US consumers demand GM labelling

July 2011

Photo by brdavid on Flickr
America is very fond of selling itself around the world: it sells its model agriculture plus chemicals plus GMOs; it sells its model business plus globalisation plus 'voluntary' self-regulation; and especially, it sells its democracy.

Paradoxically, regarding the 'home' agriculture and 'home' market, it seems that US consumers are going in one direction while its administration, hand-in-hand with industry, is going in another.

This sounds a strange sort of a democracy. And, there are signs it's about to crack.

For example, there has never been labelling of GM products in America: but that's because the government and industry don't want it, not because the people don't. In 1995 a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey found 84% of respondents in New Jersey wanted GM foods to be labelled. In 1997 a biotech company (Novartis) survey found 93% in favour of GM labelling, and a Time Magazine poll that same year found 81%. In 2001 the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology noted “a majority of consumers in the United States desire GM foods to be labelled”. In 2003 a part-USDA-funded university poll found 85% of respondents wanted GM labelling. In 2011 a CBS/New York Times poll found 87% want labelling, and a few weeks later, an MSNBC (cable news) poll recorded 96% of respondents strongly in favour of GM food labelling. (It's noteworthy that the backdrop to these responses is one in which 74 per cent of the people don't realise they're eating GM foods on a daily basis [Pew, 2006].)

The latest poll results prompted one food columnist to declare he finds it “unbelievable that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and USDA will not require any of these products, or foods containing them, to be labelled as genetically engineered...”.  The reason is that the FDA and USDA, hand-in-hand with the biotech industry “don't want to 'suggest or imply' that these foods are 'different'”.

But GM foods are different. Consumers know they are different, and consumers want to go in a different, non-GM, direction.
“Consumer interest in the issue has magnified in the past five years, along with interest in eating locally grown and organic foods ... Young, educated consumers who are driving much of the organic market have no interest in eating crops derived from a laboratory” (Organic Valley, organic farming co-operative)
Even the US Agricultural Secretary, right in the thick of all the GM promotion, has noticed something wrong:
“The rapid adoption of GE crops has clashed with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GM products.” (Vilsack)
Early warnings from European anti-GM campaigners that the biotech industry was trying to flood us with artificial genes so that we could no longer say NO, have been vindicated by a recent event in America. One of the best known US purveyors of natural food, 'Whole Foods', has thrown in the towel. It has admitted it can't keep GM off its shelves: the realities of the market-place have forced a shift in the company's previous no-GMOs policy.

These 'realities' are the lack of federal government mandated labelling. Without this, Whole Foods has had to fall into line with US administration's favourite ploy to avoid regulation: encourage suppliers to voluntarily avoid GM ingredients.

Even more bizarre in this US-style 'democracy' is the USDA's promotion of GM crops which benefit only the biotech industry, not the consumer, nor the farmer, nor the environment, nor the economy. The Obama administration is in the process of approving the world's first GM drought-tolerant maize. This can only be a PR stunt because even the USDA notes that “Equally comparable varieties produced through conventional breeding techniques are readily available in irrigated corn production regions”, and Monsanto's rival, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, is already offering a conventionally bred, drought-resistant (consumer-friendly) maize in four States with no need for government approval.


The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) in America has concluded that labelling of GMOs there will only be achieved if voters bypass the Federal Government. This is because of the overwhelming level of control which the biotech industry exerts by its relentless lobbying activities (Monsanto, for example, spends more than $8 million per year on lobbying the US administration). To win the battle for GMO labelling, the Association points out that achieving mandatory labelling in just one big state would be enough: the practice would soon spread nationwide.

If you have friends or relatives in America, suggest they do some lobbying of their own, and demand GM-labelling in their own state. A good place to start is checking out the Organic Consumers Association campaign.

  • Rady Ananda, Nothing new in 20 years: Nearly everyone still wants genetically modified food labeled,, 5.03.11
  • Mary Clare Jalonick, Genetically altered foods a major part of our diets,, 25.2.11
  • Tara Green, Whole Foods admits its organic foods contain genetically modified ingredients, Natural News, 7.06.11
  • Paul Voosen, USDA Looks to Approve Monsanto's Drought-Tolerant Corn, New York Times, 11.05.11
  • Alexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins, Labels on Genetically Modified Foods: Let the Voters Decide! Organic Consumers Association, 6.07.11

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