GMO labeling proponents now fighting their own labeling legislation on supplements

| August 13, 2013 |
(Credit: Daniel Goehring, via Wikimedia Commons) (Credit: Daniel Goehring, via Wikimedia Commons)

Maybe mandatory labeling is not such a good idea after all.

The movement for the labeling of genetically modified foods has found growing momentum thanks in large part to lobby groups such as Citizens for Health, which represent companies selling dietary supplements and other products.

Citizens for Health, among other groups, has for years pushed lawmakers to demand product labeling of GMOs, despite resistance from mainstream scientists, physicians, farmers and companies worried such labeling would provide misleading information to consumers and would unnecessarily damage the food and crop biotech industries. Its founder, James S. Turner, just happens to be the lawyer for Jeffrey Smith, who runs the anti-GMO website Institute for Responsible Technology, and has funded his Genetic Roulette book and movie efforts, which have been devastatingly reviewed by scientists and yet are cited as reputable sources by crop biotechnology activist campaigners.

In an ironic twist, Citizens for Health and other big guns in the supplement industry are now fighting their own battle against mandatory labeling for supplements. Senate Bill 1425, also known as the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act of 2013, would require food supplement companies to label their supplements in much the same way similar legislation would mandate GMO labeling.

Supplement companies and their interest groups fear that the legislation would impose severe restrictions on their industry and gradually drive the price of supplements higher than most would be able to afford, thereby threatening their industry’s huge profit margins. Essentially, they are making the same argument that GMO companies and supporters have made since the labeling movement was started several years ago.

In a message to their supporters, Citizens for Health wrote:

Supplements are not drugs, and therefore, deserve their own system of regulation - and that’s the point. Such a system already exists thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), and it has done a more than adequate job protecting consumers largely due to supplement companies’ compliance with, and support of, that system.

Put simply: At best, S. 1425 is a bad bill, albeit with good intentions. At worst, it uses recent attacks on supplement safety as an excuse to take another crack at imposing unnecessary regulations on the dietary supplement industry, which has demonstrated time and again its ability to ensure the safety of its products.

Another big name in the industry, Joseph Mercola, who has made millions hawking “health products” and other supplements–Mercola was one of the primary financial backers of the failed GMO labeling bill initiative in California and is now pouring money to generate support for Washington state’s bill–has been almost apoplectic in his opposition to mandatory labeling of the products he sells. He calls the legislation “ridiculous,” asserting that the “bill threatens the supplement industry by granting the FDA more power to regulate supplements as if they were drugs, effectively putting supplement companies out of business.”

Wait, it’s just a label, right?

What makes labeling so necessary for GMOs but not for other ingested products, such as dietary supplements? The actions of Citizens for Health, Mercola and other interest groups to demand legislation for mandated GMO labeling and resist similar legislation impacting their own economic interests is a glaring hypocrisy that should make people think twice about the reasoning behind the labeling campaigns.

Demands to label foods are cloaked in the guise of consumers’ right to know what they are putting in to their bodies. But when the same argument is focused on supplement companies, as it will inevitably be for other industries now fighting to damage farmers, food producers and biotechnology companies through mandated labeling, they don’t think consumers have the same right to know. It’s obvious that the right to know demands are not truly in the interest of consumer protection, but a demonization tool used to dissuade the public from buying products that could threaten the market share of a company or industry.

What makes this hypocrisy all the worse is the denial by supplement companies of the questionable science behind their industry and products. Their campaigns challenge the safety of GMOs despite the fact that there is no evidence that genetically modified crops are harmful. Meanwhile, numerous studies and other hard evidence suggest very strongly that supplement usage, at best, has little to no beneficial effect on a person’s health while, at worst, are potentially harmful–and those very real concerns are the driving force behind Senator Dick Durbin’s legislation.

Hopefully, such hypocrisy will make people who are so adamant about GMO labeling on the grounds that it’s the public’s “right to know” will think twice about what motivations are really behind such legislation.

