ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 September 2002


The third item on the battle between consumer concerns and food industry interests is taken from Prakash's AgBioView list. It''s a piece by David Martosko who is described as "director of research for The Center for Consumer Freedom". Consumer Freedom is a non-profit front for PR firm Berman & Co. for whom Martosko flaks. Berman & Co.'s founder and Executive Director stands accused of "funneling millions... donated to non-profit organizations he runs - right into his own bank accounts."

1. Consumers uneasy over GM crops
2. Food Industry Is Campaigning Against Oregon GMO Proposal
3. Who's Really Behind The Protest Curtain?


1. Consumers uneasy over GM crops

By Veronica Brown
Monday September 30, 12:46 PM

LONDON (Reuters) - Consumers are still uneasy over genetically modified crops and food, a report published on Monday showed, as the government prepares to debate the issue in public before deciding on whether to roll out commercial plantings.

The report from the Consumer Association, including a survey of 1,000 people, found that consumers believe the main beneficiaries of genetic modification in food production are the companies that develop the technology, and not themselves.

Less than a third of consumers find the idea of food produced from a gene-modified plant to be acceptable, according to the consumer association study entitled "GM Dilemmas," while 45 percent of those surveyed try to avoid GM food and ingredients.

It also found that less than a third of consumers are in favour of growing GM crops for commercial use.

As field trials of genetically modified crops enter the final stages, Consumer Association Director Sheila McKechnie called for a ban on the market introduction of further GM products and on commercialisation of gene-altered crops in the UK until the government addresses consumers concerns.

"These findings show that consumers still have concerns about the use of GM and do not yet want GM crops to be grown commercially," she told a briefing on Monday.

"The government must take the corporate fingers out of its ears and start listening to what consumers really think about GM," she added.

The group said that the government should take a number of steps to save the public debate from becoming a "hollow, public relations exercise," including consideration of a voluntary system to tell consumers more about what they eat, including the use of GM technology in processing food.

McKechnie said the public is especially wary on the introduction of biotechnology in food, after a string of recent food safety problems, including mad cow disease.

"Given the level of public concern, there must be a halt to the introduction of any new GM products until the government has carried out the necessary steps to ensure that public safety, consumer opinion and consumer choice are paramount," she said.

The group also called for more open, transparent and inclusive regulatory processes, mechanisms for monitoring the long-term consequences of GM for human health and the environment and more independent research into the long-term consequences of GM.

It also said that full traceability of GMOs should be in place and that GM ingredients must be properly labelled, based on what is used rather than what is detectable in the end product.
Copies of the "GM Dilemmas" report or the briefing on this issue, available on line at


2. Food Industry Is Campaigning Against Oregon GMO Proposal

September 30, 2002

Buried among six other ballot measures in Oregon this November is an initiative that could upend the way the U.S. food industry operates.

Measure 27, the first of its kind to go before U.S. voters, would do what Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have declined to do -- require food companies to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients. About 70% of processed food contains genetically modified corn, soybeans or some other crop, according to food industry groups. Such crops -- which haven't been shown to cause health problems -- resist pests and weed killers and are easier for farmers to grow.

With the Oregon voter initiative, proponents of labeling may have found the food and biotech industries' Achilles' heel. By putting the labeling question before consumers, rather than politicians, such a law is more likely to be approved.

National polls repeatedly have shown that when asked if they would like to see information about genetically modified ingredients on food labels, an overwhelming majority of consumers answer "yes." Organizers of the Oregon measure collected more than 100,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. They've heard from labeling proponents in seven other states interested in introducing similar initiatives.

"If the food is so safe and the technology is great, why not put a label on it and let me have a choice?" says Donna Harris, a Portland mother who formed Oregon Concerned Citizens for Safe Foods, the group leading the labeling campaign.

The food and crop-biotechnology industries are raising a war chest to fight the ballot measure. In documents slated to be filed Monday with the state, the industries' group -- the Coalition Against the Costly Labeling Law -- will report it raised $4.6 million in cash in the seven weeks ended Sept. 20. The group has so far spent about $1.9 million. Of the money raised, about $3.7 million came from Crop Life International, a biotech trade group. Most of the rest came from food companies, including PepsiCo Inc., General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., Sara Lee Corp. and H.J. Heinz Co., according to Pat McCormick, head of the antilabeling campaign.

By contrast, the pro-label group has raised about $84,000 in cash, loans and in-kind contributions and has spent about $72,000 in about the past 1* years, according to the Oregon secretary of state's office. The group's largest contributor is Mel Bankoff, founder of Emerald Valley Kitchen Inc., a Eugene, Ore., organic food company, who gave $47,500, most of it in loans, state records show.

The U.S. food and biotech industries have opposed similar laws, concerned that the labels would stigmatize their products unfairly. Such labels, required in parts of Europe and Asia, are "scary sounding," says Ken Yates, vice president of government affairs for the Northwest Food Processors Association, a Portland trade group.

Such a law would create a logistical headache for farmers, food makers and supermarkets. Could the industry apply special packaging to products destined for a single state? Such a system is possible, food industry groups concede, but it would require major, costly changes. Perishable products, such as bread and milk, often are produced locally, making it easier to comply with a state labeling law. But food companies make many processed foods at plants that often serve the entire country.

"They'd have to have an Oregon market and a market for the rest of the U.S.," says Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group representing large food producers. "It's one thing to set up a system for North America, set up a system for Southeast Asia, but to set up a system state by state?"

While food makers track products through lot numbers for recall purposes, food can change hands several times before it reaches its final destination. Food brokers buy products and sell them across the country. Other foods go to supermarket distribution centers, which can send products to retailers in different states.

