The FDA issued voluntary guidance for labeling GMO foods in 2001 and has basically been inactive on the topic ever since. Since the agency has for years neglected citizen petitions to require the mandatory labeling of GMOs, a movement is afoot to introduce bills on the state level. In 2012 and 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed bills with trigger mechanisms that would require additional New England states to pass similar bills of their own. And just this year, Vermont passed a labeling bill, with no strings attached, which is now being fought in court by theGrocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA).
The GMA has been busy lately spending millions against state labeling bills and ballot initiatives and lobbying hard for its pet project, HR 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014. Member food companies of the GMA spent over $16 million to help defeat Proposition 105 in Colorado and just under $21 million against Proposition 92 in Oregon. Combined with their efforts against California and Washington state initiatives in 2012 and 2013, the GMA has spent nearly $100 million on ballot initiatives in just three years. In an effort to squash statewide labeling efforts for good, the GMA crafted HR 4432 that would prohibit all state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods by creating a national voluntary labeling scheme for GMOs.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing last week on the bill and asked a representative of the Snack Food Association; a University of California-Davis professor and biotechnology advocate; a pro-GMO Kansas farmer and an FDA senior official to testify. They also invited one of the sponsors of the Vermont GMO labeling bill, H. 112, and the vice president of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Representatives who were also co-sponsors of the bill, including Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), were extremely skeptical of the need for GMO labeling, claiming it would confuse consumers or that it was simply “illogical” and “irrational.” Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), who introduced the bill, claimed that GMO labeling would raise food prices dramatically for consumers.
These claims were contested by EWG’s Scott Faber who pointed out that GMO labels are not warning labels, saying that the debate is about transparency and a basic right to know, and that the information will provide everyone with the knowledge to make informed choices at the grocery store. Lois Capps (D-CA) backed up this assertion by stating that labeling is not a debate about the safety of GMO foods but about the right to know what’s in our food. She then asked everyone on the panel a yes or no question: “Do you think consumers should have the right to know what is in their food?” The UC Davis academic and the Snack Food Association representative were unable to answer the question—apparently they do not believe in transparency and accountability for all.
One major misconception that was brought up time and time again during the hearing is that there is a broad scientific consensus that GMO foods are safe. The FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Michael Landa, took the usual agency stance on the topic of GMOs, testifying that they are as safe as their conventional counterparts. Food & Water Watch contends that this is not the casesince the burden of proof of safety is on the corporations who profit from the approval and commercialization of these foods rather than on an independent, scientific body. Until there are long-term human safety studies done on the consumption of GMO foods by independent researchers, GMO foods must be labeled so that those of us that don’t trust that there is a scientific consensus can choose to avoid eating them.
This bill jeopardizes the hard work of thousands of people who are fighting for the right to transparency in food labels in their states. Tell your U.S. Representative to reject HR 4432!