Pro-GMO Witnesses Participate in Senate Hearing on GMO Labeling

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A Senate hearing conducted yesterday on GMO labeling was anything but fair as it was stacked with pro-GMO witnesses. According to Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a grassroots organization leading the efforts to defeat H.R. 1599—dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK)—the witnesses were there to represent the interests of corporations, not people.

The hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry was in regards to a bill that would "preempt state and federal rights to enact laws requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods or foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)."

Yet as the hearing was stacked with so many witnesses with ties to the biotech and food industries, OCA is calling the Senate hearing on GMO labeling a "travesty." 

In a statement from Ronnie Cummins, international director of OCA, he said:

Today’s hearing on H.R. 1599 made a total mockery of democracy. Of the eight witnesses allowed to testify, only one could be remotely considered as someone who represents the interests of consumers and public health. The other seven have ties to the biotech and corporate food industries, and were there to represent the interests of corporations, not people.

Today, we call on millions of American consumers to contact their elected officials with this message: If you vote against states’ rights, if you vote against truth and transparency in labeling, if you vote against the more than 90 percent of Americans who want mandatory, not voluntary, labeling of GMO foods, we will vote against you.

OCA and like-minded organizations, activists and scientists were not invited to the hearing, but here is a list of the invitees, according to a press release from OCA:

 Michael Gregoire, associate administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Gregoire helped Monsanto by cutting in half the time it takes for the USDA to rubber-stamp a new GMO crop.

• William Jordan, deputy director, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Jordan oversaw the EPA’s reaction to the infamous StarLink GMO contamination scandal in 2000. The StarLink corn variety, engineered to produce a Bt toxin, was supposed to be limited to animal feed and industrial use out of fear it might cause severe allergic reactions.  But it turned up in taco shells, and people started getting sick. Jordan refused to punish StarLink producer Aventis with even so much as a fine.

• Susan Mayne, director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA

Mayne leads the FDA division that has the power to require labeling of genetically engineered foods (as long as the DARK Act doesn’t pass), but we don’t know where she stands on consumers’ right to know. Mayne came to the FDA just this year from the Yale Cancer Center. As the associate director of the Yale Cancer Center, Mayne was critical of research showing an 87-percent higher pancreatic cancer risk among regular soda drinkers. Mayne published her own research that disputed links between soda consumption and esophageal cancer. Most soda contains high fructose corn syrup made from GMO corn.

• Joanna Lidback, producer, The Farm at Wheeler Mountain, Barton, Vt.

Lidback is a graduate of the American Farm Bureau’s Monsanto-funded Partners in Agricultural Leadership program. Lidback has an MBA and works full-time as a business consultant to Yankee Farm Credit. She is the first vice president of the Orleans County Farm Bureau. She’s on the board of directors of the Truth About Trade & Technology.  Lidback also represents Agri-Mark, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and the National Milk Producers Federation, as a dairy farmer producing milk for Cabot Cheese. Vermont’s GMO labeling law won’t impact Lidback’s farm because it doesn’t cover the products of animals fed genetically engineered feed, but Lidback is expected to falsely claim that the law will put her farm out of business

• Daryl E. Thomas, senior vice president, Herr Foods, Inc., Nottingham, Pa.

Herr Foods represents the typical food company that wants to make money from the market for non-GMO foods, while keeping consumers in the dark about which foods contain GMO ingredients. On Herr’s website, the company explains its twisted position this way: “We know that food safety is paramount to everyone. So while we continue to explore opportunities to offer the latest developments in non-GMO ingredients, we remain committed to delivering to you the safest and best tasting snacks possible.” Herr’s recently began marketing a non-GMO popcorn called Go-Lite! Herr’s has been lobbying against mandatory GMO labels with the Snack Foods Association. 

• Gary Hirshberg, chairman and co-founder, Stonyfield Farm Inc., Concord, N.H.

Hirshberg is the only witness from “our side.”

• Gregory Jaffe, project director, Biotechnology, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)

CSPI opposes GMO labels and safety testing. CSPI supports legislation introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2004 which was intended to permanently change the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act so that it “does not subject most genetically engineered foods to the lengthy food additive approval process.” Sen. Durbin’s bill is a tacit acknowledgement that GMOs are supposed to go through the food additive approval process, and an admission that in order to exempt Monsanto from that requirement, the law must change. As Steven Druker explains in his book, “Altered Genes, Twisted Truth,” in 1992, the FDA illegally exempted GMOs from the food additive approval process which requires new additives to food be demonstrated safe before they are marketed to the public. H.R. 1599 would enshrine in permanent law the FDA’s 1992 Guidance to Industry for Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties, which allows companies to go through a consultation process that the agency admits doesn’t determine the safety of new GMOs.

• Ronald E. Kleinman, physician in chief, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Boston, Mass.

Michele Simon exposed Kleinman in 2012 when he worked for the GMO junk food industry during the Prop 37 campaign to label GMOs in California. Kleinman presents webinars on children’s health, for Coca-Cola. Among the “most common misperceptions among parents” Dr. Kleinman promises to clear up on behalf of the soda giant are “the safety … of sugar, artificial colors and nonnutritive sweeteners in children’s diets.” His bio on the Massachusetts General Hospital webpage says he consults for the Grain Food Foundation, Beech Nut, Burger King, and General Mills. According to CSPI, (which is good on everything but GMOs), Kleinman served as a paid expert witness for Gerber when the company was sued for deceptive advertising, and he contributed to a children’s brochure entitled “Variety’s Mountain” produced by the Sugar Association.

As Cummins said previously, "Monsanto will come out of that corner more determined than ever to ram the DARK Act through the Senate." Once again, the U.S. government put the interests of corporations before human and environmental health. Where has this democracy gone to?

Read more at NationofChange.


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