Over Memorial Day weekend, hacker collective group Anonymous organized a worldwide Occupy Monsanto march to bring attention to the supposed corrupt practices and harmful GMO products the corporate giant supports. According to Anonymous' website, the protest was designed for “empowering citizens of the world to take action against Monsanto & its enablers like the FDA, USDA, EPA, GMA, BIO, and the processed food companies that use Monsanto's products.” Interestingly, the organizations that were protested are either governmental regulatory agencies or mega-corporations with the ability to lobby support on behalf of their cause.
As Robert Taylor pointed out in his recent PolicyMic article about the Occupy Monsanto protest, “Rather than blame capitalism or corporations per se, Anonymous's general opposition to Monsanto comes from the state-granted privileges that the company receives and enabling government agencies in the U.S. and around the world.” State-privilege as described in Taylor’s article is important to consider when proposing the best solution for food labelling transparency.
Conscientious consumers should not seek a federal regulatory approach that a lot of anti-GMO protesters have been calling for, such as the “Just Label It!” campaign. This campaign compares the United States to other countries that have banned genetically modified foods and calls upon Congress and the FDA to mandate that all foods containing GMOs should be labeled. Additionally, the campaign's leaders explain that for “20 years we have been denied that right” in regards to knowing the ingredients in our food. The problem with mandating GMO labels is that it would be enforced by the FDA, which would be costly to the small businesses, farmers, and restaurants that are already cash-strapped due to competing with large corporate farms that receive hefty chunks of taxpayer subsidies.
Another example of how FDA-regulated GMO labeling would increase costs is evident when comparing it to certified organic labels. The USDA currently regulates organic farms, which have proven to be more costly for a variety of reasons including annual certification fees.
Advocating mandatory GMO labeling would mean that Michael Taylor, former lawyer for Monsanto Corporation who is now deputy commissioner of policy for the FDA, would be involved in the process. According to Huffington Post, “Taylor helped Monsanto figure out whether the corporation could sue states or companies that wanted to tell the public that their products were free of Monsanto's [bovine growth hormone].” Talk about a fox guarding the henhouse.
The Non GMO Project is an organization promoting third-party oversight for labelling products that do not use GMOs. The website touts downloadable UPC’s for verified products that are updated regularly, an iPhone app shopping guide, verified restaurants, and a list of participating retailers. The procedure for obtaining non-GMO status is grueling — it involves a 10-step product verification process which includes a FoodChain Global Advisor review, signing a participating company/non-disclosure agreement, paying enrollment fees, signing a licensing agreement to allow the name and logo on the website, on-site inspection, and a non-GMO-project verification seal. This third-party organization is a great market-based, consumer-driven solution that holds retailers and labellers accountable to a set of standards reviewable by the public.
Think about the scrutiny kosher food undergoes without federal FDA oversight. The DenverChannel.Com website reported on kosher food, explaining, “While only about one out of eight Americans bought kosher products, 62% who did reported that the main appeal was food quality, according to a 2009 Mintel consumer survey. Just 14% of respondents said their purchases were because they follow kosher religious rules, the survey said.”
Market-based regulations ensure that the best quality food is sold to the public through competition and profit. Check out the skyrocketing demand for gluten-free foods recently. Some grocery stores have even voluntarily provided specific aisles to designate these types of foods.
It’s hard to say whether or not a third-party approach to GMO transparency will take down Monsanto, but it will offer a cost-effective solution that allows consumers to review the ingredients in their food complete with a handy iPhone App.
Those who are concerned with genetically modified foods should trust consumers and the market to determine the best regulatory method for ingredient transparency and food quality.