Leaders of Organic Trade Association (OTA) Sell Out on Transparent and Honest Labeling of GMOs, Prompting Products Boycotts

Will We Be Kept in the Dark?
Image from "Senate Agrees On “DARK Act” GMO Labeling Bill" - Derrick Broze

In July of 2016, President Obama signed into law Senate Bill S.764, the Deny Americans the Right to Know (or DARK Act), a.k.a. the Roberts-Stabenow GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) labeling law. Presented to Congress as a ‘compromise,’ it was written by opponents of state labeling laws and now overrides Vermont’s 2014 historic, consumer-driven GMO food labeling protection rule that went into effect on July 1, 2016. Agrochemical industry lobbyists, including Monsanto and other corporate giants, worked with their allies in Congress (both Republican and Democrat) to craft the DARK Act and muscled it swiftly through Congress. In doing so, they nullified Vermont’s efforts to become the first state to implement mandatory, transparent GMO labeling on food packaging and from becoming a possible blueprint for many other states in the country.

Now overridden by the DARK Act, Vermont’s GMO labeling law had already forced major food corporations like General Mills, Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, Danone, ConAgra, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, Mars, Hershey’s, Wonder Bread, Starbucks, and others to either disclose GMO contamination in their products or reformulate and remove GMOs from their products, but the DARK Act no longer allows for these protections. Unfortunately, the DARK Act also preempted mandatory GMO seed labeling requirements (another area of concern) in two states and dozens of related local ordinances.

How Did The DARK Act Get Passed?

The DARK Act would not have been possible without behind the scenes (behind consumers’ backs!) scheming of top executives of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), led by Smucker’s, White Wave, and a few of OTA’s most powerful members. These include: the General Counsel of Organic Valley with support from Organic Valley’s CEO, George Siemon; Gary Hirsberg from Stonyfield Farm (owned by Danone); Hirsberg’s corporate non-profit organization, Just Label it; UNFI, the largest wholesaler of natural and organic foods; Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods; and the popular corporate-funded non-profit organization and creator of the Dirty Dozen, Clean 15, and Skin Deep, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), represented by Scott Farber, Vice President of Government Affairs and former head lobbyist for the pro-biotech, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

According to David Bronner, Cosmetic Engagement Officer at Dr. Bronner’s,

This new bill creates a federal “non-labeling” standard for foods produced in part or entirely with genetic engineering. The legislation is a gift to the pesticide and food industries who make and sell GMOs. It allows companies to use Quick Response (QR) codes or 1-800 numbers instead of clear, on-package labeling to disclose the presence of GMOs, forcing consumers to scan the code or make a call, effectively burying and hiding the information.

When discussing the issue in June 2016, Ronnie Cummins, the International Director and Co-Founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) noted that :
1) GMO and pesticide contaminated foods are dangerous
2) At least 90 percent of American consumers want the right to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered.

When the DARK Act was proposed, strong opposition to it was voiced from over 300 consumer, health, farmer and environmental organizations representing millions of Americans, as well as numerous health food companies. This resulted in a petition with more than 100,000 signatures, calling on President Obama to veto discriminatory GMO labeling. Nevertheless, a self-selected group of so-called “organic and natural food leaders” and representatives from both major political parties went over to the ‘DARK’ side. These self-selected leaders betrayed the public, told Congress behind closed doors—and now publicly—that they and the organic community will accept an industry-crafted DARK Act ‘compromise.’

This eliminates mandatory GMO labeling and preempts the Vermont labeling law, with a completely voluntary, convoluted, and deceptive federally run policy that allows the use of QR codes and 1-800 numbers in lieu of clear labeling, with no firm guidelines for implementation, and no provisions for enforcement.

According to Will Fantle, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, “This vote was only made possible by a cloture vote (a motion or process in parliamentary procedure aimed at bringing debate to a quick end), a 60-vote threshold required to halt a filibuster, end debate on a bill, and force a final vote on the Senate floor.” Key Senators and consumer organization leaders, including the nation’s largest consumer organization, Consumer Reports, along with the Organic Consumers Association, the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Cornucopia Institute, and dozens of other organizations publicly called on the Senate to reject the bill, including hundreds of thousands of their members flooding Senate phone lines. Even the primary agency overseeing food labeling, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), issued a damning assessment of the bill’s many deficiencies.

