WalMart and Big Food Push For GMO Labeling

WalMart Pushes For GMO Labeling: Why?

Yesterday morning, I woke up in an alternate universe. I know this because the subject line of an email in my inbox said, “Boycott Working!!! WalMart wants GMOs Labeled!” Yeah, right. Some well-intentioned reader was putting a spin on things.

I opened the email and clicked on a link to this New York Times article.

My jaw dropped. I think I heard it hit the floor. Could this be real? I think it is… Sometime after my happy dance, I had to ask myself why WalMart and Big Food would begin pushing for GMO labeling. The answer is not quite as happy.

Is the Boycott Working?

I don’t really know. The Boycott was initiated after Big Food donated more than $46 million to defeat the Prop 37 labeling campaign in California. After their narrow defeat, consumers decided to hit these companies where it hurt. Not only have similar ballot-initiatives been started in numerous other states (33, if I recall correctly?), but consumers are now organized and ready to tighten their purse strings.

They are not spending their dollars on previously popular “organic” or “natural” brands that are subsidiaries of the corporations that donated to the campaign. The Organic Consumers Association is calling it a “Traitor’s Boycott,” and it seems to be making waves:

Brands like Honest Tea, which is owned by Coca-Cola, have written to the association, which estimates 75 percent of grocery products contain a genetically modified ingredient, to protest its “Traitors Boycott,” which urges consumers not to buy products made by units of companies that fought Proposition 37. Consumers have peppered the companies’ Web sites, Facebook pages and Twitter streams with angry remarks.

Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company, announced recently that it would remove all genetically modified ingredients from its products by the end of this year. Consumers had expressed outrage over the money its parent, Unilever, contributed to defeat the California measure.

But are those waves large enough to cause WalMart to suddenly jump on the GMO-labeling bandwagon?

I suspect ulterior motives.

Remember when Big Food started lobbying for a national organic certification program? Many organic growers protested the move, not only because certification would be costly (and possibly cost-prohibitive) for smaller farmers, but also because they felt the national standards far too lax.

It was an example of Big Food trying to control the inevitable in the hopes of increasing their profit margins.

Remember how the greatest lobbyist for pollution controls is Big Energy (Oil & Coal)? Again, it’s in their own best interest to make their pollution legal, to control the conversation at the national level.

Yes, we gained some traction because the worst things are now decidedly illegal. But those are the bare minimum of changes that Big Industry thought they could live with while still saving their public face and increasing their profit margins.

I suspect that this recent meeting of the minds between WalMart, PepsiCo, ConAgra, and 20 other major food companies belies a similar mission.

They see the inevitable.

They’ve read the writing on the subway wall.

One of these days, one of the ballot initiatives in one of these states is going to pass. This will start a cascade of similar laws being enacted in other states.

Rather than deal with a plethora of diverse laws in multiple states, Big Food wants to deal with one law of the land. And they want to control the national conversation so that whatever changes are enacted are the least costly to them.

Is this still good news?

I think so. It at least means the national tide is turning.

It means that capitalism is working because Big Food is being forced to respond to the natural checks of public demand.

Here’s how the chairman of Stonyfield put it:

“They spent an awful lot of money in California — talk about a lack of return on investment,” said Gary Hirshberg, co-chairman of the Just Label It campaign, which advocates national labeling, and chairman of Stonyfield, an organic dairy company.

If faced with spending equal amounts of money defeating similar ballot initiatives in other states ad infinitum, wouldn’t you also begin seeing the light and seek to give the public what they want?

But in the same way that we consumers still have to be savvy when navigating grocery store choices and understanding the limits of the USDA’s organic certification program, we’ll also have to be savvy about understanding the limits of the inevitable national GMO-labeling program.

What do you think?

(photo by


    • CM says

      They may be here to stay for a while, however, when labeled, consumers can make more informed choices, and as education on GMO’s increases, products containing them will become less profitable for companies, and as with everything else, if it does not sell, they will change the ingredients or take it off the market completely.
      Either way the consumers decide, that is why education is key.

      • Lynne N says

        Well said. Education is key. We vote with our dollars when in comes to consumer products. If we quit buying the crap, the will change there ways. I’m a capitalist, and I vote with my dollars. Education by spending is my motto, or rather not spending on crap that will kill us. If we wait for the behemoth that is our government to fix it, we will die first. We have the power to change this. Look at what one little girl did to CocaCola, and Gatorade.

