Show me the money!
That’s exactly what the Organic Consumers Association did on Wednesday during a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate to advance a GMO labeling compromise bill. Seizing the opportunity, activists from the Organic Consumers Association interrupted the vote by throwing fake money onto the Senate floor while shouting “Monsanto money” and “Listen to the people, not Monsanto.”
Despite the antics, the bill successfully voted to end debate. Later in the week, it was voted and on and passed by the Senate 63-30. It will now head to the House for consideration.
After months of discussions, negotiations, and campaigns, we’re finally on the brink of having a national, standard GMO labeling bill that will put an end to the patchwork of state-by-state labeling laws and end the nasty smear campaigns surrounding ballot proposals. When the proposed legislation hit the Senate floor, it was the perfect opportunity for the organic lobby to pull a publicity stunt to advance some common themes in its messaging. Namely, big agriculture is spending big bucks to buy Senator’s votes at the expense of consumers.
The OCA and its organic buddies have successfully spread a message against biotechnology and modern farming methods by vilifying large agriculture companies, focusing on Monsanto, and questioning the safety of genetic engineering. But the reality is a far cry from their messaging. Family farmers have largely adopted and embraced the technology, there are several companies producing new genetically engineered crops, and scientific consensus says that the technology is generally safe.
Although it is true that the agriculture lobby spends a good chunk of change promoting the industry, as most industries do, the organic lobby is just as active. Despite the market share of organic products being only about 4%, the organic industry has done quite well in arming itself with ample funds and hitting the campaign trail to influence change. Consider that over the last five years, at least 4 states have had (failed) mandatory GMO labeling ballot initiatives, at least 4 counties in the United States have banned the cultivation of genetically modified crops, and Vermont’s legislature passed a mandatory labeling law. All these initiatives were driven by the organic industry — as part of an effort to increase their market share.
These types of things aren’t accomplished without money and organization.
While the Organic Consumers Association is throwing money around to insinuate that Monsanto is paying everyone off, their own coffers are nothing to scoff at. In 2014, OCA itself had revenue well over $3,000,000. It donated $274,000 to the U. S. Right to Know, a campaign aimed at influencing the public, states, and Congress to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws, as well as harassing and intimidating scientists.Although the organization is classified as a non-profit, they’re definitely profiting off of a movement that misleads and scares consumers.
The other members of the organic lobbying club are also quite the powerhouse. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Center for Food Safety raised more than $42 million from donors between 2009 and 2013. Both groups actively campaign against conventional agriculture and genetically modified crops. EWG alone has spent $1.4 million lobbying members of Congress on mandatory GMO labeling since 2013.
These efforts certainly paid off, especially in the Senate. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, was once a proponent of creating a national, voluntary labeling law. It was thought she would support the House’s version of such legislation, assuring its passage. But before the Senate’s version of the bill could be introduced to the committee, the organic lobby wined and dined Senator Stabenow with a fundraiser in her honor. As a result, she flipped sides and demanded mandatory labeling. Those lobbying efforts by big organic are largely the reason the compromise bill had to be negotiated. It was money well spent.
So, while the Organic Consumers Association and its friends masquerade as grassroots, consumer advocacy groups, they’re bringing in big money and spending it on campaigns to influence legislation both nationally and on the state level. It might be good for their image and donations to pretend to be the underdog, but they are definitely lobbying on a professional level. That makes the hypocrisy of OCA’s stunt on the Senate floor all the more ironic.
Pot, meet kettle.