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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

GMO Labels: Corn Refiners Think You're An Idiot

Why Is Transparency So Scary?

As the debate over GMO labeling rages on, Congress has finally done something right and blocked an attempt by Big Food to undermine state efforts requiring food labels listing GMO ingredients. The Honorable Republican Senator from the Great State of Kansas managed to squeeze himself out of the pockets of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Corn Refiners Association, and other special interest groups long enough to introduce a bill that would have made GMO labeling strictly voluntary on a federal level, thereby gutting and negating mandatory efforts by Vermont and other states to list GMO ingredients at the state level. Nice dodge, huh? The old “cut 'em off at the knees” gambit. Except it didn't exactly work. By the narrowest of margins – 48 to 49 – the Senate defeated the measure, voting largely along party lines with Sen. Roberts' fellow Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Three senators, Cruz, Rubio, and Sanders did not vote on the proposal, apparently having other things on their agendas.

So it appears the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act – dubbed the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act by GMO opponents – is dead. This means that individual states can continue to move forward with a variety of labeling laws. Vermont's mandatory labeling law is set to go into effect July 1, and other states are considering similar laws. Of course, some other bought and paid for bonehead in Washington could and probably will come up with another obfuscatory attempt at subverting our right to know what we're eating, but for now the effort is as dead as it deserves to be. The millions of dollars Big Food overtly and covertly spread like fertilizer all over DC are now moot, meaning they'll have to jack up the cost of our comestibles to cover their losses.

Curiously, that very thing is one of the selling points outfits like the Corn Refiners and the Grocery Manufacturers uses to frighten and mislead the gullible and uninformed into opposing labeling laws. The Corn Refiners Association, for example, released a “study” in which they claimed your grocery bill will increase by about $1,050 per year as a result of GMO labeling. “The impact of Vermont’s mandatory law requiring on package labels for foods produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would increase food costs for consumers across the country due to the cost of the new labeling systems and because consumers will likely view the GMO labels as warnings, leading food companies to switch from GMO ingredients to more expensive non-GMO ingredients. Such costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.”

The “study” throws out numbers like “$81.9 billion annually” and “2.5 percent of the median income of the poorest fifth of the population” and “nearly 2 percent (1.76 percent) in average food prices nationwide in the first year. These higher grocery costs will likely continue in the years ahead with a total cost of approximately $13,250 per household over 20 years.”

By the way, the “study” was commissioned by the Corn Refiners Association. That's in the really fine print at the bottom.

Obviously, the Corn Refiners think you're an idiot. And so do the Grocery Manufacturers, whose spokes-flak whined, "Despite today’s vote, there continues to be a strong bipartisan consensus to protect American consumers from the increased food costs and confusion of a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws."

Oh, we poor, benighted fools! How fortunate we are to have big, strong, unbiased, non-partisan organizations like the Grocery Manufacturers and the Corn Refiners out there in the trenches protecting us from ourselves. We, the weak-minded, are so easily “confused.” We should be on our knees every day thanking God that we have Corn Refiners and Grocery Manufacturers to guide our steps and show us the way, for, yea, verily, we are but ignorant clods, too oblivious and obtuse to understand these things for ourselves.

I don't know about you, but the assault on my intelligence offends me. And it probably offends the 89 to 90 percent of people recently surveyed who say they want to know what's in the food they're consuming. They're not confused, they're outraged. And justifiably so. Why is transparency so scary?

For the benefit of any Corn Refiners, Grocery Manufacturers, or Republican senators reading this, allow me to clarify the issue, using small, easy to understand words. I don't care that an ingredient is genetically modified. Food scientists say that kind of thing is perfectly alright. And you know how reliable food scientists are. (Trans-fats are good; trans-fats are bad. Eggs are bad; eggs are good. Cholesterol will kill you; ooops.....never mind.) The point the political puppets and their string-pulling masters don't seem to get is that I/we don't care that the GMOs are in there, we just want to know that they are so we can make informed buying decisions.