  1. Terri B says

    I think you’re right. Best way to control the game is to get into it early. We will have to watch that they don’t dilute these regulations to the point of them no longer being useful.

    • KristenM says

      I think they’ll be useful the same way that the USDA Certified Organic program is useful.

      It will tell you many things about the product that may ultimately influence how you buy, but it won’t tell you EVERYTHING. So, we’ll still have to be savvy.

  2. says

    Yep. Ultimately, this is about regulatory capture. The movement’s not going away, the corporate ag outfits and large retailers recognize this, and so they’re trying to limit the damage by channeling the energy into avenues they can bend to their own benefit.

    It will likely work. That’s how these things go. Banning GMOs outright is a fantastic solution–one that I think should be worked for, but that I doubt will happen in this country in the near future. Something that can be done immediately–by anyone, at the personal level–is to turn to local farmers, buy from the smallest scale growers you can find, plant your own garden, get some chickens and ducks if you can, and otherwise root your food choices in the local community and your own hands.

    This is good not just in terms of avoiding GMOs, but in terms of personal resiliency, self-determination, and your own local community and economy. We need to bring things back to the local level and begin the challenging process of weaning ourselves from corporate control.

  3. says

    I was excited at first . . . now I’m concerned. Though an outright ban doesn’t seem likely, a de facto one resulting from stringent labeling laws was my hope. If corporate interests are able to successfully dilute labeling laws so that they can continue to operate without making drastic, meaningful changes then at some point organic is no longer an option due to cross-contamination.

    • Leah says

      exactly. this is not good news. as I understand it, big business got control of the labeling laws and now they have GM labeling for corn and soy only and only if the genetic material is present in the final product (so oils are exempt). I can definitely see something like that happening and then we would lose the support of a lot of the public who is behind GM labeling right now, and it would just become a fight of the crazy fringe people (ie, us).

  4. says

    I think you are right that there are definitely ulterior motives at play, one of them being the desire to steer their sinking ships.

    I think it also has a lot to do with export profits, as a lot of countries now require some labeling, and American exports could suffer a bit financial hit if they other countries get wary of buying GM produce and goods.

    If it means, though, that we get GM labeling out of the deal than that’s (hopefully) a good thing! I try to look for the non-GMO project labels when I’m shopping :)

    • KristenM says

      I think the pro-labeling campaign in Washington state is using that argument about export profits prominently in the debate over their ballot initiative. So much of their income comes from exporting apples…

        • KristenM says

          Hmmm. Too bad! It’s the angle the folks at the Just Label It campaign have been highlighting on all their press/media releases about the WA debate, so I thought it was how they were trying to frame the debate there. Guess they’re not being too successful at it, huh? Or maybe it’s like it was in CA, where the people are being inundated with so much stuff from Big Food that they don’t hear what the little guy is saying?

  5. christine taylor says

    I LOVE this! Who cares WHY the big companies are have changed their minds. I’m just glad things are moving in the right direction. However, I will still stick with real/fresh/local/organic..but I HATE GMO’s and am glad they will be identifiable for the people who still buy processed foods.

  6. says

    Yesterday I posted a link on my blog to this same NYT article you cite above, and I think you make some really good points about it in this post!

    What you say about big agra wanting to grab the reins on GMO label policy-making on a federal level before state legislation gets a stronghold on this issue makes me want to follow the money…

    That NYT article says that Gary Hirshberg, who’s the co-chairman of the Just Label It campaign, ( is also chairman of Stonyfield, a company that makes organic yogurt. (This seems all well and good on the surface – and yet anyone who’s paying attention knows that products like Stonyfield yogurt are not only mass produced, but are also no doubt made virtually exclusively out of milk from cows that are factory farmed on a diet of soy and corn, with nary an opportunity to munch on a single blade of green grass.)

    Plus, 40% of Stonyfield shares are owned by Groupe Danone,makers of Dannon yogurt, which is a huge multinational corporation whose revenue in 2010 was in the neighborhood of $26 billion.

