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January 9, 2016

Scambell (Real GMO Labeling vs. Preemption)

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We in the GMO labeling movement have good cause for pride today as we see how our educational, publicity, and grassroots efforts are driving one faction among the corporate food system, the manufacturers and retailers, to a partial split with the GMO cartel. Namely, there’s increasing momentum among manufacturers and retailers toward support for what they call a “mandatory” federal labeling policy. The most symbolic public step yet is the Campbell’s announcement that in theory it wants a mandatory federal standard. In fact the only thing Campbell’s is really promising to do is “seek guidance from the FDA and approval by USDA.”
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Let’s start with two clarifications. First, let’s clearly state the Campbell position. Campbell’s is openly and strongly pro-GMO. It wants the normalization of GMOs. It wants any significant controversy over them to end once and for all. It believes that a weak, watered-down, and in many ways fraudulent “mandatory” label policy at the federal level is the best way to attain these goals. It has decided to gamble and make this announcement, long on flash and light on substance, to push the sham preemption plan while getting a PR boost for its “transparency”.
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Campbell’s opposes real GMO labeling and openly implies this. The company is part of the same anti-labeling coalition which has always opposed state-level policy, and Campbell’s openly says it has not changed its mind on that. (Its announcement that it will no longer participate in campaigns against labeling is ambiguous. Does this apply only to federal-level policy, or to state-level campaigns as well?) The only difference is that since 2013 the manufacturers have been moving toward accepting a very weak but “mandatory” central government policy whose main feature would be to preempt state-level policy such as in Vermont. The only thing special Campbell’s has done is make a bold propaganda statement, and they’re doing it only because Vermont’s policy is a few months away from going into effect.
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Now, it may be possible to argue that Campbell’s is misguided in this and that its strategy will be harmful to the GMO project in the long run. (It may be possible to argue this, though I haven’t actually seen anyone argue it. I’ve seen only assertions.) But it’s not possible rationally to dispute that Campbell’s intends a pro-GMO plan.
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This leads to the second clarification. GMO labeling of course is not a two-position Yes or No issue. There are at least three positions on GMO labeling. The main three are: 1. One can completely oppose labeling. 2. One can support a strong mandatory labeling policy. This can be accomplished only at the state level. The state level is also the most workable level for democracy to function where it comes to this policy issue. 3. Finally, one can support sham, weak, watered-down labeling controlled at the federal level, whether in a nominally “voluntary” or “mandatory” form, which would preempt any stronger state-level policy and be anti-democratic in principle and in the particulars.
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We can call these latter two positions the strong, democratic labeling position, and the weak, technocratic labeling position.
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In order firmly to establish these points, let’s review the history.
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From the Campbell’s announcement.
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Today, consistent with our Purpose, we announced our support for mandatory national labeling of products that may contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) and proposed that the federal government provide a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging.