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  • Meredith

    That’s pretty funny, actually

  • https://twitter.com/Clear_Food Clear Food

    This would be funny were it not so sad and shady. The myths and scares around GMOs and other safe food production practices perpetuated by the supplement and alternative health industries – our modern day snake oil salesmen – have real consequences for public health. People use the myth-claims promoted by Citizens for Health and their members to make poor food decisions, say spending more money on organic products at the expense of a quality, diverse and affordable conventional diet (i.e., people who now choose juice or soda over milk due to misleading fears about hormone claims and children) or slowing the approvals and development of humanitarian products like vitamin A enhanced Golden Rice.

    The other public myth and hypocrisy perpetuated and accepted by an inattentive media today is that these opponents of GMOs are the David’s of the world fighting big evil Goliath corporate biotech companies. In fact, this modern day snake oil industry is more than triple the size in sales (and profits) of GMO seed companies and their opposition to biotech is nothing more than part of their marketing plan to bolster sales of their miracle cure products for non-existent ills. Despicable.

    • Schratboy

      It’s no myth that the Ag biotech-big food companies have maintained a nearly two decade long consumer deception surrounding GMOs in the food supply. Whatever the so-called safety claims and boasts regarding GMOs being the most safet-tested, if pride and quality were so important, most honest corporations would be motivated to promote such claims. In fact, the industry has done everything it can to hide in plain sight and rely on people who earn their income from the scam who can be counted on for parroting the standard propaganda, example above. Despicable.

  • Bernie Mooney

    “Mercola says the result of labeling would create financial hardships on supplement selling companies, “granting the FDA more power to regulate supplements as if they were drugs, effectively putting supplement companies out of business.” Wait, it’s just a label, right?”

    http://theprogressivecontrarian.com/2012/07/29/gmo-labeling-supporter-doesnt-want-his-products-labeled/

  • Switche

    “…which have become a bible of the anti-technology activist community.”

    This sort of rhetoric is unnecessary, as is the general character assassination and the general mocking tone.

    The right side of any public debate ought to stick to simple facts, and not stir the pot. We need a louder and more public-facing biotech community of experts and journalists who treat this issue seriously, not a political platform using gotcha-style journalism to demonize and mock dissent to GMO’s.

    I’m starting to think subscribing to this organization was a bad idea.

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      Thanks for your comment. How would you describe “Genetic Roulette”, which is cited and linked to by activists worldwide but is not a credible source and is in fact filled with misinformation? Let’s come up with a phrase or wording to modify what we’ve written to better reflect the facts.

  • pookietooth

    There are already labels on supplements that essentially state that the FDA has not approved of them and that they don’t do anything. What more do we need to know about them? And why is simply stating on the label that GMOs are included in the ingredients misleading?

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      Activists will not agree to an ingredients mention–that’s just the reality. They want a skull and crossbones type label. If anti-GMO activists were not so cynical about what they really want—if all they wanted was transparency–this could be easy.

      • http://www.chrisakins.com/ Chris Akins

        Cop out answer.

        I would be happy just knowing whether or not my food is GMO.

        In fact, I regularly buy Silk Soy Milk, which has a Non-GMO label (as well as an organic label)…. its one of the reasons I buy it over other brands of soy.

        People have a right to know what is in their food, and whether or not it is organic, GMO, Martian, or otherwise.

        Does that opinion make me an activist? If so, then I accept the label proudly.

        • Fistpuncher

          Full blown cretin.

        • Matthew Rose

          Good, keep following your non-GMO label system and you should be OK, and a proud supporter of the organic industry lobby to scare people into paying higher prices for the same nutritional value.

          • BeBop

            Um… the reason organic food is highly priced is because GMO crops get all the government subsidies… and because you need to pay to get organic labels on your food… wow you’re incredibly uneducated haha :D Also, go get your food straight from an organic farm. So much cheaper and healthier for you.

  • stevesavage

    I alway appreciate irony, but this amounts to uber-irony. Biotech crops are the most carefully regulated food in history. Dietary supplements and “medical foods” (exempted from labeling in the propositions Mercola et al supports) are barely regulated at all.

  • 013090

    The hypocrisy is just overflowing with this one… but for them it is all about the almighty dollar.

