Keep up with the latest news and comment on genetically modified foods          

False claims and faulty logic on Prop 37

1.GMO Food Labeling: Lies and the Lying GMO Food Liars Who Tell Them
2.VIDEO: Michael Pollan Talks GMO Labeling
3.California Newspaper Editorial Boards Spread False Claims and Faulty Logic on Proposition 37

NOTE: There are some very useful embedded links in all these excellent pieces on Prop 37, for which you will need to go to the original websites - see links below for each of the 3 articles.

The third piece about the role of California's mainstream press is particularly telling. Today the Los Angeles Times is running yet another "Amazing bit of pro-GMO propaganda masquerading as news" - to use Tom Philpott's description on Twitter.

Philpott isn't overstating it. The headline is: "Scientists defend safety of genetically modified foods". The subheading: "Alteration of crops is widespread, producing plants with higher yields, less need for pesticides and other desirable qualities. And, many scientists say, such crops are as safe as any other."

The article concludes with the well known GM propagandist Pamela Ronald: "...Pamela Ronald is heartened that consumers are interested in food safety and sustainability. But as a UC Davis plant geneticist, she said the labels required by Proposition 37 wouldn't tell people what they want to know. 'It has no meaning, whether it's [genetically modified] or not,' she said."
 http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-gmo-food-safety-20121025,0,5959296,full.story

We previously debunked an article by the LA Times'  business columnist Michael Hiltzik headlined "Using junk science to promote Proposition 37" that actually used weapons grade junk journalism to attack Prop 37!
 http://gmwatch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14316

A few years back, when GMWatch's research exposed the virulent dirty tricks campaign waged by Monsanto's PR people against two University of California Berkeley researchers, Quist and Chapela, it prompted 3 separate articles in The Guardian newspaper, plus coverage in the New Scientist, on the BBC's flagship current affairs TV programme Newsnight, and in other media around the world. As far as we're aware, it didn't prompt one column inch in California's mainstream media.
 http://ngin.tripod.com/deceit_index.html
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1.GMO Food Labeling: Lies and the Lying GMO Food Liars Who Tell Them
Charles Margulis
Generation Green, October 24 2012
 http://generationgreen.org/2012/10/gmo-food-labeling-lies-and-the-lying-gmo-food-liars-who-tell-them/

It's no surprise that Monsanto and their agribusiness and Big Food industry friends are spending upwards of $40 million to keep Californians in the dark about genetically modified (GMO) foods. Their anti-Prop 37 campaign intends to run nonstop TV, radio and (if they could) subliminal-beamed-into-your -brain messages designed to scare you about this simple ballot measure that would require labels on GMO foods sold in California grocery stores.

Political science professor Steven Schier of Carleton College called spending the "key variable" in the Prop 37 race, but the good professor is missing the other key variable that the anti-choice corporations have on their side: the ability and willingness to lie about labeling GMO foods.

Perhaps the biggest lie told by the anti-choice crowd is that GMO labels will result in increased food costs for needy families. To support this lie, the industry points to studies (funded by (surprise!) industry) that use absurd assumptions coupled with seemingly complex formulas to come up with ridiculous “estimates” of cost increases. But they never talk about any of the dozens of countries that have adopted GMO food labeling. Why don’t they want to talk about these countries? Because there is not a single real-world case they can point to where GMO labels have resulted in increased food costs. As Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine) has stated about GMO labeling, "Based on the experience of the European Union [countries] that have instituted mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food, we anticipate that the impact on consumer food prices will be negligible."

The San Francisco Chronicle has pointed out that the anti-choice campaign's cost increase estimates have not been independently verified, and noted that the anti-campaign lied about an increased state bureaucracy that would cost the state "millions" of dollars. This whopper is just one of the lies told by Monsanto and their allies. Their desperate campaign of lies and distortions has already been exposed for the following dirty tricks:

*Including the FDA logo along with a phony FDA statement suggesting the agency opposes the initiative in a mailer that went to thousands of Californians. In fact, the agency has taken no position, and use of the FDA logo by private groups is prohibited.

*Stating in the official voters’ guide that the Academy of Nutrition opposes Prop 37. The nutritionists’ group put out a statement to correct the Monsanto lie, noting that “Voters need accurate information in order to make an informed choice” (which sounds delightfully similar to the Yes on 37 argument that consumers need accurate labels to make an informed choice when they shop).

*Claiming that no foods could be labeled as "natural" under Prop 37. An NPR blogger uncritically repeated this claim, until CEH staff pointed out that it was a total lie. When the blogger went back to the author of the study with the CEH critique, she recanted her claim and admitted that Prop 37 "could be interpreted different ways."

*Relying on a phony "expert" with a false affiliation. In an early TV ad, the anti-37 campaign spokesperson was identified as "Dr. Henry Miller, MD, Stanford University." In fact, Miller works for the far-right Hoover Institute, and has a long history of denying climate change, promoting pesticide use and nuclear power, and attacking the FDA. When Stanford (where the Institute is based) learned about the false use of its name, they demanded the ad be changed.