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These two planks reflect the two main concerns of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The GMA promulgated a set of labeling standards hoping these could be enshrined as the basis for a “voluntary” policy, which would also preempt mandatory state policy and set restrictive standards for all voluntary labeling. Today Campbell’s is among those who have decided it’ll be politically necessary to take this as the framework for a mandatory FDA policy. But it would still include all the same sham and restrictive provisions, the same exemptions, and preempt stronger state policy.
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So let’s review the GMA’s “summary of discussion draft” for an FDA labeling policy, keeping in mind that any mandatory policy hammered out among the likes of the FDA, USDA, Campbell’s and other industry “stakeholders” will closely follow this blueprint. Ask yourself: Is this what you want in a mandatory label at all? Let alone one which would preempt much better state-level labels.
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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.)
Although it doesn’t explicitly say so here, this 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. Here’s a particularly deceptive part from <a href="“>the Campbell’s communication: “However, [Vermont’s] legislation does not include products with meat or poultry, because they are regulated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Under Vermont law, SpaghettiO’s original variety, guided by the FDA, will be labeled for the presence of GMOs, but SpaghettiO’s meatballs, guided by the USDA, will not. Yet these two varieties sit next to each other on a store shelf, which is bound to create consumer confusion”.
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This is deceptive in every way. Under Vermont’s policy all varieties would be labeled for the FDA-purview GM ingredients. On the other hand, any “mandatory” FDA policy which could possibly be enacted would exclude meat and dairy from GM-fed animals as well. So on that score, nothing Campbell’s is proposing would change anything from the Vermont policy or from any other proposed state policy. It’s ironic how unctuous Campbell’s is about “consumer confusion”, even as it’s doing all it can to confuse consumers as much as possible. In reality any conceivable FDA policy would apply only to GM crops and directly engineered animals like the Aquabounty salmon.
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It’s a foregone conclusion that the “second generation” GMOs which the USDA claims it has no authority to regulate, CRISPR and the like, would not be included in this labeling.
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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 voluntary status quo.
Now the GMA is willing 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. Indeed, this may turn out to be the entirety of what’s “mandatory” about any policy which is enacted. It may be that the label can and will say only, “passed by a mandatory FDA review” or something like that.
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, privately certified 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.” I’d bet money this would be part of the quid pro quo for any “mandatory” labeling policy.
Section 103 describes how the GMA would want the actual GMO labeling, whether voluntary or “mandatory”, to work. 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 certification to be applied to 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. (Indeed, with the mandatory FDA policy, there would be at least strong propaganda pressure for the likes of the Non-GMO Project to shut down the shop, since their services would allegedly no longer be necessary.)
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 labeling and would like to censor it in the way I described above.
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 sham-voluntary and preemptive policy is politically rejected as being too lax. So far this is what has happened with the DARK Act.
The GMA will continue to do all it can to get the “voluntary” FDA preemption policy enshrined in law. Several pro-GMO activists in Congress are promising to introduce new versions of the DARK Act. But failing this, the GMA and the manufacturers and retailers 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 ground as more and more citizens come to realize that labeling would not be sufficient.
I’ll add that although some people may have forgotten about the TPP and TTIP, Campbell’s certainly hasn’t. These would rule out even a watered-down mandatory labeling policy. In general, if these globalization pacts are forced upon us, the only recourse left will be defiance radiating up from the grassroots. The same grassroots so many people are implying such contempt for today, to the extent they’re willing to accept any kind of central government preemption. The fact is that in principle and practice the FDA is incapable and unwilling to effectively regulate GMOs. 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.
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So the “mandatory” labeling Campbell’s claims to want is just the GMA’s plan B, to be resorted to if the DARK Act-type plan A for “voluntary” labeling doesn’t work out. It’s axiomatic that any FDA standard, which is what Campbell’s says it wants, will be so weak as to be a sham but will preempt state level policy, which is the only place where real policy could possibly be enacted. That’s what the upcoming Vilsack conference is supposed to be about. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (a Biotechnology Industry Organization “Governor of the Year” awardee) is convening a conference meant to get enough politicians and corporate “stakeholders” on board with some version of the GMA plan, whether this be another DARK Act version or the Campbell’s-advocated fake-mandatory-preemptive version. It’s the culmination of the process retailers and manufacturers such as Walmart and Coca-Cola first set in motion in 2013, wanting a weak federal policy to forestall any real policy at the state level. Federal preemption is always the death of grassroots movements which seek to create real policy by direct citizen vote or pressure. And the “patchwork”, to use the Frank Luntz propaganda term which everyone seems to love so much when applied to GMO labeling, is a good thing. Those who want real labeling and believe in freedom and democracy want the patchwork in all its diverse glory.
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Technocrats, by definition, despise democracy and think unaccountable secretive “experts” should devise and execute policy. Today Campbell’s is trying to muster enthusiasm among labeling advocates to have FDA and industry bureaucrats take complete control of labeling from the very people who forced it into being as a mainstream controversy in the first place.
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Indeed, it’s unanimously agreed, and Campbell’s concedes, that Campbell’s is doing this only under the duress of the state-level agitation. So why, when the state-level campaigning is making such progress and is such a fine display of democracy at its finest, would labeling advocates be eager to join with industry in quashing this democratic movement? Only anti-democratic ideology could explain it. And this fits well with the consumerist ideology within which the establishment has wanted to corral the labeling and anti-GMO movement. It’s a textbook example of trying to co-opt a movement which threatens corporate interests and lay it to rest.
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Campbell has opposed this state-by-state patchwork approach, and has worked with GMA to defeat several state ballot initiatives. Put simply, although we believe that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food, we also believe that a state-by-state piecemeal approach is incomplete, impractical and costly to implement for food makers. More importantly, it’s confusing to consumers.

