More news on GMO labeling!
Last week, I explained the news that the USDA will be establishing criteria for a voluntary, GMO-free label. The label will be available to any company that wishes to prove to the USDA that its products are made without GMO ingredients. As I explained in the article, the huge downside to this program is that it does nothing to stop the maze and confusion of state-by-state labeling requirements. Without some type of Congressional action, the USDA’s certification program cannot pre-empt any state or local labeling requirements.
I also mentioned that Representative Pompeo of Kansas has introduced a bill to the House that would give federal authority to the USDA to establish a GMO labeling requirement and trump these state laws.
It looks like the Michigan House of Representatives Agriculture Committee is standing with Rep. Pompeo and his legislation.
Representative Dan Lauwers introduced a bill to the Michigan House Committee on Agriculture that encourages Congress to take action and pass federal legislation to create a label for genetically modified crops. The Resolution passed the committee and will now go on to the full legislature for consideration.
“In 2014, 100 percent of all sugar, 93 percent of all corn and 91 percent of all soybeans grown in Michigan were produced using genetically modified organisms, or GMOs,” Rep. Lauwers said. “Because there are no rules addressing labeling of GMOs, some states and localities have developed their own proposals leading to a patchwork of regulation that can be confusing and possibly misleading to consumers.”
Rep. Lauwers went on to note that this patchwork of labeling regulations is also difficult for food producers to follow. Again, can you imagine if a company had to try and figure out labeling laws that were vastly different from state to state? It’s believed that such a maze of regulations would push up the price of food by at least $500 per family each year.
Within the text of the legistlation proposed by Rep. Lauwers, it states:
Legislation like the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, H.R. 1599, sponsored by congressmen Pompeo and Butterfield, is a bipartisan solution needed to allow consumers to have access to accurate and consistent information on the products that contain GMOs. A USDA-administered certification and labeling program modeled after the USDA organic labeling program for non-GMO foods would ensure that labeling is nationwide, uniform, and scientifically-based
You can read the full text of the bill here.
While I recognize that this effort by Rep. Lauwers is simply symbolic, I applaud it nonetheless. As most farmers, I’m not a fan of GMO labeling. In fact, I think it’s a really bad idea. I especially think that a label which simply states “Contains GMO” tells consumers absolutely nothing. It doesn’t explain which traits are included, how those traits work, the techniques used to introduce those traits, or any other meaningful information. I wholeheartedly believe that the GMO labeling campaigns are just a method to scare consumers and, eventually, lead to banning the use of all genetic engineering technology.
And while I also think labeling something as “GMO-free” is a cheap marketing ploy playing on fear, I really think it’s the best option moving forward. Not only will the USDA’s program be scientific, the criteria will be clear and something that consumers can actually understand. I’d rather see a label stating something is “GMO-free” over “Contains GMOs.” The latter is far more susceptible to fear marketing, misinformation, and gimmicks.
More importantly though, federal legislation will end the state-by-state media circus that happens each time a labeling proposal is on the ballot. These campaigns are sources of free publicity to the anti-GMO forces, with millions of dollars being poured into the coffers of these activist organizations. I’m not naive enough to think the USDA labeling requirements will make the issue and discussion about GMOs go away, but it will limit the effectiveness of those opposing it.
It may also (finally) reveal their agenda as having nothing to do with a “right to know” what’s in our food. If they have clearly marked GMO-free alternatives, then there is no reason they can’t simply shop for those products and avoid the rest. (By the way, they already have that option – they could choose to purchase only products with the organic label, too.) If they have a clearly marked alternative, then why do they need labeling?
So, I’m tipping my hat to Rep. Lauwers’ efforts in the Michigan State House. It might be symbolic, but it is appreciated. We need a sensible way to end this circus, and I appreciate his support.