March 15, 2014

The GMA’s FDA Preemption Plan for GMO Labeling


I’ve been writing about the corporate gambit which wants the FDA to forestall the rising GMO labeling movement by instituting a “voluntary” labeling policy which would preempt stronger state-level policy. Failing this, the manufacturers and retailers would prefer a sham “mandatory” FDA policy whose only real strength would be the same preemption. At that point the corporate sectors would join hands with most of the NGO “leaders” of the labeling movement, in a typical corporation/NGO consensus.
Let’s look over the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) “summary of discussion draft” for a “voluntary” FDA labeling policy.
Title I purports to describe “Bioengineered Food”. Section 101 defines this to exclude all food which includes genetic engineering as part of the processing, but which does not actually include a GMO as an ingredient. So anything which used GE enzymes, yeast, etc. – a vast array of foods – would be excluded from the purview of this policy, and no one could ever apply any label voluntarily (e.g., “this bread was made without genetically engineered yeast”) or make it mandatory (“made with genetically engineered yeast”). All this would be preempted by the FDA.
(The lethal Showa Denko epidemic was caused by contaminants in an over-the-counter supplement which used genetic engineering in the processing. The contaminants were produced by the GE process.)
Presumably, though it doesn’t explicitly say this here, it would also apply to the gaping void in GMO awareness, meat and dairy from GMO-fed animals. It would probably also forestall BGH labeling once and for all.
So the policy applies only to GMO crops and directly engineered animals like the Frankensalmon.
Section 102 changes existing FDA notification policy. As things are, GMO developers don’t have to have any contact at all with the FDA. They deal only with the USDA, and the USDA grants commercialization approval. But the corporation may send a voluntary notification letter to the FDA. This letter says nothing more than, “we think this GMO product is safe”, and the FDA replies, “we understand that you think this product is safe”. That’s the entirety of FDA “oversight”. The Clinton administration had wanted to make this farce mandatory, but the cartel resisted even that, and the Bush administration encoded the coluntary status quo.
Now the GMA wants to revert to the Clinton mandatory notification. The reason for this is that one of the “principles” listed in the GMA draft is that the policy will “Mandate FDA Safety Reviews”. Of course there won’t really be any safety review whatsoever. But the GMA hopes that if the sham letter exchange is made mandatory, they’ll then be able to depict this in GMO propaganda as a mandatory safety review.
In the course of boilerplate about the FDA’s mandate to “protect the health and safety”, the draft reaffirms the FDA’s ideological dogma of “substantial equivalence”: “The use of bioengineering does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.”
So the FDA will pretend it’s on the lookout for “material differences”, when in fact it ideologically defines all material differences out of existence. (GMOs are self-evidently radically different in principle from the true crops from which they’re derived, as well as materially different in many unpredictable secondary ways.) The real teeth of this part are found here: “..or to prevent the label of the bioengineered food from being false and misleading.” This means that the FDA will severely regulate the content of voluntary non-GMO labels and force them to include pro-GM dogma like, “The FDA has determined that there is no material difference between genetically engineered food and other foods.”
Section 103 describes how all GMO labeling will be purely voluntary. Corporations will be able to apply “non-GMO” labels to anything with a so-called “adventitious presence” of GM material. This means, collateral contamination will be let through under non-GM labeling policy. Voluntary outfits like the Non-GMO Project will be encouraged or if necessary forced to allow their labels for whatever the FDA considers “low level” contamination. No one will be allowed to institute a more rigorous voluntary non-GM certification process. The goal here is to co-opt and discredit non-GMO labeling as such, and to help normalize the increasing contamination of food and agriculture with collateral GM contamination.
It explicitly says that GM-fed dairy, as well as food which used GE processing aids like yeast, could be labeled “non-GMO”. Labels cannot say or imply that “non-GMO” is better, or that GMOs are potentially harmful. Instead, the FDA will place restraints on voluntary non-GMO labeling as I described above.
The draft does include a vague passage which seems to give corporate producers free rein to make the label say anything they want, including touting an alleged GMO benefit or even the benefit of something being non-GMO. The FDA’s oversight is clearly to apply only to the organic and non-GM sector.
Section 104 is explicit on preemption: “This section would preempt any state laws that are not identical to the Federal program.”
