Sunday, October 13, 2013

Truth & Lies: Cutting Through the Propaganda of WA 522 Commercials

Even though I currently live in Portland, Washington state is my home. Living close to the border also gives me some interesting insight into what's happening in politics back home as our Portland news stations also service southern Washington (and therefore runs Washington's political ads).

Washingtonians will vote on a hugely important piece of legislation in just a few short weeks: Initiative 522. Simply put: voting yes on 522 will require genetically engineered food sold in grocery stores to carry a label that says it has been genetically modified. It's that simple. (Not sure what GMOs are? Consider this your crash course)

This law is actually really simple. You ask one question "Is it genetically modified?" Yes? Get's a label. No? No label. That simple. But you'd never know from looking at the attack ads. The five major out-of-state corporations funding the no on 522 campaign are confusing the daylights out of even the most enlightened of food consumers.

Let's pick apart one recent ad: WARNING: This ad is convincing but it's based on partial truths and misinformation. Please read on for my full analysis.

"522 Conflicts with National Standards"

That would be because there are no national standards regarding the labeling of GMO foods. That's why this bill is necessary in the first place. 

Soy Milk vs. Cow Milk

Let me clarify again what 522 does. It requires a label on foods that have been genetically engineered. Things like soy beans, corn, and sugar beets are huge GMO cash crops. If you want to sell soy milk, tofu, soy patties etc. made with GMO soy, it is going to need a label.

Why not cow milk? It's quite simple, really: There are no GMO cows. The "even when produced with genetically engineered products" bit in the video? They are talking about the cow's feed. They are correct that if a cow is fed GMO alfalfa, it does not have to be labeled. This is because the initiative is focusing only on the actual product sold. Because the milk is not genetically engineered or from a genetically engineered animal, it will not require a label.

The irony to me is that the corporations funding this video have stated publically on several occaisions that GMO foods should never be labeled ever. The argument being used, however, says that the proposed law isn't strong enough, so you should vote no. I call shenanigans.

Bread vs. Cheese

This is another example of their fake "the law isn't going to be strong enough" nonsense. The truth is that bread often contains GMO ingredients: specifically corn syrup. Bread made with GMO corn syrup will need to be labeled. Don't want the label? You can stop using GMO corn syrup. Easy.

Cheese will not have to be labeled as there are no GMO cows or goats. Soy "cheese" on the other hand, will have to be labeled if it is produced with GMO soy.

Dog Food vs. Steak

Truth: Any dog food made with GMO ingredients will need to be labeled. If a brand of dog food uses fillers like GMO corn or GMO soy, it needs a label. Steak will not be labeled since there are no GMO cows. Salmon, on the other hand WILL  have to be labeled if the salmon is genetically engineered.

Other reasons why the No on 522 campaign is sketchy

TRUTH: The "No on 522" campaign is funded by 5 large corporations. None of them are based in Washington State.

TRUTH: The corporations running the above ad, whose message is to vote no on 522 because the law is not strong enough have publicly stated that GMOs should never require a label. Ever. This is double speak.

TRUTH: The only corporations sponsoring No on 522 are producers of GMO seeds or food made with GMO products. They don't want you to know what's in your food because they want to continue selling you products full of GMOs without you knowing which GMO free brands are great alternatives.

Top 5 Reasons to Label GMOs:

1) Everyone has a right to know what is in the food they eat. American companies already label the GMO food they export to 64 other countries. We deserve to know, too.

2) Labeling GMOs puts consumers in control of the food they eat. Over 80% of processed foods and some fresh foods like corn, papaya, zucchini and summer squash are made with GMOs. GMO Salmon and apples are coming to market soon.

3) Farming GMO crops uses more pesticides than conventional crops, which contaminates our environment including our drinking water.

4) GMO labeling does not impact the price of food. When Europe started requiring GMOs to be labeled, the price of food did not go up.

5) Labeling GMOs helps shoppers maximize their food budgets. Families serious about avoiding GMOs must buy organic or Non-GMO Project Verified foods. Often these foods sell for a premium making them harder for families to afford. GMO labeling will help families make better decisions about when to spring for a premium labeled product or when it's ok to buy a GMO free store brand.

Are you a Washington state voter? If you have questions or concerns about 522, please leave them in the comments. I promise to answer.

If you are voting Yes on 522, give me a shout out in the comments and consider sharing this post on Facebook to educate your friends!

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  1. Great post! Here's my question. My mom says she is voting No on 522 because she has a friend who sells meat and crops out in Royal City and this initiative will cost him thousands of dollars. Thoughts?

