First published in Franklin Journal
A few weeks ago, in a post on GMO labeling, I referred to Maine’s efforts to remove the trigger clause from Maine’s GMO labeling law. I still think focusing only on removing the trigger is not good use of time and money. With an eye to honoring consumer’s right to know, the law should be amended to remove the trigger clause AND add required labeling to include medical food, alcohol and livestock feed. I fought the trigger clause when the bill was being developed. It prevailed with the reasoning that “something is better than nothing”. Also in that post, when considering Federal response, I wanted to believe Congress would not preempt state’s rights and that a compromise would be attempted. I know that within dissension there is some place in the middle where you find agreement.
The GMO labeling debate has been going on for more than a decade. The anti-labeling side has bio-technology and a large number of food producers who see labeling as a threat. The pro-labeling side consists of a larger number of food producers and consumers who want to preserve consumer’s right to knowf.
If we could count on honesty and integrity and consumers being educated on all sides of this equation, we wouldn’t need GMO labeling. We can’t and the result is this ongoing debate; an unfortunate distraction and loss of resources that could be otherwise used.
A Federal GMO labeling bill, proposed by Sen. Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas passed the Senate Ag Committee on Tuesday, March 2 and will move on to the full Senate. Like its House counterpart, it has been dubbed the “DARK Act” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) A similar bill was passed by the house on July 23, 2015. It was designed to disallow state labeling laws. Currently, CT and Maine have laws that will go into effect when nearby states have similar laws – this aspect is known as a “trigger” clause.
Like the Dark Act counterpart in the House, the Senate version will block state mandatory labeling and thwart consumer’s right to know. It is being pushed hard, as VT’s mandatory labeling law, the first of its kind in the US, goes into effect July 1st. While there are outliers, the food industry supports this bill on the grounds that it offers consumers security in knowing they will have a sustainable and affordable food supply. They contend labeling will increase cost of food and produce GMO fear. The Washington Post fact checker, based on economic studies of food prices in 62 countries which have national food labeling, refutes the claim of increased costs. This scare tactic is a red herring, but if you repeat something enough, people believe it.
We need a national GMO food label which preserves consumer’s right to know. In the EU, individual non-GMO ingredients are labeled as such. That takes up a lot of label space, but if you have some ingredients which are and some which aren’t, it becomes necessary, as exemplified by the VT labeling law which will mean vegetable soup without meat will require labeling, but if it has meat it doesn’t. This degrades the bill’s intended purpose and results in inaccurate consumer information.
The viciousness of the Robert’s bill lies beyond denying the will of the majority of Americans who favor labeling. Little talked about, it shifts the burden from GMO food producers to organic farmers, by leaving labeling voluntary and requiring organic certification, which will ultimately lead to a need for a national organic certification standard. This places undue burden on small scale organic farmers, as inputs to meet certification compliance are costly. Further, the bill dilutes current organic certification, because it allows products to be labeled non-GMO while using GMO feed, processing aids or enzymes – despite the fact that existing USDA Organic regulations do not allow this.
Yet another way this bill is vicious is it preempts state rule. While I understand the patchwork of different state labeling laws presents a complexity for food producers, this preempting sets an unconscionable precedent.
Robert’s bill is counter to consumer’s right to know, preempts state’s rights, and burden of proof is disproportionate. Food and farm interests pushing Robert’s bill don’t want a national labeling standard. They want to eliminate package labeling requirements. The majority of Americans do not base their purchasing on whether a food is GMO, but they do want preservation of their right to know. We cannot allow the interests of Monsanto and multi-national food corporations to prevail.