    A couple of the other main partners featured on the justlabelit site are Honest Tea, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company, and Horizon Organics, owned by Dean Foods.

    To be fair, it looks like there are plenty of other, smaller privately owned companies on the partner list as well. However just like you, I’m starting to smell a rat!

    It seems that as ever, the foxes are quietly slinking out of the woodwork to guard the hen house, just like they do by sending their corporate mucky mucks from the private sector into positions of power in the alphabet agencies to make policy, then back out again through the revolving door into their high paying corporate jobs.

  7. Lana says

    I don’t really think labeling on packages really
    makes a difference. Even if they label the GMO, what about the BHT and tons of additives in foods that are also unhealthy? People need to know they are eating packages of chemicals and altered fruits, vegetables and grains……….Not real food! But most people don’t read labels. Most people don’t know what GMO is and seem to think it is ok because it is made by biotech scientists or trusty food companies. They don’t even care what is in their food! They somehow cannot put 2 and 2 together….meaning, you are what you eat. Buying what they like seems to be all they care about! Unknowingly they are so addicted to chemicals and additives that it becomes an emotional nightmare for them! There are tons of additives in foods now and most people don’t even know what they are. They trust the food companies and FDA and cannot even imagine why something that tastes so great would be bad for them! I have even heard people say they would rather die than not be able to eat what they want! I think we should just find some other way to educate people besides labels. One thing I do think is helpful is that some organic companies state NON GMO right on the front of their product in really big letters.

    • Dimidy says

      I do believe that people need education, but I do think labels would cause some people to go find out what GMOs are, or what RBST, or BPA, or any number of things are. I know people who took an interest in these things just because they were shopping and saw these claims on their food and wanted to know what the hype was about. Some people don’t get out much and it’s not covered in the news as much as it should be. Since these things are never going to get outlawed we need to have more ways of being informed. I need to put a big “LIKE” for what you were talking about, though. I really wish people cared more about what , as a country, we are feeding ourselves.

    • Nancy says

      I agree, people would rather take the easy, fast and cheap route and eat whatever they want. They have their blinders on so they don’t have to make a decision to eat better. It is amazing to me when I discuss GMO’s with others, they don’t think it is a big deal and connot see the connection with what we eat and our health. Even my brother-in-law, who is a doctor, thinks there is no problem with GMO’s or fast food. Those of us who pay attention to what we eat and care about our health, our children’s health, the environment and sustainable living are the crazy ones! HA! I also agree that it would be great if organic companies labeled NON GMO on their products.

  8. Mary says

    I subscribe to the food renegade website. Even though I am a Uk citizen I have picked up valuable information. I have successfully kicked the soda habit and passed your website on to all my friends. Almost eliminated msg and corn syrup from my diet. I would like to say a big thank you. I only wish I could find raw milk, any ideas?

  9. Tonya says

    Wal-mart is going where the money is, if they dont do the labeling , there will be less customers..There just out there to make money and to be the one and only store..

  10. Charla says

    You can replace cows milk with almond milk & you can even make it yourself. It tastes good & makes a great substitute.

  11. says

    I’m curious, with all this labeling hype. What is the organic industry going to have to do? Nothing? Since their product is organic there will be no labeling required? But there has been cross contamination reports in the organic industry since 2003. Many don’t test (as it’s not required to keep their organic certification – which is a procedural and as long as they aren’t breaking “organic procedure” no testing is required).

    Yay for labeling of conventional foods but I do have a lot of questions and suspect there will be lots of loopholes as there are in the organic certification (which is a better option then nothing, but…).

  12. Anna says

    I’ve read where it has been discovered that some GMO’s have an accidental double gene which causes the virus to use it’s proteins in a shockingly unpredicted way. One of the viruses used is a fuserian wilt inserter gene. I have level three allergy to fusarian. What fool would use genes from wilt and mold to make food for humans? The gene has done something to get the plant not to react to Round Up. Don’t eat food soaked in Round Up! The damage to my trust is done. I will pass my distrust to as many generations of my family as I can, even to the 4th and 5th generations!