That, of course, is the #1 goal of the whole corporate endeavor here. Under the guidance of Monsanto, the GMA originally wanted there to be no labeling policy at all.
Title II is on so-called “Natural Foods”. Here the GMA merely wants the FDA to encode the scam which allows the term “natural” to be applied to foods containing GMOs and almost any other kind of poison. As things are now, “natural” can be slapped on anything except for foods containing anything from a short list of specific additives. It’s therefore basically a scam term. There are retailers and manufacturers whose whole business model is to produce and sell conventional GMO-based food as some kind of “natural” higher quality food.
One of the goals of some labeling campaigns, California’s in particular, was to put an end to this consumer fraud by banning the use of the term “natural” for any food which contains GMOs. With this part of the proposal the GMA wants the FDA to preempt such a derogation of this terminological scam. Here too its call for preemption is explicit (section 203).
That concludes the GMA’s commentary on the legislative proposal. The rest of the draft is a combination of blather and straight lies, meant to provide talking points to supportive lawmakers and bureaucrats. It concludes with the list of “principles” which the policy will allegedly embody. “Mandate FDA Safety Reviews” refers to the scam I described above. “Require Federal GMO Labeling for Safety” refers to the part about “material difference”; you can rest assured that the GMO labels will be mandatory in any case where the ever-vigilant FDA considers it necessary. If the FDA says it’s not necessary, you can rest easy and go back to sleep, since the food is safe. “Create a National Standard for Voluntary Labels” refers to the Gleichschaltung of all voluntary certification programs such as the Non-GMO Project, like I described above.
It concludes with the two Orwellian and anti-democratic expressions of contempt for the people, “Increase Transparency” when it will do the opposite, and the hoary lie about “Preventing Consumer Confusion”.
Consumers, in fact, to the extent the information has been readily available to them, have been far less confused about GMOs than any other group. Unlike most others, consumers have rightfully been suspicious of such a counterintuitive product. Sure enough, 100% of the evidence to date has supported this consumer unease.
Monsanto’s default has been to oppose all labeling. But the fact that the GMA, under pressure from such members as Walmart and Coca-Cola, is now promulgating this proposal for FDA preemption is proof of how fearful the corporations are of the GMO labeling movement. There’s a growing consensus among manufacturers and retailers that FDA preemption is preferable to continuing to fight a scorched earth war against labeling at the state level. Monsanto itself supports the FDA’s existing draft guidance on voluntary labeling, which is hostile to it and would censor it as I described above. So Monsanto can be expected to support the formal enshrinement of this FDA “guidance”. The fact that the GMA is now calling for FDA preemption is proof that Monsanto is at least not actively opposing a formal FDA policy on labeling.
The proposal has some high-profile senatorial support. “Progressive” heroes Elizabeth Warren and Mark Udall are among the senators shilling for the GMA/Monsanto plan.
Part of the point of the GMA’s promulgation of this preemptive “voluntary” scheme is to position a sham mandatory FDA preemptive policy as the middle position, in case this voluntary policy is politically rejected as being too lax. Here is where the GMA would join hands with most of our NGO “leaders”, who have helped lay the groundwork by consistently representing a formal FDA policy as being the desirable end goal. So the likes of Just Label It, the Center for Food Safety, and Food and Water Watch implicitly agree with Monsanto and the GMA that the state-level movement (not to mention county-level bans) represents some undesirable “extreme”.
The GMA will do all it can to get the “voluntary” FDA preemption policy enshrined in law. But failing this, it will settle for a sham “mandatory” policy. In any event it wants to strangle the rising local and state movement, especially since the idea of outright bans on GMO cultivation is gaining, as more and more citizens come to realize that labeling would not be sufficient, and that since the enemy is going to fight so ferociously against the more modest labeling policy, there’s no reason not to escalate on our own side to a more sound, rigorous, and necessary abolitionist policy.
Meanwhile my recent series of posts on globalization and corporatist coordination of government bureaucracies should also be read as part of my ongoing analysis of how the FDA is inadequate in principle to effectively regulating GMOs. Therefore, to look to the FDA for any kind of good policy is delusional in principle. Nothing but a democratic movement of the people, taking direct action, putting direct pressure on manufacturers and retailers, and putting direct pressure on the lower levels of government, will be sufficient to defeat the GMO enemy.