But, behind closed doors and behind consumers’ backs, executives from the OTA and companies like Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, Smucker’s, White Wave, and Whole Foods persuaded enough Senators to ignore the loud call for the DARK Act’s rejection, which could be heard from some of their colleagues as well as 286 public interest organizations and countless public phone calls, e-mails, letters, boycotts, and much more, including an overall broad condemnation of the DARK Act by the organic community. (Source: Robyn O’Brien)

This corporate-organic industry sell-out facilitated a successful cloture vote that passed by a 65-32 margin, and the actual Senate and House passage followed thereafter. Then, on July 31, 2016, President Obama signed the DARK Act legislation into law.

So, why are some people boycotting Stonyfield Yogurt and Organic Valley products?

Nearly 60 consumer-led organic organizations representing millions of U.S. consumers are calling on major organic companies to abandon their membership in the OTA and boycott the national organic brands, such as Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley. This strategy is being employed because of the fact that a powerful but select few within the OTA and the leaders of these major brands had enough influence to promote the DARK Act to Congress, thus betraying the American people and lying to Congress by stating that they had the majority support of organic consumer-led organizations, when in fact they did not.

Anger and resentment are mounting, with calls for honest, pro-labeling, and consumer-led companies to withdraw their membership from the OTA, as organic standards are diluted by maintaining membership there. There are renewed calls for boycotts of the traitor brands, which are also members of the GMA. Betrayal of the consumer and controversy over what the traitor organizations are saying publicly and what they do behind consumers’ backs are the source of the calls for boycotts. For the purposes of this article, the following list includes just a few of the organizations that have removed themselves so far from OTA membership and/or called for a boycott on Stonyfield Farms and Organic Valley:

  • Center for Food Safety
  • Food Democracy Now
  • Food and Water Watch
  • Cornucopia Institute
  • Organic Consumers Association
  • Organic Seed Growers Association (OSGATA)
  • Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soaps

So, What Can We Do Now, as Consumers?

Consumers have many choices and can boycott and abandon big corporate organics if they choose to by selecting and buying independent local and organic brands, buying directly from small local farms and co-ops and asking your co-op employees for help in selecting from smaller company brands since so many brands are actually owned by large corporations.

We are lucky to have so many local, humane, and sustainable resources in our area that are friendly to the consumer and environment, sustainably grown and raised, and honest about their farming practices. Food policies and politics go hand in hand. Conscious consumers need to change their buying habits AND stop supporting corrupt politicians.

The Food Revolution won’t stay front and center unless conscious consumers join forces with U.S. and global grassroots movements, as part of a larger political revolution. On a positive note, our food movement has made great strides over the past few years in understanding, mobilizing, educating, and acting upon our desire to drive GMOs, toxic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones off the market for good. We are now aware how out of control and horrific the conditions are in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) with their negative environmental impacts, inhumane animal practices, industrial agriculture, and prolific use of toxic pesticides, insecticides and herbicides.

According to the OCA, we’ve made great strides in educating the critical masses, flexing our voice and our muscles about the health and environmental hazards of GMOs and toxic chemicals. We’ve doubled demand for organic and grass fed food in the U.S. over the past six years, we’ve forced multi-billion-dollar junk food conglomerates to either disclose GMO content in their products or reformulate and remove GMO’s, at least temporarily, and we’ve alerted millions of consumers that they cannot trust the mass media, Congress, or regulatory agencies when it comes to food safety.

With the passage of DARK Act legislation (S.764), now is not the time to sit back and settle for what we’ve accomplished. There is more work to be done and in order to continue to make a difference we must continue to raise our voices and be heard. We have built a politically potent food movement that has integrity and strength. It is intact, ready for the next fight, and now we know who our allies are. The Food Democracy Now folks are about ready to call for a National Boycott of Stonyfield Farms, Organic Valley, and Whole Foods, among others. Appeals are also in the works. There is much more to come. Stay tuned!

Article Resources include:
Center for Food Safety
Cornucopia Institute
Dr. Bronner’s Soaps
Food and Water Watch
Huffington Post
Organic Authority
Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association
Robyn Obrien
Vermont Right to Know GMO
Organic Consumers Association

Paula Jacobus has served on Honest Weight’s Nutrition Education Committee for the last 3+ years and has been a member of the Co-op for 4 years. She enjoys sailing and anything related to lakes and the ocean, is passionate about health, yoga, exercise, and is a forever practitioner and student of using food as medicine, including unmodified, whole, green, sustainable, healthy food, and protecting our environment from toxic overload. She currently cares for her 90-year-old mother Pauline and is owned by K.C. an 8-year-old sweet furry feline who acts more like a dog.