Congress Needs To Level The Field On GMO Labeling
State Sen. Judy Schwank
The debate on the safety of genetically modified food or GMOs rages on despite the most recent report/study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released just last month indicating that GMO foods are safe to eat and do not harm the environment.
Irrespective of any distinguished report on the safety of GMO foods, people will continue to want to know if the foods they purchase have been produced or processed using genetic modification. They have a right to this information, just as they have a right to know the calorie count of a specific food product or whether it contains sugar or high fructose corn syrup as a sweetening agent.
The state of Vermont, in reaction to public desire for GMO labeling on foods, passed a law requiring such labeling and it will impact farmers, food processors and consumers nationwide. Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law takes effect on July 1 and will alter the way food companies do business if they want to sell their products in Vermont. Unless the U.S. Senate acts in the coming weeks to pre-empt Vermont’s law with a national uniform labeling solution, the law of a small state of 600,000 residents will become the de facto law of the land.
Our food supply system is national in scope, and a state by state patchwork of conflicting, complex labeling laws will not be sustainable. Complying with Vermont’s law is not as easy as placing a label on a product, it will instead require that companies create entirely new production and distribution chains for their products. Inadvertent violations carry fines, and even if a company’s unlabeled product winds up on Vermont shelves after the fact due to stocking and inventory issues, that company could face fines of $1,000 a day, per unit.
For food companies facing the prospects of having to re-label their food, there are numerous complexities and carve-outs in the Vermont law. Certain items, such as dairy and products containing meat, are exempt from the labeling requirement. Vegetable soup, for example, would need to be labeled, but vegetable soup with beef would not, creating further confusion for both companies and consumers.
A proposal before the U.S. Senate, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, which was introduced this session and passed the House of Representatives on July 24, could be the necessary legislation that accomplishes this at the federal level. Requiring FDA approval of GMOs prior to their entry into the food market, as well as providing the ability to mandate labeling when necessary, would eliminate the confusion caused by a variety of state laws. At the same time consumers would be completely assured of the origin of their food.
We are a broad-based coalition representing the entire American agriculture food supply chain – from farm to fork. We are committed to increasing the public’s understanding about the science and safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and advocating for science-based policies that keep food affordable for every American.