  • http://www.chrisakins.com/ Chris Akins

    This is all diversion. Bottom line: people deserve to know what is in their food, including whether or not it is GMO or Organic. Corporate profits should not dictate a person’s right to know what they are eating.

    Its just that simple.

    • Matthew Rose

      Yes, I agree, label EVERYTHING, based upon facts, including organic, with e-coli warnings. Fair, yes? Of course, all GMO can say is ‘GMO’, right to know or not, it does not do anything to ensure safety or prove harm. It’s a Trojan horse by the ‘label it’ anti-lobby to basically say GMO = skull & crossbones, due to their propaganda fear campaign. Corporate profits are to be had by the organic & supplements industry by diverting sales to their stuff, if this strategy is implemented.

  • G H

    I agree that this is a diversion. The logic in this article appears to be that since some interest groups advocating for GMO labeling contain members that are resisting similar legislation to label products they have an economic interest in – we should just scrap the whole thing since the pro-GMO labeling faction is ALSO acting in its own self-interest. That’s playground logic – essentially pointing at the other person and saying “but he did it, too” in an attempt to exculpate oneself. Not effective reasoning. Consumers should have the right to make the choice for themselves.

    • http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/ Jon Entine

      There were two key points to the article, and you focused on only one: the clear hypocrisy by the central funders of the the the anti-GMO/pro labeling forces who stand to reap huge economic gains from their lobbying efforts. The second point, which you did not address, is more critical: supplements are at mostly worthless and can be harmful. Now contrast that with GMOs. There is no evidence that they cause any serious environmental or health problems not also caused by conventional or organic agriculture. And, they are hugely beneficial, to farmers (who are eagerly embracing it) and by the public, which benefits from reduced spraying of pesticides and the introduction of many new innovative products (with many more in the pipeline, such as vitamin enhanced crops, crops with lower allergenic properties, etc.) The professional antis know that a label, however well meaning in the eyes of some (and maybe you), in the real world becomes a form of skull and crossbones. We know from experiences in Europe and elsewhere that it LIMITS choice, it does not increase it. It hurts consumers rather than helps them. And it would be disruptive for global food security with the impact falling hardest on the developing world. These are the primary reasons why independent international science oversight organizations like the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and the American Medical Society oppose labeling. You can write “all we want is choice” on the blackboard as many times as you want but it doesn’t change the fact that what you appear to want is to take away other people’s choices.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Harkin and Hatch will k ill it.

  • aphoenix444

    The supplement bill is not actually a labeling bill, but would treat supplements, vitamins and minerals as if they are drugs and require them to go through an extensive approval process in order to be sold. This article is misleading in the substance of the legislation it is seeking to promote as though the supplement manufacturers are fighting a label. It is not a label it is fighting. It is stricter regulations that treat supplements as drugs.

    Supplements have a long profile of safety. They are taken by millions daily with very few adverse effects. Google search “death by supplement” to see for yourself.

    FDA regulated and approved drugs however, kill over 100,000 people a year according to the CDC’s own data. With a record of enforcing such safety as this, do we really need the FDA to make sure supplements are safe? This legislation is more about continuing to enforce a pharmaceutical monopoly. It is not about keeping people safe. If it was about keeping people safe, the drugs that were actually killing people, like Tylenol, would be removed from the market, instead of targeting Vitamin C and Echinacea, which don’t kill people.

    The GMO labeling thing is another misdirection. GMOs are not thoroughly safety tested. The FDA takes the word of the biotech companies, trusting that they did thorough and unbiased science, to say that they are safe to eat. More than 80 other countries either label or outright ban GMOs due to safety concerns, farmer concerns and not living up to their promises. Look at suicides of farmers in India. Look at the rise of GMO resistant pests and weeds, requiring ever increasing spraying of insecticides and herbicides. Look at new independent research on GMOs showing horrific side effects such as infertility and cancer.

    If GMOs are so safe, and healthy, and wonderful, and necessary, why don’t the makers and promoters of GMO technology slap a huge label on them? “NOW WITH MORE GMOS!” “Full of Genetically Modified Goodness” Or some such thing? If they were good for us, they wouldn’t have to hide them in our food.

  • BeBop

    we have the right to know what’s in everything…..