There’s increasing noise about the GMO labeling fight moving toward an FDA deal. A labeling bill languishes in Congress, but nothing will come of it until enough corporations want FDA labeling. A year ago Walmart, Coca-Cola, General Mills, and other manufacturers and retailers, along with the industrial organic sector, met with the FDA to discuss a deal for a weak, preemptive federal labeling policy whose goal would be to smother the state-level labeling movement. Today there’s competition between two potential FDA policies.
There’s the hard line of the FDA continuing to refuse to require any labeling, while also banning state-level policy on the grounds that food labeling is purely a federal prerogative. (It’s especially funny to see the likes of New Hampshire Republicans advocating this Big Government position as if they were common liberals.) Monsanto and the cartel prefer this “solution”, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association declares this to be its preferred outcome.
Then there’s the softer scam of a false federal labeling policy whose only real teeth would be in its preemption of state policy, and of course in the way it would cut off the momentum of the grassroots movement at the knees. Just Label It and industrial organic are leading the charge for this inverted solution. The GMA is hedging its bets and has indicated that it would support this if it had to.
(As for the Boxer/DeFazio bill, I couldn’t find an analysis on whether or not it has a preemptive intent. Neither the Senate nor the House versions mention preemption, which I take to mean that it’s left to FDA discretion. We can assume this will mean the FDA would promulgate any policy preemptively. I found a quote from DeFazio which implies that this is the intent: “This may be actually a misstep by the GMA — to try and proactively prohibit meaningful labeling that may in fact really kindle a much more proactive grass-roots movement on the other side.” This is exactly the anti-democratic goal of preemption.)
The latest move in this squabble is a letter to Obama from over 200 organizations and businesses from the industrial organic sector, begging him to live up to one of his many “progressive” lies from 2008, that he would support FDA-level GMO labeling.
I’ve previously explained in detail why looking to the FDA for any kind of public interest policy is a bad idea, even leaving aside the preemption problem.
The FDA’s record is crystal clear: It doesn’t believe there should be any regulatory restraints on GMOs at all, and it believes they should not be labeled period. It, like Monsanto, would prefer to prohibit states to require labeling and would even outlaw private sector labels like the Non-GMO Project certification. So even if, against all odds, Congress or a president ever directed it to impose and enforce a real labeling policy, the FDA would be institutionally hostile, unwilling, and incapable of doing this. That’s because such a public interest policy would run against the grain of what a corporatist bureaucracy like the FDA is.
In a bourgeois “representative” system, government bureaucracies serve one kind of corporatist triangulator role. (System NGOs serve another.) Here’s how it works:
1. The corporate imperative itself is taken as normative. Under no circumstances may “regulation” halt or significantly hinder the corporate project, nor privilege any other value above corporate profit and power. In this case, the FDA would never under any circumstances do anything which would significantly hinder the GMO regime.
2. Depending on which bureaucracy it is, how important the particular issue is to the corporate sector, etc., and given the normative corporatist framework described in (1), the regulator will do what it can to ameliorate the worst effects of the corporate depredation, or lie and pretend it is doing so. Thus the FDA, understanding the critical importance of the GMO genre to the extremely powerful Monsanto, to corporate agriculture in general, and to corporatism as a whole, has always been the US government’s #1 pro-GMO liar. It was the FDA which first promulgated, over the objections of hundreds of working scientists within the agency, the “substantial equivalence” dogma, which is the Big Lie which has since been used by the US government and, in other forms, other governments to justify commercializing GMOs without requiring any safety testing. To this day not a single government has ever required a single safety test prior to approving any GMO for field testing or commercialization. It all started with the FDA.
The FDA has since consistently run interference on behalf of the cartel, implicitly and often explicitly backing up all its lies, including the lie that it has tested GMOs for safety. It also did this prior to GMO commercialization, as in its criminal participation in the cover-up of the lethal Showa Denko outbreak.
It has consistently said it rejects GMO labeling.
