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OCA's GMO Talking Points

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Millions Against Monsanto page and our Genetic Engineering page.

In January, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) obtained the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA) “One-Pager” of talking points about GMOs and GMO labeling laws. The document is intended for use by food industry lobbyists whose job it is to convince state lawmakers to reject GMO labeling bills in their states.

The GMA’s talking points include the usual misinformation about GMO safety testing and the so-called benefits of GMOs. They also include claims that GMO labeling laws are unconstitutional—claims that, as we explain here, are baseless.

The OCA has its own list of GMO talking points. A list we don’t need to “leak.” We’re happy to make it public for everyone, not just lobbyists and the politicians they hope to influence. Because our talking points are backed up by facts, research and reliable sources.

I. Facts on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

Genetically engineered crops do not improve yield.

Source: Failure to Yield, Union of Concerned Scientists

Less than 1% of genetically engineered crops are disease-resistant.

For Hawaiian papaya, the only major disease-resistant crop, yields are down, costs to farmers are up.
Sources: War of the Papayas
Papaya Production Taking a Tumble

Insects quickly develop resistance to crops engineered to produce insecticides, requiring extensive and diverse insecticide use.
Source: Monsanto Shares Slip on Bug-Resistant Corn Woes

Weeds quickly adopt genetically engineered crops’ herbicide tolerant traits, requiring excessive and varied herbicide use.
Sources: Resistant weeds by species and country
Killer Pig Weeds Threatens Crops in the South
'Superweed' explosion threatens Monsanto heartlands

Monsanto pays farmers to use more herbicide on its genetically engineered crops.
Sources: US Farmers Cope with RoundUp-resistant weeds
Monsanto paying farmers to increase herbicide use

Genetically engineered crops require 26% more pesticides than normal crops.

The only drought-resistant genetically engineered crop, a corn variety developed by Monsanto, is only useful for 15% of U.S. corn.

The cost of farming papaya has gone up. A Hawaiian genetically engineered papaya farmer says, “The price is going down and still the costs of farming goes up.” Quoted in “Papaya production taking a tumble.”

The cost of genetically engineered seeds has gone up.

Herbicide costs have gone up for farmers growing genetically engineered crops.

Insecticide costs have gone up for farmers growing genetically engineered crops.

Costs for farmers have increased due to genetically engineered crops’ decreased nitrogen fixation.

II. Facts on Current Federal Policy on Genetically Engineered Food Labels

The Grocery Manufacturers Association quotes the FDA, as saying:

The agency is still not aware of any data or other information that would form a basis for concluding that the fact that a food or its ingredients was produced using bioengineering is a material fact that must be disclosed…FDA is therefore reaffirming its decision to not require special labeling of all bioengineered foods.
- Food and Drug Administration, 2001

The GMA is quoting a 2001 draft guidance on voluntary labels that was never finalized. This is what they want to become law, but it is not the law. The 2001 draft guidance suggests that genetically engineered food should not be labeled, absent a finding that genetically engineered food are harming human health. That is not the standard under current law for food labels.

The relevant FDA document is:

FDA Statement of Policy: Foods Derived From New Plant Varieties, May 1992

The standard for requiring labels under current law is that information is needed to prevent consumer confusion or deception.

Consumers are unaware that some foods have been genetically engineered, and if they do know that genetic engineering is being used to produce food, they cannot identify those foods.

Consumers believe that foods like corn and soy are the same crops that have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years. In fact, these and other food crops have been engineered at the genetic level to produce unique, patentable traits, that have never before been part of the human diet. That information is material whether or not we know the health consequences of eating these foods.

III. What Independent Scientific Organizations Actually Say

The World Health Organization:

"Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods."

The American Medical Association:

"(4) Our AMA supports mandatory pre-market systematic safety assessments of bioengineered foods and encourages: (a) development and validation of additional techniques for the detection and/or assessment of unintended effects; (b) continued use of methods to detect substantive changes in nutrient or toxicant levels in bioengineered foods as part of a substantial equivalence evaluation; (c) development and use of alternative transformation technologies to avoid utilization of antibiotic resistance markers that code for clinically relevant antibiotics, where feasible; and (d) that priority should be given to basic research in food allergenicity to support the development of improved methods for identifying potential allergens. The FDA is urged to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods and update its regulatory policies accordingly."

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences:

The products of genetic engineering “carry the potential for introducing unintended compositional changes that may have adverse effects on human health.”

IV. Is There a Constitutional Issue?


“Where a law compels disclosure of ‘purely factual and uncontroversial information,’ the law need only be ‘reasonably related to the [government’s] interest in preventing deception of consumers’ to pass muster under the First Amendment.”
Source: American Meat Institute v. USDA

The GMA points out that one labeling statute has been overturned for violating the First Amendment: “In 1996, the Second Federal Circuit in the case of IDFA v. Amestoy, applied the test found in Central Hudson Gas and blocked a Vermont law that required dairy producers to label milk from cows treated with a growth hormone. The court explained that Vermont’s stated interests in adopting the law – strong consumer interest and the public’s right to know – were not substantial enough to justify the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernible impact on a final product.”

The reasoning of IDFA v. Amestoy was overturned in IDFA v. Boggs.

If the GMA sues, the case will be dismissed.

The current situation, where the vast majority of consumers know virtually nothing about how genetic engineering is being used in food production, is a case of consumer confusion that demands action.

There are proponents of genetic engineering in agriculture that support labels.
Sources: (Consumer Attitudes Toward Biotech Food)

A label that says "produced with genetic engineering" makes a neutral statement of fact. It is not an advertisement and it is not a warning label. The label is not trying to induce the consumer to reach for or reject the product. It is just a simple fact.

The only basis the state needs to require labeling is that, absent a label, consumers will be confused or misled.

Most people figure that some food sold in stores today is genetically engineered. (Among people whose education is a high school degree or less, only 44.7% know this, while 81.4% who have a college degree or beyond know it.) But, very few people can identify those foods. Only one of four people say they completely understand genetically engineered food.

V. What is the GMA?

The GMA says it is “the voice of more than 300 leading food, beverage and consumer product companies that sustain and enhance the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people in the United States, and around the globe. Based in Washington, D.C., GMA’s member organizations include internationally recognized brands as well as steadily growing localized brands.”

GMA members include Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, Ely Lily, General Mills and Syngenta.

More on the GMA here:

Research compiled by Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association.