THIS fall, the debate over whether or not to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods was in full swing again, with ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.
On Dec. 10, the House will conduct its first hearing on a bill meant to provide a national standard for GMO labeling -- months after it was first introduced.
Members of the House energy and commerce subcommittee on health will hear from the Food & Drug Administration, outside experts and interested stakeholders, including a farmer from Kansas, about the agency's current review process for food ingredients and Rep. Mike Pompeo's (R., Kan.) proposed legislation.
As one lobbyist said, however, expect fireworks.
The Organic Consumers Assn. is already rallying its troops, calling for supporters to pack the hearing room with signs and banners protesting what they have dubbed as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act. They'll follow the hearing with a rally and speakers of their own at a church near Capitol Hill.
"If we want to have an impact, if we want to attract the attention of Congress and the media, we need a minimum of 1,000 people to be there," the group's notice said.
Pompeo's bill is widely supported by agricultural groups but is perceived by anti-GMO groups as limiting their rights when, in actuality, it would bring consistency to GMO labeling and avoid a patchwork of state labeling regimes.
Just last week, the Food Policy Action group, chaired by Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook, delivered a petition to Congress to require labeling on all foods that contain any GMO ingredients.
Celebrity chefs are trying to increase awareness, and well-known activist Michael Pollan took to the columns of the Washington Post in November to explain how a national food policy could save millions of American lives and could be accomplished without Congress but instead by presidential executive action.
The organic industry has been the leader of the fight against GMOs, stirring up claims of organic crops being contaminated by biotech crops and insisting on the "right to know" what is in food. But it's no secret that organic products want to increase their market share as well, masked by their myth campaigns.
Mark Lynas spent several years ripping up genetically modified crops and helped start the anti-GMO movement in the 1990s, but he has changed his tune in recent years, apologizing for his actions and discovering that science does defend what he once thought was taboo.
In an apology published in the Hawaii Reporter in March 2013, Lynas took aim at the organic industry, saying it is getting in the way of meeting the world's food needs when it takes away choices from others.
"You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no one has died from eating GM (foods)," he wrote.
Somehow, as much as that message and the one about the safety of GMOs needs to be told, the noise created at the hearing Wednesday and as the debate continues likely will only delay implementation of legislation such as Pompeo's that puts science in the driver's seat rather than being steered by a movement based on mischaracterizations.