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I know that when I’m looking for a company I can trust, the fact that they say consumers are idiots is always high on my list!
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Michelle Simon summed it up with her warning on preemption: “The junk food lobby’s “federal solution” is to make it illegal for states to pass laws requiring GMO labeling. Period. End of story.” She says that in the context of discussing the GMA’s plan A, the DARK Act-type policy. But plan B is to do the exact same thing as the DARK Act, just making the sham voluntary labeling guidelines “mandatory”.
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Here’s what Simon and others said when she wrote about the gambit early in 2013.
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However, any federal standard must set a floor and not a ceiling, and not hand preemption over to industry. The role of the federal government is to set minimum standards, while still allowing states to go further. This, however, is not the end-game that Walmart et al. have in mind.

I asked Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now! and leader of the grassroots GMO labeling efforts about this issue. He told me it was a huge concern among movement leaders: “Ultimately the conversation represents a seismic shift in where we were four years ago on GMO labeling. But we know that anything coming out of Washington D.C. will be a weaker standard, which would not be good for either farmers or consumers. The goal is to make sure that a federal law doesn’t undermine state efforts.”

As Cummins noted about the meeting: “We should be wary of any compromise deal at the federal level, one that would preempt the passage of meaningful state GMO labeling laws that have real teeth.”

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So for years there’s been a strong awareness against the specter of preemption in the context of a DARK Act-style sham-voluntary labeling policy. But as we see, to take the same weak and phony standards and render them mandatory is hardly an improvement, and absolutely is not worth waffling on preemption.
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So if we’re anti-GMO, what’s the right initial default here? Let’s see.
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1. Campbell’s is openly and unabashedly pro-GMO.
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2. Therefore, they believe the steps they’re taking are good for the future of GMOs in food. They’re doing this for the sake of preserving the GMO food regime.
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3. So it follows that this is a pro-GM ploy. Therefore it also follows that anti-GMO campaigners, writers, and anyone from the public who opposes or is skeptical of GMOs, glyphosate, etc. should look askance at this. Even if one thinks this can have beneficial effects, the right attitude is still to be dispassionate and skeptical toward any part of the corporate system.
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4. Most of all, we mustn’t waver for a moment in our primary support for state-level campaigns for strong labeling and food sovereignty measures and our strong opposition to any preemption of these. Any FDA policy has to be a floor which does not preempt the states. This has to be non-negotiable.
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Which grassroots movements fell far short of what it was possible for them to achieve, or failed completely? Those which let themselves be preempted, those among whom industry was able to peel off the less committed and more technocratic. less democratic element. Which movement has attained great successes? The smoke-free public space movement, in large part because it resisted all preemption attempts.
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The GMO labeling fight was always likely to come down to decisions. Labeling has long had a latent divide between centralization and its grassroots, laboratory of democracy aspect. Many labeling advocates have followed the lead of the semi-industry group “Just Label It” (JLI). JLI’s ideology is that labeling is about nothing but “transparency”, a vague term. They explicitly reject the contention that GMOs (or pesticides) are harmful to health, explicitly call for “co-existence” with Monsanto, and have nothing to say about the malign agronomic and socioeconomic aspects of corporate agriculture. It’s a purely consumerist ideology, and they say GMOs are a purely consumerist matter which should be dealt with on a purely consumerist level. As we see today, that also means it has nothing to do with democracy, and is in fact anti-democracy since it exalts preemptive central government power over lower-level power, and especially over the ability of the people directly to vote policy, as the ballot initiatives in California and Washington represented opportunities to do.
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Beyond that, agriculture and food production and distribution are naturally and rationally local/regional economic and ecological sectors. The more centralized and alien a governmental structure is, the less rational its agricultural and food policies could be, and the less legitimacy it inherently has.