  13. says

    The existing contamination will be a big issue. They will probably push for testing for organic products yet another expense on small farms. As usual, the cost to the big guys is more than worth it to them since it hurts the small competitors more. If they push for labeling of anything with ANY GMO, they will damage the organic movement and labeling will be a moot point since almost nothing would qualify as GMO free. Maybe it’s just my natural paranoid skepticism, I hope so.
    We try to use feeds for which there is no GMO, but that is getting harder and harder to do.

  14. Lynne says

    I would like to see people gather together in their local community to build community organic gardens where everyone participates and benefits!

  15. Jessica C says

    I wonder what this will do for the products already displaying the “non-GMO project verified” labels. As I understand it, those products already have higher standards than the ones labeled organic. Will this new labelling system for GMO products dilute the meaning of non-GMO like what happened to organic? How do we find out what the result will be from these companies?

  16. Chris says

    I hope it back fires on them. I dont see how allowing them to control the labeling solves anything? There would still be a lot of gmos out there under the covers of their laws. I hope that the GMO project and the power of the people prevail over big business for once.

  17. Bob says

    Remember Apartheid in South Africa? It was ended when institutional investors beginning pulling out of S.A. Let’s do everything we can to get, not only institutional investors, but everyone with stock in Monsanto, Dow, et al to sell. You will see the stock begin to slowly drop followed by a rapid drop as investors get out while they have a chance to salvage something. Monsanto et al will either change their ways or become history.

  18. Jacs in Africa says

    The sad fact is most people will still choose price and quantity over quality. We just want to stuff our faces with all we can eat. Why eat less good stuff when we can eat loads of cheap stuff?
    That’s why Big Food exists … because we encourage them!
    The only way we will change the system is if we change our selves, and our attitudes towards food.
    Here’s a secret … you don’t really NEED a three-course meaty meal four times a day.

    OK, I realise that most people visiting this site are already on a journey to change. But we’re a closed little group. We’re a minority. All the millions of chubby clones out there are just not going to get it!

  19. susan myra says

    I can’t imagine owning stock of Big Chemical & Pesticide companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, S—— (I forget that one) because pesticides gave my father cancer which killed him at the tender young age of 55. But before it killed dad it caused a birth defect in my baby brother and he’s been deaf and deformed his whole life. And the DDT he brought home exploded in the house and my mom cleaned it up. She later developed Parkinson’s Disease. So… I really can’t imagine owning stock in a chemical company. Every time I’m near the garden chemical aisle at Home Depot the sickening sweet smell of the pesticides makes me run. Gosh I miss the garden pre-technology age…

    • susan myra says

      To clarify, it was my dad, not my brother, who brought home the DDT. And I want to add good old Bayer to the list of chemical companies. And the one whose name I forgot is Syngenta. I hate them all.

    • says

      Do you have a mutual fund? Unfortunately most mutual funds include one of those :( We really had to search to find one that didn’t (as far as we could tell). But the one we found included a couple of fast food chains and Pepsi. It seemed the lesser of two evils though.

  20. Alex says

    Just wanted to let you know that the link to this article on the newsletter email does not work correctly.
    It links to the “how to kick a soda habit” article instead.

    Not a big deal just thought you might want to know about it.

  21. says

    I trust my local farmers and my garden for my food. Everywhere else I have to shop, where I can’t see the source my food comes from, seems like a compromise. I still buy food at grocery stores but I am aware that the quality of the food is inferior.

  22. O'Neil says

    Ask yourself why WalMart and Big Food would begin pushing for GMO labeling ?? Is the Boycott initiated after Big Food donated more than $46 million to narrowly defeat the GMO Food labeling campaign in California, working ? maybe . . . it may have helped elevate this one, of the many heinous scams being perpetrated on US consumers, to the “Ooops They Know’ category of the Corporate Masters.

    The OTK category has been in place for decades and Kristen is correct – Rather than deal with 50 different laws in multiple states, the Corporate Masters. want to deal with one law of the land. And they want to control the national conversation so that whatever changes are enacted are the least costly to them. It makes it appear that capitalism is working, that they are being forced to respond to the natural checks of public demand. But it is a TACTIC which has been used in many battles and has served them well. Public outrage and attention can only be maintained for a certain length of time, after which it is inevitably shifted to something else.

