Other commenters in the same vein, generally regarding the proposed regulations excessively favorable to GMOs, included Friends of the Earth (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13096 and -13138), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Comment AMS-TM-0050-10779), Rural Vermont (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12630), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (Comment AMS-TM-0050-10977), the Non-GMO Project (which attached a search engine analysis finding that almost nobody searches for the term “BE” or “bioengineered” food while many search for “GMO”) (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13276), the Consumer Federation of America (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12472), Consumers Union (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13545), and several organic food companies. The organic food companies also typically suggested that foods earning organic certification should be allowed to make a “no GMO” or “no BE” claim, but that not every company that is not required to disclose the presence of GMOs should necessarily be entitled to use a “no GMO” or “no BE” claim (See, e.g., Comment AMS-TM-0050-13241, Stonyfield Organic; Comment AMS-TM-0050-12948, Hain Celestial Group). Some other food producers agreed, but added that organic certification should not be the only route to making a non-GMO or non-BE claim; there should be a process by which any food could show that it contains no GMOs while not necessarily meeting the other conditions for organic (Comment AMS-TM-0050-11764, Produce Marketing Association).
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Many individually written comments voiced the same concerns as the public advocacy groups and organic food companies. At least one individual even took it upon himself to redesign the USDA’s proposed symbols, eliminating the happy, leafy elements and using “GMO” or “GE” abbreviations in place of “BE” (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12234). Another commenter pointed out that the USDA obtained trademarks for less emotionally loaded “GMO” symbols in December 2016, but then abandoned them in February 2018 (Comment AMS-TM-0050-10833).
Some of these individual comments highlighted a key issue in the GMO disclosure debate by apparently indicating misinformation about GMOs, such as “50 percent of dogs!… now have cancer! and GMOs in their food are the scientifically proven cause. look it up…” (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13650), “GMO Is toxic to humans causing numerous diseases” (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13908), “Genetically engineered foods are known to cause a myriad of illnesses including cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, irritable bowel, infertility in men, endocrine problems, and much more…” (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12012), and “The average life expectancy of U.S. citizens has steadily gone down as our food supply has steadily used more GMOs!” (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12481). Some commenters attributed near-miraculous health benefits, such as cancer remission, to their decision to eat only organic foods or avoid GMOs.
Other comments, albeit a distinct minority of individual consumer comments, came out largely in favor of the proposed rule. Industry players submitting comments generally supportive of the proposed standard included the Wonderful Company (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13754), Seafood Products Association (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13964), the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13294), the Illinois Farm Bureau (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13310), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12455), the Government of Canada (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13293), Sargento Foods (Comment AMS-TM-0050-2603), and the American Bakers Association (Comment AMS-TM-0050-10818). An influential comment, cited by several other comments from mainstream food companies, was submitted by the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, a generally pro-GMO organization (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13009).
Several major food companies and groups, including Kraft Heinz (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12759), Coca-Cola (Comment AMS-TM-0050-11441), SNAC International (a snack food industry trade association) (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12498), the Grocery Manufacturers Association (Comment AMS-TM-0050-12345), Danone, Mars, Nestle, and Unilever (joint submission, Comment AMS-TM-0050-10964), the American Frozen Food Institute (Comment AMS-TM-0050-11666), the International Dairy Foods Association (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13235), and Campbell Soup (Comment AMS-TM-0050-13552) generally supported the proposed standard but opposed any exemption for refined products containing no bioengineered genetic material. As Coca-Cola put it, “As a brand owner with a commitment to transparency, we believe that it is essential to have a BE disclosure rule that provides consumers with the desired transparency and information they want. Our consumers want to know if a product contains an ingredient that was sourced from a BE plant, and we would advocate for a final rule that consistently requires disclosure of this information without an exemption based on the presence or absence of rDNA material.” Several of these submissions also expressed concern that the proposed symbols and use of the term “bioengineered” would not be sufficiently understandable to consumers.