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With these facts, it’s hard to understand what some of the labeling advocates ever wanted. If they agree with Campbell’s and JLI that GMOs are safe for human health, and agree that this has nothing to do with political democracy and rebuilding a safe, rational food system, but on the contrary are eager to side with the same illegitimate, malign, and stupid central government power which forced GMOs and Roundup upon us in the first place and will continue to do so, then why did they ever get started? “Transparency” in itself is not an ideal or a goal, but would have to be in the service of something intrinsically valuable. But what’s being exalted here isn’t even transparency toward the goal of greater democracy. On the contrary, more democracy means keeping this on the state level. But we know how anti-democratic the preemption advocates are. We see the kind of technocratic policy they prefer. And to say it again, any real, strong policy could be enacted only at the state level, while any federal policy will be very weak at best. So it turns out some people just like the idea of labeling, and in practice would settle for “labeling, any labeling”, rather than good labeling.
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This goes back to my original analysis of why the people of California and Washington, after initially expressing strong support for labeling, ended up failing to vote for it. They recognized that labeling as envisioned by the labeling movement is at best a pointless exercise lacking any comprehensive political and strategic concept and from which no further step follows. At worst, and as we see today far more likely, its a scam intended to misdirect away from any kind of meaningful action. Today the misdirection is proximately away from the relatively stronger labeling policy set to be put into effect in Vermont, or which would have been effected in California or Washington.
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The much bigger misdirection is to put the whole controversy to sleep and prevent the rise of the necessary abolition movement. As we see today, they’re off to a great start with that.
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The struggle over GMOs, pesticides, and other evils of corporate agriculture is about our core human values, the physical and spiritual integrity of nature and our place within it, and also about our bodily health and the health of the ecology in the most direct physical sense. No element of these can be encompassed within consumerism or technocracy. On the contrary, the moment we set out the entire efflorescence bursts completely and gloriously free of such picayune and conservative bounds, bounds which are conservative in the most profound political sense of the term. These bounds are also insufficient for all the needs of humanity and the Earth. The necessary goal, and therefore the only ultimately meaningful goal, is the abolition of poison-based agriculture and humanity’s transformation to agroecology. Strong state-level GMO labeling policy, and even more important, the grassroots campaigns for it, can be steps toward this great and necessary goal. But a technocratic, preemptive, and intrinsically weak federal labeling policy, however “mandatory”, can only be counterproductive, can be only another barrier, weight, hindrance, and waste of time we do not have. In itself this is no goal, and is indeed a malign misdirection and weapon of Monsanto against the necessary grassroots human movement and this movement’s necessary goal.
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6 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on New Jersey Health Federation.

    Comment by Louis Dallara Photography — January 10, 2016 @ 10:42 am

  2. Comment by james brownell — January 11, 2016 @ 8:28 am

  3. […] GMA standards and making them mandatory while preempting all stronger, far more truthful standards. That’s what Campbell’s proposes. . Let’s be crystal clear: . *Campbell’s is very strongly pro-GMO. . *Campbell’s […]

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  4. […] movement (the state-level movement) once and for all. Campbell’s timed its public call for FDA “mandatory” labeling in order to coincide with the Vilsack conference and push this proposal as a major subject at the […]

    Pingback by GMO News Summary January 15th, 2016 | Volatility — January 15, 2016 @ 9:42 am

  5. […] celebrations of the Campbell’s announcement. A big part of the reason Mark Lynas and Campbell’s feel the time is right for a “mandatory” labeling policy is that GMOs are a moving […]

    Pingback by GMO News Summary, January 22nd, 2016 | Volatility — January 22, 2016 @ 5:48 am

  6. […] secretary Tom Vilsack, and the rest of the pro-Monsanto, anti-labeling brigade has been to prevent the Vermont labeling law from going into effect. . Today we’re hearing from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) of a new attempt at […]

    Pingback by GMO News Summary February 19th, 2016 | Volatility — February 19, 2016 @ 9:25 am


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