  1. No popular uprising can effect the deep change we require. Only a complete top-down authoritarian takeover will suffice. Consider the wonderful intention of Pol Pot in Cambodia during the late 1970s when he orchestrated the evacuation of the largest cities, removing all city dwellers into bucolic rural settings, furnishing them with the important opportunity to farm the right way — stooped bravely side by side in delightful community enjoyment of sustainable self sufficiency. Pot’s visionary plan developed further to assist the people in all things. Community minders were assigned to help each person live right. There was no dreadful obesity. No awful diabetes. No silly simpering romantic entanglements – marriages were approved by community minders, lifting an enormous burden of decision making from the shoulders of average citizens, leaving them free to farm right and live right. All this was offered with only the simple request each person cooperate with the system. There were, of course, a few disobedient personalities and a few who were constitutionally unsuited for the great work of traditional stoop labor farming the good earth. These inferior genetic types were gradually being neutralized for a better future race of Cambodians when the goddam Vietnamese military invaded Pot’s delightful rural agricultural utopia. Everything went to hell after that and Pot’s genius has been unfairly disparaged in a systematic global brainwashing that leaves all of us believing the Cambodian experiment was evil when, in fact, it was the perfect prototype for the brave new world you are craving Russ. Keep up the great commentary Russ and try to find examples from history to prove your points. The Cambodian experience is a good start.

    Comment by Sunrise Goodearth — March 20, 2014 @ 10:20 am

    • No, the Khmer Rouge used the same program as you corporatist vermin – suppressing regionally adapted crop varieties and forcing unsuitable, alien, monoculture varieties on the farmers and people, in order to use crop failure and famine as a mode of social control and domination. They’re of your vile fraternity. I’m writing for humanity.

      Comment by Russ — March 20, 2014 @ 10:40 am

      • What corporation did Pol Pot work for? Are you sure? I think you’ve drunk the hateful anti-Khmer Rouge koolaid. The idea of returning to an agricultural utopia is a popular dream. Only Pol Pot succeeded in actually accomplishing it. Where else on earth has it ever been pulled off? Mob rule certainly cannot arrive at any workable utopian society without bowing right on past it. At some point (the point of perfection) group think and mob rule must be crystallized into steadfast authoritarian direction. No other method has been or ever will be demonstrated to work. You absolutely must offer real world examples Russ or all your effort is only so much mental masturbation. Ranting and accusing pragmatic thinkers of being “corporate vermin” and monoculturists, etc., etc. advances humanity not one little bit.

        Comment by Sunrise Goodearth — March 20, 2014 @ 11:51 am

      • Nice try, but you’re merely describing so eloquently your own affinity. I’ve no doubt Monsanto studied how foreign rice varieties were forced by the Khmer Rouge upon Cambodia, for its own similar assaults.

        On the contrary, I refer to the agroecology and food sovereignty alternative in most posts. I also refer to the fact that no other course is possible, other than mass famine when your industrial agriculture fails, as it’s designed to do. Mine is the only actual pragmatic thinking and writing going on today. Meanwhile, nothing could be more delusional than to believe the corporations have the ability or desire to feed anything but their own malign power and profit maw.

        Corporations are tyrannical organizations, just as authoritarian political movements are. Humanity must and shall smash them and all who support them.

        Comment by Russ — March 20, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

  2. […] here and here for more on what the DARK Act is about; it seeks to enshrine the “voluntary” labeling […]

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  3. […] on a pro-corporate basis has been around for awhile. Obviously the GMA and its members preferred to preempt all mandatory labeling and offer at most a “voluntary” basis (and this too according to weak, sham standards). The DARK Act as we’ve known it so far has […]

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  4. […] to EuropaBio lobbying, TTIP negotiations, and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association’s proposed GMO labeling standards, where it comes to GM contamination of the general agriculture, commodity stream, and food supply […]

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  5. […] we can see the some of the inherent political limits of labeling campaigns. . [See here and here for more on what the DARK Act is about; it seeks to enshrine the “voluntary” labeling […]

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