3. The regulator then puts its imprimatur on the fraudulent result, calls it “safe”, and implicitly or explicitly tells the people to go back to sleep and leave things in the hands of the regulatory bureaucracy.
If forced into the fray, the FDA can be counted on to do its best to perform this role with either a sham preemptive policy or with a ban on state-level policies. Either way the goal will be to gut the state-level movement.
Any faith in the FDA as a candidate to meaningfully require GMO labeling is certainly, to say the least, “believing because it’s absurd.” People who sincerely want this either fail to understand what the FDA is, or else they do understand and approve. In that case they consider such triangulation to be desirable or at least “the best we can do”, which is surrenderism that amounts to the same thing.
(This analysis applies also to the malevolence of the “food safety” and “consumer” NGOs who have supported and demanded enforcement of the Food Control Act. (AKA its Orwellian name, “Food Safety Modernization Act”.) This too is a sham pro-corporate policy intended to whitewash unsafe corporate practices, assault small farms and the Community Food sector, and escalate globalization and corporate enclosure and control of agriculture and food. Monsanto lobbyists helped write it, and a top Monsanto cadre, serving as Obama’s “food czar”, is currently in charge of enforcing it.)
Whichever version of FDA preemption the system types prefer, they agree that something needs to be done to stymie the momentum they see gathering at the state level. “Shifting the debate to Washington DC”, as one flack puts it, really means to end all debate by shifting it from the state laboratories of democracy to Washington, where democracy goes to die. The goal is to bring this disruptive movement to an end. Who knows where it might lead?
But is the state level action really gathering momentum, or are there shenanigans going on here too? Initiatives have been voted down by razor-thin margins, while state legislatures are passing what look like cosmetic bills the governments themselves openly deride, and which they telegraph their intent to neither enforce nor defend.
Maine’s labeling bill was passed overwhelmingly in the legislature (unanimously in the Senate) and recently signed by the governor. A real law? Not quite – it won’t go into effect until “five contiguous states” (starting with New Hampshire, which just rejected such a law) enact similar laws. In the case of Connecticut’s similar “trigger” provision it was argued that this is a safeguard against a single state being sued by the cartel. This is a dubious idea in itself, and in the case of Maine’s hyper-trigger, it’s clearly meant to be an obstruction rather than a precaution.
Meanwhile the Maine state attorney general has already said she doesn’t want to defend the law against any corporate challenge based on “free speech”. Since government lawyers are always happy to aggress and defend against the constitution anytime this serves the corporate prerogative, we can assume that her objection has nothing to do with the constitution and everything to do with the fact that in this case she’d have to act against type as an actual servant of the people and against the corporations.
[To be clear on this “challenge”:
1. Government-mandated ingredient labels are clearly constitutional. Otherwise none could exist at all.
2. Corporations have no right to keep product components a secret, especially where it comes to our food. Transparency here is essential, not only for a working democracy but also according to market philosophy. How can a consumer make an informed choice without the information? To claim anything less is nonsensical.
3. Constitutionally, there’s no such thing as corporate “rights”, period. We must build upon this fact as movement philosophy, since we won’t receive such morality and rationality from the courts, which are thoroughly corporatized.]
I’ll have more to say on this, expanding on these questions. For now I just want to observe that the labeling movement seems already to be in a “progressive” rut of exalting empty cosmetics over substance. The Maine and Connecticut legislative bills, with all the self-imposed barriers to ever going into effect, are nothing like the California and Washington initiatives, which would have become real laws if the voters had passed them.
And yet in spite of this seeming fecklessness, the GMO labeling movement is enough of a specter haunting corporatism that powerful forces are mustering to drive the action out of the state-level arenas (sealing those off) and into the federal realm of bureaucracy and anti-democracy where the corporate elites will be on their strongest home turf.
Even if we can’t decisively draw other conclusions yet, one conclusion which was already clear and now is being further confirmed is that labeling is no panacea and will never be sufficient. Labeling campaigns ultimately can be meaningful only as a organizational step toward total abolitionism.