IN debating both the voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods and country-of-origin labeling on packages of meat, there is frequent mention of what consumers want and their "right to know."
Political rhetoric seems to keep feeding the machine of public mistrust, but last week, some common sense finally prevailed: The House passed its voluntary GMO labeling law.
Opponents of voluntary GMO labeling regularly claim that 90% of consumers want GMOs labeled, but depending on the study cited, it could be a mere 7%.
During debate, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) called it an "anti-consumer, anti-right-to-know bill that would prevent families from making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to buy food with GMO ingredients."
Thank goodness the majority of the House didn't buy that lie.
Considering that 70-80% of our food likely contains at least some ingredients derived from genetically modified crops, the "intelligent" thing would be to create a pathway for a truthful label claim backed by the agency with experience regulating it — not by any city council, county commission or statehouse. That's what the House bill does.
If someone wants to buy food that does not contain any GMOs, this bill creates a process to verify and substantiate a non-GMO claim.
Just as organic producers have standards and certification verified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this bill also would put USDA and the Food & Drug Administration in the same position to help verify the safety and validity of non-GMO and GMO products alike.
The American Soybean Assn. (ASA) said the bill empowers and guides those companies that wish to label and market their products as GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.
"ASA believes this approach, which would label a select subset of products marketed at a premium, makes far more sense than labeling the vast majority of common, everyday products in the grocery store. What it also avoids is the inevitable demonization of these products based on debunked science and willful misinformation," ASA president Wade Cowan said.
This spring, the International Food Information Council Foundation released results of a study that asked consumers what information they look at on a food package before making a purchase. While 13% said they looked at statements about the "absence" of certain food ingredients, 15% looked for country-of-origin labeling. Those stats have steadily declined — by nearly half — over the last three years of the survey.
Taste and price remain the primary drivers of retail purchases, so the higher food costs resulting from mandatory labeling would be passed along to everyone.
The House measure allows farmers and food processors to receive a premium for non-GMO products while not burdening the entire system with labeling and segregation costs or the liability for wrongly labeling something.
When it comes to meat labeling, National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. president Philip Ellis said livestock producers can avoid costly and trade-distorting rules through a voluntary labeling effort that "provides consumers with information they want and benefits cattle producers who can provide that information."