies and increase market share of so-called “non-GMO” and organic foods.

“Non-GMO” is in quotes for a reason. A term with no scientific meaning, “GMO,” or genetically modified organism, has come to denote crops created with modern molecular genetic engineering (GE) techniques, though nearly every food we consume has been genetically manipulated in wholly unnatural ways. Take, for instance, mutagenic varieties, bombarded with gamma radiation or exposed to chemicals, scrambling their DNA. Scientists use radiation and chemical mutagenesis techniques to shuffle the genetic mutation cards, hoping for an occasional good hand, which can then be developed and commercialized. Or products of wide-crossing, which forces unrelated organisms to mate. The results of these techniques, including common wheat and fruit varieties, are very much genetically modified, but are considered “non-GMO” and can be grown and sold as organic.

“We are going to force them to label this food,” said Andrew Kimbrell, anti-GMO lobbyist and Executive Director at the misleadingly-named Center for Food Safety (which was nominated for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation "Luddite Award" last year), in 1997. “If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it.”

OCA’s Ronnie Cummins wrote in 2012, “The burning question for us all then becomes how--and how quickly--can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.”

In his ire over the bill, Cummins wrote, “Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb joined his friends at Stonyfield, Smucker’s and Organic Valley in selling out the American food movement,” adding, “shut up and eat your Frankenfoods.”

Looks like the Organic Consumers Association wants to have its non-GMO cake and eat it too.

Kavin Senapathy is a science communicator and mom of two living in Madison, Wisconsin. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

I am an author and public speaker covering science, health, medicine, agriculture, food, parenting and their intersection. I'm a proud Science Mom, and am featured in the…

I am an author and public speaker covering science, health, medicine, agriculture, food, parenting and their intersection. I'm a proud Science Mom, and am featured in the new documentary ( about moms seeking to raise their children with facts rather than the fear and hype so common in the parenting world today. Photo by Patricia LaPointe