    Remember a national dust-up over fuel and drilling in Alaska back in the seventies ? First they created shortages, then the only way they finally won permission to drill in Alaska was to pass a law that all of the oil would go the lower forty eight. After a short wait that law was repealed in D.C. and not one drop of that product went to the lower forty eight then or now. Currently, checkout the MTBE and Ethanol gas additives contest of the past decade.

    Don’t be fooled! Don’t be the sheeple the Corporate Masters disdainfully believe you to be. Education is indeed key; along with a sustained awareness of the many battlefields on which you and your children are under attack. Don’t be intimidated by accusations of paranoia/skepticism, or being one of the fringe crazies or seeing conspiracies everywhere – it’s a stealth war out there and so much worse than you ever imagined….

    #1 – ALWAYS follow the money. Yes, vote with your dollars but you must first be savvy and be aware that there are attacks under way and seek effective paths to preempt them. i.e. Roundup, seeds, drugs, pesticides . . .
    The only way we will change the system is if we change our selves, recognize the many ways we are being manipulated and actively participate in being part of a solution . . . go for not OTK !!

  23. says

    This is so important to know. I am trying to teach my gkids how to find “real” food and teaching them to cook that way! Thanks for the great articles. Come visit me too!

  24. Bliss Doubt says

    I think this does seem like good news, but like KristenM I’m holding onto my reservations about it. I also feel surprised and betrayed that Ben & Jerry’s has GMO ingredients. Before Unilever, it was such a good company, and declared openly that it didn’t use rBgh dairy ingredients.

    My concern is over what will happen when it finally blows open that GMO has contaminated so many crops whose farmers never intended to use GMO, through pollen drift. I’ve read, on the Organic Consumers website, how organic crops often have small percentages of GMO in them. That might be part of Walmart’s offensive. Get it out in the open. You can’t even buy organic which is GMO free, get over it, move on.

    I agree with the first commenter, “ban GMO’s”, period.

  25. Liz oke says

    Labelling doesn’t mean anything, here in the UK we’re finding that products labelled as beef are actually horse meat!! A few weeks ago, I read a post about organic produce containing GMO’s. The only way to be sure is not to buy processed food full stop, eat like your grandma, and believe me, where the money goes, there goes everything else. These companies only have powers because we the consumer give it them, and the awesome fact which is little acknowledge, is we can take it back!! So talk and act, and change the world.

  26. Crystal says

    The reason they want in is for marketing. They will get to claim they are listening to their customers, “Look, what a good boy am I”. The reality is there are already petitions to the FDA to redefine food, beginning with dairy. “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is announcing that the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have filed a petition requesting that the Agency amend the standard of identity for milk and 17 other dairy products to provide for the use of any safe and suitable sweetener as an optional ingredient. FDA is issuing this notice to request comments, data, and information about the issues presented in the petition.”

  27. Franky says

    I am reading this article and the comments in it because I am trying to educate myself on GMOs and organic foods. I am really trying to buy the best foods I can and learn more about what in foods. That being said, I am discouraged a little bit by some of the smug and self righteous comments posted. Yes, there is a lot of apathy and ignorance. but I can tell you when you’re trying to feed a family of 3, after paying bills, and you have $100 or so dollars left, it is very difficult. I buy organic when I can. No additives when I can. But sometimes it’s a matter of making sure my family’s bellies are full. None of us are Chubby, or holding on to our snack foods with a death grip. So get off of your granola, sandal wearing, prius driving soapbox. That approach will convince more people to educate themselves than looking down your nose at them.

  28. Dawn says

    Gmos damage human dna and rna. The also create herbicide resistant weeds that force farmers to have to use larger quantities. They cause cancer. Gmos are in the majority of our food. My health issues have dramatically reduced since I have cut down on them. Many offenders the worst are corn corn syrup and sugar. Also animals that eat them are carriers. Why would anyone want to eat food that has been genetically altered?

  29. Jane Holmes says

    I am a private citizen who almost died from Wegener’s Granulomatosis. My inflammation levels were out of sight. I kept asking my physician if what I ate made a difference. He said no – it had nothing to do with my illness. After 2 1/2 years I took matters into my own hands. I now wat nothing but organic and non-HMO foods. And I’ve eliminated the most offending inflammatory foods from my diet. My inflammation levels have plummeted. And you wonder why people like me boycott these companies? I just darn lucky to be alive to boycott them.

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