    1. That's a great question, Chantal. There are a few reasons why this could be but let me suggest a few. I first want to point out that this will ONLY cost sellers of GMO products any money at all. The meat would be exempt unless he does farm raised GMO salmon. In order to incur any kind of cost, he must be raising some kind of GMO crop (corn? soy? sugar beets? experimental GMO apples?).

      Adding a label should be a negligible cost in and of itself. He surely lables his products anyway and labeling them could cost as little as getting a $25 self inking stamp that he stamps on the boxes or labels he currently uses. If he is selling at farmer's markets, he simply needs to add a note on the signs he is surely already using to state the name of the food and the price.

      He could be referring to losing business now that he has to declare to buyers that his products contain GMOs. This would mean he knows his buyers don't want GMOs but he's been selling GMOs to them anyway.

      He might also be referring to needing to find non-GMO alternatives to the GMOs he is currently growing. This, of course, would be in anticipation of his customers rejecting the goods he is already selling once they are aware they contain GMOs.

      The interesting thing, though, is that GMO seed costs more than Non-GMO seed. The seed costs themselves would be less if he switched to non-GMOs. Maybe he has purchased large quantities of round up with the intention of using it on his GMO crops but now that he feels he needs to move to non-GMO crops he won't be able to use it (as round up kills non-GMO crops)?

      You'd really need to ask for a more specific explanation. Alternately, I would love for him to come comment on this post and tell me why he thinks 522 is a bad idea and why he feels like he would lose money.

    2. Thanks, I will try to get more information. NOW, I am all for 522 but need some arguments to present to my husband because he is stubborn and is trying to refute all of mine. He is saying that there is no definitive evidence that GMO's are bad (although he says they COULD be) and that labeling food is going to inevitably raise our food prices because it costs more to farm organic food that GMO crops (which is why they started using GMO's in the first place.) You spoke of this transition not affecting food prices in Europe... do you have the source that says so? I'm just trying to present an argument he can't refute, and well, you know how stubborn he can be!!! ;)

    3. It's really kind of irrelevant to 522 whether or not GMOS are definitely bad. It happens to be our opinion that they are. Have you read this post? There are lots of great sources linked to in the post including the only long-term study to-date regarding helath impact of GMO food over a lifetime in rats.

      The reason it is irrelevant to the yes or no on 522 debate is because the labels do not need to say "warning: Health risk - contains GMOs". It simply needs to say that it was created with genetically engineered ingredients so that if customers care, they can pick the right product for them. This is akin to saying that a product was made in a facility that also processes peanuts. I don't care if it was. I don't think peanuts are bad for me. But it is REALLY important to the health of some people - and those people have a right to know.

      Here are some useful sources regarding prices:
      Great general article about pricing. This was written for prop 37 in California - which was very similar to 522.

      If he really wants to get back to primary sources, here is a copy of the actual speech presented by David Byrne - the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection on European GMO labeling. On page 4 he says when the current labelling regime (based on DNA/protein) was introduced in 1997, it did not result in increased costs, despite the horrifying (double-digit) prediction of some interests. Similarly, when Norway introduced its current labelling regime (similar to the one now proposed), it did not provoke any price increase or disruption in trade.

      Here is an article in the Olympian talking about the study done by an Emory University economist which said food prices will not go up. Although her report does cite “an improbable, worst case scenario” that includes nominal costs: $2.20 per person in the first year for label changes. Please note that the opposition's report saying prices will increase drastically is based on the assumption that all GMO food producers will need to suddenly find non-GMO food sources for ingredients instead of labeling them.. This, of course is ridiculous as GMOs are not being banned or outlawed - just labeled. There will always be a market for cheap food in America. And there are plenty of people who don't care about GMOs. It is silly to think that all food will suddenly go up in price OR that all non-GMO food will no longer be bought ever.

      If he has any more specific concerns or arguments, I would be happy to hear them or help you find sources to refute them. :-)

  2. "3) Farming GMO crops uses more pesticides than conventional crops"
    Where are you getting your facts?

    In my understanding, GMO crops include those engineered to be pest resistant and require LESS pesticides and water than conventional crops - giving them a cost advantage to farmers. (Why would a farmer pay MORE for a GMO seeds plus addition costs for more pesticides and water - the "more pesticides and more water" claim doesn't make sense.)

    1. That's a good question, Ed. Initially GMOs used less pesticides. However, with the increase in round up resistant super weeds and other pests, more and more round up is needed every year. Here is a good primer on the issue:

      I haven't claimed GMOs use more water. Although, it had been found that "drought resistant" GMO corn is no more resistant to drought than organic corn. They are able to sell farmers these seeds by making these claims without any kind of third party certification or testing to make sure they measure up to their claims.


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