Why the Food Industry Is Spending $25 Million To Keep You in the Dark

Are your favorite food companies trying to hide what's in your food?

August 3, 2012

Which food companies are trying to keep you in the dark about what's in your food?

Surveys repeatedly show that more than 90 percent of Americans want genetically modified (GM) foods labeled. That overwhelming majority of the public wants to know if it's eating ingredients derived from lab-created plants that have been genetically modified to resist (and sometime even create their own) toxic pesticides, withstand drought, or produce higher yields.


Considering that GM ingredients have infiltrated more than 75 percent of processed foods, however, food manufacturers have successfully defeated (or threatened to defeat) law after law that would have required these ingredients to be labeled. Once people know that a product contains GM ingredients, the thinking goes, they won't buy it.

One Million Americans Demand Labeling for GMOs

This November, the tug-of-war between food companies and food eaters is coming to a head in California. For the first time, voters—not senators, representatives, or corporate lobbyists—get to decide whether labels like "This product contains GMOs" or "Contains GMO Corn" will appear on food packages. Labeling advocates successfully garnered more than 1 million signatures on a petition to get the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (also known as Prop 37) on the November ballot.

Needless to say, food companies have been out in full force, funding ads against the measure. The "No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labeling Scheme" has been collecting donations to the tune of $25.6 million dollars in an effort to defeat a law that, though local to California, would affect food sold across the U.S. Since roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population lives in California, laws there tend to impact sales everywhere.

Donors range from the obvious (biotech companies like Monsanto) and the surprising, including a number of food companies that market and sell organic foods (by definition, organic foods are prohibited from containing GM ingredients).

The California Right to Know Campaign and other groups supporting the labeling have been issuing the dollar amounts spent by major food-industry groups and companies to defeat the ballot initiative. The numbers are collected by California's Department of Campaign Finance and reflect donations made ever since teh ballot initiative was approved in May 2012.

The 20th Anniversary of the FDA's Biggest Mistake

Not surprisingly, the biggest donors represent packaged-food manufacturers and the companies that manufacture GM seeds:

• Monsanto: $4,208,000

Monsanto is the world's largest seed company, responsible for hazardous pesticides such as DDT and Agent Orange. The company is now lobbying for approval for a new variety of corn that resists 2,4-D, one of two defoliants that comprised Agent Orange.

• DuPont: $4,025,200

DuPont rakes in about $19 million every year from sales related to its genetically modified seeds, pesticides, and food-processing chemicals.

• Bayer CropScience: $1,618,400

• Dow Agrosciences: $1,184,800

• BASF: $1,642,300

The world's largest chemical company, BASF recently abandoned its attempts at marketing GMO crops in Europe, where consumer rejection of GMOs has kept them largely out of the food system, and relocated its plant-science division from Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina. There, the company is working with Monsanto to develop a drought-resistant corn and a strain of genetically modified wheat.

• Syngenta: $821,300

• Council for Biotechnology Information: $375,000; Biotechnology Industry Organization: $250,000

Both of these are trade groups that represent DuPont, Monsanto, Dow, and other companies that manufacture pesticides and the genetically modified seeds designed to withstand them.

• Grocery Manufacturers Association: $375,000

This is a trade group representing packaged-food manufacturers. In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association, the group's president stated that defeating this ballot initiative was "the single highest priority for GMA this year." This same group actively lobbied to defeat an amendment in the Food Safety and Modernization Act of 2011 that would have banned the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A from canned foods.

Now for the food companies (ironically, many of these same companies have purchased organic brands in the past few decades, so in essence they're supporting organic food and keeping customers in the dark about their conventional products):

• Pepsico: $1,716,300

• Nestlé: $1,169,400

Owns Tribe Mediterranean Foods, which has a line of certified-organic hummus

• Coca Cola: $1,164,400

Owns Odwalla, which manufacturers a line of certified-organic smoothies and juices

• ConAgra Foods: $1,076,700

• Kellogg's: $632,500

Owns Morningstar Farms veggie burgers and Kashi, its cereal and granola brand that recently caught flack from customers for using GMO ingredients in products advertised as "natural"; Kashi does make some certified-organic cereals and Kellogg's is even working to certify all Kashi products under the Non-GMO Project Verified label—even as it tries to defeat GM labeling.

• General Mills: $519,401.17

Owns the Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen organic brands

• Hershey: $395,100

• J.M. Smucker: $388,000

Sells two types of certified-organic peanut butter

• Hormel Foods: $374,300

• Ocean Spray: $301,553.21

• Dean Foods: $253,950

Even though it didn't spend as much as other companies to defeat the bill, Dean Foods owns the nation's two largest certified-organic dairy operations, Horizon Organic and Alta Dena.

• Cargill: $202,229.36

A number of other big food companies have made smaller donations, including Del Monte, Sara Lee, Sunny Delight, Land O' Lakes, and McCormick spices.

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