What else does the anti-choice campaign say? They say Prop 37 was written by trial lawyers so they can pursue lawsuits and big paydays. In fact, the Yes on Prop 37 effort is a grassroots campaign led by Californians who simply want to know what’s in our food. The Monsanto campaign says Prop 37 has "loopholes," but the exemptions in the measure are there to protect businesses (like restaurants) that generally don't have the same labeling requirements that grocery food has. They say Prop 37 is anti-science and would ban safe foods. But Prop 37 doesn't ban anything – it simply says people have a right to know what's in our food. Further, there is nothing to back their argument that GMO foods have been around for many years without health problems. As pediatric neurologist Dr. Martha Herbert (who is actually a professor at Harvard) says, "Tracing health problems to genetically engineered foods is almost impossible right now, because these foods are not labeled and there is no way to keep track of them. So there is no scientific basis at this time for saying that these foods are problem-free."

But maybe the biggest lie Monsanto told about GMO labeling was in the 1990’s, when the company told consumers in Great Britain that "Food labeling has Monsanto's full backing." Apparently this is a company will say anything to get your vote. Don't fall for it – vote Yes on Prop 37!

2.VIDEO: Michael Pollan Talks GMO Labeling
Tom Philpott
Mother Jones, October 25 2012
 http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/10/michael-pollan-talks-prop-37-democracy-now

California's Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods, is coming down to the wire as the Nov. 6 election approaches. As recently as Sept. 27, Pepperdine University's bi-monthly poll found 3-to-1 support among the state's voters for the proposition. Two weeks later, the lead had shrunk to 48 percent for to 40 percent against. Like the presidential race, the fight over Prop. 37 has tightened dramatically.

Pepperdine University's poll shows a once-wide lead tightening rapidly. What happened? Most likely, it's the recent multimillion-dollar major television ad blitz, funded by agrichemical giants like Monsanto and processed food makers like Kraft, to whip up opposition to GMO labeling. (Dig into the latest contributions to the effort to defeat Prop. 37 here—on Oct. 19 alone, meat giant Smithfield came through with $454,908.15; Kraft ponied up $1,094,851.75; Pepsi chipped in $429,100.00, etc.)
 http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Campaign/Committees/Detail.aspx?id=1344135&session=2011&view=late1

"This is a great example of the power of advertising," pollster Chris Condon of M4 Strategies, which conducted the survey, told The Los Angeles Times. "A lot of money has been poured into the No side, and the effect has been dramatic."

On Wednesday's Democracy Now show, Amy Goodman hosted a no-holds-barred debate between Prop. 37 spokesperson Stacy Malkan and David Zilberman, professor of agricultural and resource economics at University of California, Berkeley, who opposes the measure. In the debate, Zilberman strains to convince viewers that labeling GMOs in California would mean the starvation of thousands in Africa.
 http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/24/food_fight_debating_prop_37_californias [VIDEO]

Goodman also interviewed Michael Pollan, who recently argued in The New York Times Magazine that Prop. 37 is a key test for "whether or not there is a 'food movement' in America worthy of the name—that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system."
 http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/24/michael_pollan_californias_prop_37_fight [VIDEO]

In another segment, Pollan holds forth on the food movement's burgeoning political power, arguing that the movement remains in its infancy—he argues that the food movement today is like the environmental movement before the first Earth Day in 1970.
 http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/24/michael_pollan_from_gmos_to_nycs [VIDEO]

Finally, for one more blast of Prop. 37 commentary as the election hits the stretch run, The New York Times' food guru Mark Bittman recently made the case for it.
 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/23/buying-the-vote-on-g-m-o-s/


3.California Newspaper Editorial Boards Spread False Claims and Faulty Logic on Proposition 37
Michele Simon
Center for Food Safety, October 17 2012
 http://bit.ly/P3img4

Each election season, proponents and opponents of the various initiatives on the California ballot hope for the state’s major newspaper endorsements. While you can’t expect every paper to endorse your side, Proposition 37, which would require labeling of foods produced using genetic engineering, seems to have had a string of incredibly bad luck. So incredible, in fact, that the reasoning behind several California newspaper endorsements of a No vote has me scratching my head.

It's one thing to have a difference of opinion, but these editorials don't even get their facts straight. Even more perplexing, most of the papers acknowledged that we should have labeling for foods produced using genetic engineering, and yet they went out of their way to find excuses to not endorse a basic consumer "right to know" effort. In this light, it seemed logical to review a few of the arguments that raised questions.

The Sacramento Bee editorial board, after saying they "don't oppose labeling of genetically modified food," went on to parrot several of the opposition's talking points, but failed to back them up with any actual facts. They claim the initiative would result in "countless lawsuits against retailers," a baseless scare tactic well-honed by the opposition. The vast majority of businesses follow the law, so lawsuits will be rare.

Much has been made by the Bee and other papers about how "private attorneys and plaintiffs would have the power to enforce," demonstrating a troubling ignorance of the law. Under current California law, private attorneys can already sue food companies for deceptive marketing, so this is really no different. And unlike other laws (such as Prop 65), under Prop 37 there are no financial incentives for bringing a lawsuit. All a person can get is a court order for the company to properly label its product, which is no incentive for an attorney to bring a lawsuit. Again, it’s just scare mongering from the opposition, and it’s sad to see the editorial pages engage in such shallow analysis and flimsy argumentation.

