July was a busy month on the GMO labeling battlefield. Vermont’s label law went into effect July 1, requiring all food sold in Vermont grocery stores be labeled if it contains genetically modified ingredients. Last week, though, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Senate-created mandatory federal GMO labeling law that will supersede all state precedents. AgriTalk host Mike Adams heard both sides of the story on Thursday as Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell discussed the issue.
Federal GMO Law
As passed by the House and Senate, the federal GMO labeling law will require companies to disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients. Companies will have the option of how they want to do that, which could be done by text, phone number, website link, or QR code that can be read by smartphone.
To Vermont Attorney General Sorrell, though, those options don’t represent a clear, consumer-friendly way of disclosing GMO ingredients to shoppers. “As I understand the bill, you have to have a smart phone with a bar code reader to see [the ingredients] or you can call an 800 number,” Vermont Attorney General Sorrell says. “How many consumers do you think are going to do that when they’re standing there with two cans of soup trying to decide which one to buy?”
The Vermont legislation required package labeling that specifically indicated if the food product contains GM ingredients, which Sorrell still thinks is a better solution.
But the labeling train has already left the station, according to U.S. Representative Peterson. “Vilsack already has a task force set up, and he already has people working on it,” he says. “I think he will have most of this mechanism set up before a new secretary gets put in place.”
One of the big topics of discussion in many circles is whether or not consumers care if their food contains GM ingredients.
Sorrell believes they do. “There are many Americans who would prefer to know what is in the foods they buy,” he says.
Peterson disagrees. “I don’t think there are that many people who are going to pay attention to what’s on the label,” he says.
He also suggested that the drive for GMO labeling is not necessarily about food labels, but about modern agriculture. “For some of the folks behind this movement, they don’t want labeling,” he says. “They want to get rid of RoundUp Ready crops.”
Patchwork Labeling Laws?
One of the biggest arguments in favor of the federal GMO legislation was the fear that each state would end up passing different laws, making the situation confusing for consumers and burdensome for businesses.
“It was an unworkable situation to have states with different labeling laws,” Peterson says.
Sorrell disagrees. After all, different countries have different laws regarding GMO labeling and food companies have adapted their practices and products to sell their products in places with varying regulations, he notes.
The bill may have passed Capitol Hill and is awaiting for President Barack Obama’s expected signature, but Sorrell warns it will take years for the new bill to be implemented.
“The bill doesn’t go into effect for a couple of years, there are no penalties to enforce, and it doesn’t disclose in a consumer-friendly way the existence of genetically engineered ingredients in a particular product,” Sorrell says. “I think it’s unfortunate that Congress made this move and wasn’t respectful of state laws.”
Listen to the AgriTalk discussion below.