“We are going to force them to label this food. If we have it labeled, then we can organize people not to buy it.”

-- Andrew Kimbrell, executive director, Center for Food Safety.

This month, Campbell’s Soup Company became the first major food corporation to announce its support of mandatory GMO labels and will voluntarily label their own products as such. In a statement, the company said, “GMO has evolved to be a top consumer food issue reaching a critical mass of 92 percent of consumers in favor of putting it on the label.”

But is this really the case?

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As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider GMO labeling legislation in the coming months, pro-labeling groups are insisting this issue is consumer-driven. But the GMO labeling movement is about as organic as a Twinkie. It’s the result of a carefully orchestrated marketing campaign – largely funded by the organic industry - to vilify genetically modified food. Over the last four years, organic companies and their front groups have spent tens of millions of dollars to convince consumers GMOs are unsafe in order to drive market share toward non-GMO, organic products.

As recently as two years ago, GMOs were an unknown to most consumers. In a Rutgers University survey from October 2013, 25 percent of consumers said they’d never heard of GMOs and 54 percent said they knew little or nothing at all about genetically modified food. When asked, “what information would you like to see on food labels that is not already there?’ only 7 percent said GMOs. This is a quite different result than the oft-quoted “90 percent” figure (when asked the question directly) cited by the pro-labeling folks.

So what happened over the last few years to make this such a heated battle? Organic companies and environmental groups teamed up to launch a well-funded attack on GMOs. The first shot was fired in September 2011 when the Center for Food Safety joined with several organic companies to file a petition at the FDA asking the agency to require mandatory GMO labels. Petitioners included the Organic Trade Association, Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown, Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms. Since that time, the organic industry has spent millions to push for GMO labels (proponents spent more than $10 million on Washington State’s failed GMO labeling referendum in 2013).

One of the biggest spenders is Stonyfield Chairman Gary Hirshberg, who launched Just Label It in 2012 to promote mandatory labels. Hirshberg is a main funder and frontman for the pro-labeling movement, helping sponsor other GMO-labeling referenda in California, Oregon and Colorado (all failed). Last year, Hirshberg produced Internet videos featuring celebrity moms to warn other moms about GMOs and state their support for mandatory labels. He even invited Gwyneth Paltrow to a Capitol Hill press conference he sponsored last August to explain her opposition to HR 1599.

But this is more about labeling to Hirshberg. His Just Label It website is loaded with anti-GMO propaganda. He’s an outspoken opponent of genetically modified crops in our food supply and his misleading comments are designed to foment fear among consumers – particularly moms – so they’ll instead buy his non-GMO products. Here’s what Hirshberg recently said in a series of videos posted on kidsinthehouse.com, a parenting website:

“So a parent who wants to preserve the health of their child or avoid the child being exposed to toxic herbicides does not want to buy foods that contain genetically engineered foods. Having it on the label – whether food contains genetically engineered ingredients or not – gives us all the choice if we want to support a system that creates and puts more herbicides out there or not.”

Hirshberg has also blamed the pesticides used on GMO crops for causing a number of health woes including miscarriages, autism, ADHD and cancer.

The Organic Consumers Association is another organic industry group that has led the crusade against genetically modified foods (the OCA represents “several thousand businesses in the natural foods and organic marketplace.) They’ve spent millions not just pushing for mandatory labels, but also for “a global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops.”

The OCA started the annual Millions Against Monsanto march in the 1990s to “fight back against Monsanto and the other Biotech Bullies responsible for poisoning our food and environment.” At the COP21 in Paris, the OCA joined other worldwide anti-GMO activists to announce a faux “tribunal” at The Hague this summer to “prosecute” Monsanto for ecocide. The group also launched a smear campaign against public scientists who research genetic engineering and journalists who have written favorably about the technology (including the NYT’s Amy Harmon).

About a GMO label, OCA President Ronnie Cummins says: “The burning question for us then becomes how – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2 percent market niche to the dominant force in American food and farming? The first step is to change our labeling laws.”

Consumers and lawmakers need to be aware of the back-story to the so-called consumer-led GMO labeling movement. If approved, a mandatory label will be nothing more than a bulls-eye for these folks to further their attacks on genetically modified food.

Kelly is a contributing writer to the Genetic Literacy Project.