The Los Angeles Times reasoning for its No endorsement was particularly bizarre. The first three paragraphs read like a great Yes argument, including:

In most cases, there is no requirement to inform consumers, via labels, about the use of pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, or about the inhumane conditions in which animals are often kept. But Proposition 37 would make an exception for genetically engineered food, requiring that it be labeled before being sold in California.

The board then makes a lengthy and twisted argument summed up as: With so many other things wrong with the food supply, why single out GMOs? The paper claims we should be more worried about how…

… three-fourths of the antibiotics in this country are used to fatten and prevent disease in livestock, not to treat disease in people. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from overuse of pharmaceuticals poses a real threat to public health. So why label only the bioengineered foods? Because the group that wrote Proposition 37 happened to target them. What’s needed is a consistent, rational food policy, not a piecemeal approach based on individual groups’ pet concerns.

Has the L.A. Times missed the decades-long movement to halt the overuse of antibiotics in livestock? It has been gaining more traction lately. You would think they would have heard of it. How exactly do two wrongs make a right? And a “consistent, rational food policy” would be nice in a consistent, rational world, but that’s not the planet we inhabit. Or the state. Advocates often have to fight these battles one at time because the food industry is so powerful it’s the only way we can get anything done.

Finally, the reference to “groups’ pet concerns” is condescending and ignorant. More than a million Americans have signed a petition asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to label GMOs, a request that one survey showed 91 percent of Americans agree with, but that the FDA has so far ignored thanks to politics. (This, despite President Obama’s campaign promise to label GMOs; see this video from Food Democracy Now.) Moreover, volunteers in California helped gather more than a million signatures to get Prop 37 on the ballot. Also, most of the groups working to get GMO labeling have also been working on the other food system problems the Times mentions (and many more), so these are hardly “pet concerns” to advocates, and shame on the L.A. Times for saying so.

Undoubtedly, the single most disturbing and outright false argument made by at least three newspapers (the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle) is how the proponents of Prop 37 should have gone through the legislature first. The Bee said that “proponents made no effort to push the concept through the Legislature” and the Chronicle claimed that “advocates of the labeling law never attempted that step, despite Democratic majorities in both houses.”

What?

In fact, organizations such as the Center for Food Safety (full disclosure: this article is on behalf of CFS) have tried numerous times to introduce such a bill, and could never even get a legislator to introduce a bill. However CFS was able to get a bill to label genetically engineered fish introduced in 2011 (AB 88, authored by Assemblymember Jared Huffman), and while it passed through the assembly health committee, it failed in appropriations.

For these three major California newspapers to base their No on 37 endorsements on such patently false claims about the legislative process completely boggles the mind. This is no small mistake. Many editorial boards have made it clear that they just don’t like the initiative process and are quick to bash it. Fair enough, but at least acknowledge that those fighting for GMO labeling in California did try to go through the legislature first. To say otherwise is giving readers the false impression that Prop 37 proponents were too lazy or stupid to bother going through that important first step. Given the massive amount of resources required to engage in the initiative process in California (either in volunteer effort or money or both), most advocacy groups would only choose this route after failing multiple times in the legislature. It’s just too big an undertaking, and extremely risky financially. And yet, these newspapers make it sound like Prop 37 proponents took the easy way out. Hardly. Running up against the deep, deep pockets of No on Prop 37 donors like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola is not exactly the easy way.

Related to this false statement is the notion the legislature would do a better job drafting a bill to label GMOs. The San Jose Mercury News predicted that the legislative “give and take would have resulted in a better-drafted law that we might well have supported.” Really? Has anyone on these editorial boards ever been to the state’s capital to witness California sausage-making first hand? I have, and it’s not pretty. That both houses have a Democratic majority hardly matters, as corporate lobbyists write most of the bills in their favor and then gut the rest to render them toothless.

Even if a GMO labeling bill for all foods was introduced, the resulting bill would either die in committee or come out the other end in favor of Monsanto et al. That’s exactly why Prop 37 proponents had to resort to the initiative process. As flawed as it is; it’s all we have left. Prop 37 may not be perfect, but it’s the best chance we have of getting GMO labeling right now, so why not support it? According to California’s leading newspapers, GMO labeling should only happen through a rational legislative process where all stakeholders have their say, resulting in a balanced and perfect law that would make everyone happy. What world do these editorial board members live in?

That so many California newspapers failed to understand the political realities that led to Prop 37 in the first place raises troubling questions about the relevance of proposition endorsements in general. Many Californians rely on their local papers to help them understand the numerous and complex ballot initiatives each election. But if editorial boards can’t bother to get their facts straight, they have abdicated their responsibility and simply cannot be trusted to offer voters fair recommendations. Maybe it’s time newspapers retired the practice altogether. If the debacle of Prop 37 editorials is any indication, the voting public would be better off doing its own homework.

Paid for by Californians for Truth in Labeling-Yes on 37, sponsored by the Center for Food Safety Action Fund