The Oregon measure, which would likely face court challenges if passed, would require labeling of food sold in the state, as well as of products made or housed in Oregon and distributed to other states. The ingredients used in such products would have to be tracked carefully; a cake-mix maker, for example, would have to know if the hens that laid the eggs used in the mix ate genetically modified feed.

The campaign is heating up. A state packet explaining ballot initiatives, which will be mailed to voters, has 20 pages of published comments for and against the labeling provision. Oregon is the only state where all ballots are mailed to voters.

The anti-labeling group plans TV and print ads and mailings. Already about 330 road signs, many erected alongside farms, tell voters to "VOTE NO ON 27, THE CO$TLY LABELING LAW." The 41-year-old Ms. Harris insists she and her campaign aren't a front for any industry. "I'm really just a mom," she says.


3. Who's Really Behind The Protest Curtain? Commentary
By David Martosko
September 27, 2002

A funny thing happened on the way to the anti-global protests in Washington, D.C. The self-proclaimed "anarchist" and "anti-authoritarian" architects of this weekend's promised mayhem have dressed up their event in enough order and organization to make a wedding planner blush. And they had plenty of help.

Of course, we know what to expect from our first big post-Bin Laden protest event. Hooded, disaffected teenagers waving signs and banners, wandering angry mobs, gripes about the "capitalist greed" that keeps our families clothed and fed, perhaps some creative PR for Iraq, a little tear gas here and there, maybe a burning flag or two. And shouting. Lots of shouting.

We've seen this all before. Every time a potpourri of violent anarchists and militant socialists descend on our nation's capital, we hold our collective breath and wait for the storm to pass. No big deal, right? The same strange mixture of wackos threatens to "shut the city down" every few years, and hardly anyone (save those who work near the World Bank) really seems to mind.

We should mind. We should be royally ticked off. Because the blame this time around lies not just with the usual hodgepodge of anachronistic socialist groups that draw supporters from our most impressionable college undergrads. You've heard their names before: the Mobilization for Global Justice, the "50 Years Is Enough" network, and the candidly named Anti-Capitalist Convergence.

Surprise! The list of those aiding and abetting this year's national disgrace includes a host of "mainstream" activist groups, straining to publicly assert that their agendas are actually moderate and sensible. Their chosen strategy is ensuring that someone else's party line is even more radical than their own.

We're talking about Greenpeace. And Friends of the Earth. And the AFL-CIO. And the Communications Workers of America. And Ralph Nader's "Essential Action" group. All of these are acknowledged co-sponsors of whatever downtown destruction your television set brings you this weekend.

If reports of an "anarchist scavenger hunt" turn out to be accurate, let's hope we all hold the right people accountable when the dust settles. Three hundred points to "whack a CEO in the head?" You can't make this stuff up.

On Friday and Saturday, as we see the mythical "rich -vs- poor" dramas unfold on CNN, it might be useful to remember two things. First, that the combined net worth of these "sponsoring" groups is well over $200 million; they can afford the best in image-control to make sure their messages are "spun" just so. Second, behemoth-sized organizations like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth don't get involved with ground-level pavement scrums unless there's something in it for them.

That "something" is political cover for their social agenda. No matter how ridiculous Greenpeace activists may sound advocating Leftist environmental, trade, labor, or energy policies, they'll always sound slightly less radical if the anarchist movement has already staked out even more extreme positions.

The same thing has happened over the past 20 years with regard to the animal-rights movement: In 1980, vegetarians were considered the lunatic fringe. Today strict vegans, to say nothing of violent animal-liberation terrorists, have made your garden-variety meatless eater seem mainstream by comparison.

Biotech food provides another good example. When Friends of the Earth agitates for the costly and unnecessary labeling of genetically improved foods, or when Greenpeace demands the total conversion of American agriculture to 1950s-style organic growing, it ought to make our blood boil.

But we're too busy to notice, because even more disturbing lunatics - many of them presently in Washington - are justifying African starvation (in Zambia, for instance, where offers of biotech food aid have been repeatedly rebuffed) in the name of "genetic purity" and "food security."

This is not to say that either Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth would support feeding biotech grain to starving Zambians. Make no mistake about it - these groups have definitely abandoned "save the earth" in favor of "starve the children." But by getting full-blown socialists to advocate this position for them, the Greenpeaces of the world can at least try to keep their hands blood-free.

Greenpeace, for all its multi-million-dollar bluster, still needs, and uses, the far-out environmental kooks. Similarly, "mainstream" labor leaders desperately need the communitarians from the "social justice" movement, with their misnamed "living wage" crusades that punish low-skilled job seekers.

And Ralph Nader, with his off-the-scale nutty brand of social activism, needs the Anti-Capitalist Convergence. Without the candid extremists, "mainstream" groups find themselves even more on the political fringes than they already are. And that's a difficult position from which to be taken seriously.

So in order to claim the political center, ordinary activist groups give their stamp of approval to unrest, disruption, and risk to life and limb. In doing so, environmental, labor, and anti-free-trade nonprofits are also tacitly endorsing this weekend's stated goal: "We are striving toward the abolition of capitalism!"

Funny - Greenpeace takes in over $23 million each year in the U.S. alone - take a gander at "" for the proof. Ralph Nader's myriad activist groups are worth at least $19 million on paper. And globally, Friends of the Earth moves over $80 million a year. Strange balance sheets indeed for underwriters of modern socialism.

David Martosko is director of research for The Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition supported by restaurant operators, food and beverage companies and individuals.

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