A new coalition of 29 U.S. organizations is urging Congress to develop federal standards to guide the labeling of food products made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Participants in the group, Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF), hope their proactive steps will prevent the piecemeal development of individual state laws.
"We don’t believe a patchwork of state labeling initiatives and state laws would be in the best interest of consumers or farmers, and we feel it’s time to get behind a national labeling law," says Martin Barbre, president, National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).
The coalition supports development of a voluntary labeling law that would be administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he adds.
"The FDA would establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label their products for the presence or non-presence of GMO ingredients so consumers clearly understand their choices in the marketplace," Barbre explains. "Everyone would operate under the same rules."
A Farm Journal Pulse survey of 1,408 farmers in June 2013 shows that 65% do not want mandatory labeling laws. Only 18% believe foods made from GMO crops should be labeled, while 17% of farmer respondents say they are unsure. The reason most frequently cited by farmers against labeling laws is concern that consumers will use the information, once it’s printed on product packaging, to avoid buying foods containing GMOs.
National consumer surveys conducted by various media groups, such as "CBS News" and The Washington Post, show that more than 90% of U.S. consumers want labeling laws enacted.
In 2013, at least 26 states proposed legislation that would require food products made from GMO crops to be labeled. Two of those states, Connecticut and Maine, approved GMO labeling bills. In both cases, though, the bills cannot be signed into law until additional, contiguous states pass similar legislation.
"Different laws and requirements would devastate the efficiency of our nation’s food and animal feed production and marketing system, and dramatically increase costs to consumers," says Randy Gordon, president of the National Grain and Feed Association, in a recent press release.
More importantly, NCGA’s Barbre says a mandatory labeling process would not enhance food safety in any way.
Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, agrees. "Foods made with genetically modified ingredients are safe and have a number of important benefits for people and our planet," she says in a coalition-issued press release.
"Our nation’s food safety and labeling laws should not be set by political campaigns or state and local legislatures, but by FDA, the nation’s foremost food safety agency."
The statement by the coalition outlines that a federal GMO labeling solution would:
- Remove the confusion and uncertainty of a 50-state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws and affirm FDA as the nation’s authority for the use and labeling of genetically modified food ingredients.
- Require FDA to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits before they are introduced. FDA will be empowered to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with an ingredient derived from a GMO.
- FDA will establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label products for the absence of—or presence of—GMO food ingredients so that consumers clearly understand their choices.
- The FDA will define the term "natural" for its use on food and beverage products so that companies and consumers have a consistent legal framework that will guide food labels and inform consumer choice.