Genetically modified or not, for instance, I don't like high-fructose corn syrup. I want to know if the product I'm purchasing contains HFCS. If it's not printed on the label, then I don't know. Hence, I am uninformed and that, apparently, is the way Big Food would like to keep me. Even to the extent that the Corn Refiners Association, the source of HFCS, once floated a campaign past the FDA to get HFCS re-designated as “corn sugar” on food labels. Thankfully, the normally lapdog-ish FDA shot that one down. But was the effort made in order to alleviate our “confusion?” Hell no! It was a blatantly transparent attempt on the part of the manufacturer to deliberately confuse and mislead the consumer. And yet, they don't want to “confuse” us with GMO labeling? Chew on that for awhile and if it doesn't make you madder than hell, you must be kin to Gandhi.

How stupid, Corn Refiners, do you think I am? Do you really believe that I'm going to misconstrue the words “genetically modified” before the word “corn” in fine print on a food label as a “warning?” I'm not that damn dumb, thankyouverymuch. Now, if somebody were demanding that you slap “Contains GMO” in big red letters on the front of the package right under the product name, I could understand your concern. But the words “genetically modified corn” in an ingredient list don't scare me any more than the words “high-fructose corn syrup” do. Why does putting them there scare you?

Fortunately, there are rams among the sheep. Groups like “Just Label It”, “GMO-Free USA”, and Top Chef Tom Colicchio's “Food Policy Action” are actively shedding light on something that has been too long in the dark. After gathering the signatures of more than four thousand chefs on a petition, Colicchio said, "Senator Roberts' ridiculous new version of the DARK Act would deny us the right to know what's in our food and how it's grown — the same right held by consumers in 64 other nations. Consumers should be trusted to decide their own food choices, but Senator Roberts apparently thinks Washington knows best. This is exactly the sort of crony capitalism that voters across the country are rejecting."

“Just Label It” chairman Gary Hirshberg put a fine point on it when he said, "Americans have the right to know what's in their food and how it's grown." Period. End of sentence. End of debate.

Here's some advice for pandering back-pocket politicians and their avaricious bankrollers: Don't give me self-serving fuddle muddle about how you're out there nobly fighting the good fight to represent and protect me and keep me from being “confused.” It's maddeningly, infuriatingly insulting. I know better and I'll prove it at the grocery counter and at the ballot box.

Let me reiterate; I'm not questioning the safety of GMOs. That's a debate for another time. I just want to know what I'm buying. I'll decide, based on my own knowledge and research, whether or not to buy your product once I see what's in it. Don't try to sell me a pig in a poke. Make the poke sack transparent and let me see the pig. That's all I'm asking. If I still want the pig, I'll buy it, and if I'd rather have chicken, I won't. Why is that so hard for Corn Refiners, Grocery Manufacturers and Republican senators to comprehend?

I don't give a rat's ass about Presidential politics here, but Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has it right when he says, "All over this country, people are becoming more conscious about the food they eat and the food they serve their kids. When parents go to the store and purchase food for their children, they have a right to know what they are feeding them. GMO labeling exists in 64 other countries. There is no reason it can’t exist here."

Campbell's has broken ranks with its other Big Food cronies. The soup giant that also owns the Pepperidge Farm, V8, and Prego labels will place a small statement under their ingredient lists that reads: “Partially produced with genetic engineering. For more information about G.M.O. ingredients, visit WhatsinMyFood.com.” That's it. No flashing signs, no dire warnings. No “confusion.” Information, plain and simple. And that's all 89 to 90 percent of us want.

(UPDATE: from the Associated Press: "General Mills said on Friday (3/18) that it would start labeling all products that contain genetically modified ingredients to comply with a law set to go into effect in Vermont. General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, Progresso soups and Yoplait yogurt, said it was simply impractical to label products for sale in just one state, so the disclosures required by Vermont starting in July will be on all its products, beginning over the next several weeks." Guess that means the cost of my Cheerios will now skyrocket. Oh, I'm so confused.)

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