Big Money in Washington Opposes Labeling & Safety-Testing of GE Foods

Vol. 5, #34 November 15, 1999
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Brave New Farm: The Battle Over Genetically-Altered Food

By Holly Bailey

A battle that could change the way Americans look at their
food is cooking on Capitol Hill, as Congress prepares to jump
into the emotional debate over how to regulate genetically
modified food. At issue: whether produce, meats or other food
products created through bioengineering should be labeled to indicate
as such.

It's a subject that has caused plenty of controversy
throughout Europe, where the British government - gun shy after several
food safety debacles in recent years -- now requires full
disclosure of products created with genetically altered ingredients.
Lawmakers there say not enough research has been done to indicate
whether wonder foods, like freeze-resistant tomatoes or corn crops
that repel insects, truly are safe to eat.

Consumer groups, environmental activists and some members of
Congress have echoed such concerns. A bipartisan group of
lawmakers - including Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders
(I-Vt.) and Jack Metcalf (R-Wa.) -- last week introduced legislation
that would require food manufacturers that use genetically
engineered ingredients in their food to disclose such practices on
product labels, similar to the way they report fat and calorie

More than three dozen of Washington's largest trade
associations have joined to lobby on the issue, forming the Alliance for
Better Foods. The ABF - whose 38 members include such groups as the
Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Marketing
Institute - aims to promote the benefits of biotech food to Congress
and members of the public. ABF members, during the first nine
months of 1999, reported more than $676,000 in soft money, PAC and
individual contributions to members of Congress, 83 percent to

But that's not all the money being spent by groups lobbying
on the issue. Nearly every member of the ABF coalition boasts a
membership of hundreds of companies throughout the
agriculture industry, which accounted for $43.3 million in campaign
contributions during the 1998 election cycle.

That's not to mention lobbying from specific biotech
companies, including Monsanto, DuPont and Novartis Seeds, which the New
York Times reports are preparing to launch a campaign to
counter charges that genetically modified foods aren't safe.
Combined, those companies spent more than $6 million lobbying members
of Congress and the Clinton administration in 1998. In
addition, the US Chamber of Commerce, one of Washington's most
powerful trade groups, also appears to be jumping into the fray, as
it hosts a series of forums on the topic beginning today.

The Food and Drug Administration this week launches a series
of public hearings to examine the issue of genetically
altered foods. In addition, discussion of US policy on the new foods
is expected to dominate talks at the World Trade
Organization meeting in Seattle later this month. There, the European
Union is expected to push a proposal to give its member countries
the option of banning food products they feel could be
dangerous, even if there is little evidence to back up their concerns.
That could spell financial disaster for thousands of US farmers,
who import millions of dollars in beef and crops developed using
biotechnology overseas each year.

ABF members, meanwhile, are working to counter what they
contend are groundless scare tactics about biotech foods. The GMA,
which reports more than $75,000 in soft money contributions this
year, says any labeling of genetically altered food would mislead
consumers about the safety of biotech food. Meanwhile, the National
Food Processors Association has blasted labeling efforts, noting
that such legislation exempts restaurants and other eateries from
disclosing their use of biotech foods. They contend such an
exemption proves lawmakers are unfairly targeting farmers.

Click here for a look at how much ABF members have spent on
campaign contributions during 1999, as well as who they gave to: