By Mike Barnett
Watching the anti-GMO forces rally against the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, recently passed by the House Agriculture Committee, reminds me of a dog chasing its tail.
They whirl with unexplainable passion in pursuit of an elusive goal. The end, pardon the pun, is always in sight. But it is never achieved.
It’s disconcerting to me. The anti-GMO forces have worked through many states to get mandatory labeling of GMO products. They’ve been successful in Vermont.
Complying with that Vermont law—set to take effect in 2016–will be a nightmare. If a company decided to continue to sell a GMO product, without reformulating ingredients—and that’s a big if—it would require a special unique identifying number for the product. It would also mean segregating these products throughout the supply chain. That means more costs to do business and more cost for the consumer.
Multiply that by the potential of 50 different states with 50 different labeling schemes and I see a nightmare for consumers—one that I think anti-GMO forces wish would come true.
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would prevent a patchwork of state laws mandating GMO labeling by allowing companies to label their products as GMO-free through a certification process.
It makes perfect sense to me. Here’s five reasons why.
- Fear. The legislation takes the fear out of food. Anti-GMO advocates scare the bejeebers out of consumers in pursuit of their goals. The proposed bill reinforces the existing requirements applied to labeling food products developed through genetic engineering. Misleading labels are not allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If a claim is not backed by facts, no label required. Labeling foods solely because they were developed through biotech breeding methods misleads consumers into thinking the product is less safe.
- Health. So far, the most significant advances in biotechnology have been made in insect or herbicide resistance to plants. This helps the farmer grow food more efficiently, but is not something consumers readily identify with. But look at what’s in the pipeline. Plants that produce oils with less trans fats. Improved vitamin content in foods. Lowered risk of carcinogens and foodborne illnesses. It’s all achievable. But only if we embrace the technology.
- Assurance. Certified organic. It’s a government program with guidelines that have to be met by the grower that gives consumers assurance their food has been raised without synthetic chemicals. The proposed legislation uses certified organic as a model for GMO-free rules and regulations. It will provide consumers the same assurance.
- Choice. The American food system is built around choice from conventional to organic. Voluntary labeling differentiates markets. It can work as assurance for the customer and as an incentive for those who want to pursue those markets—without imposing additional costs on everyone else.
- Cost. As many as 175 laws have been introduced by GMO activist groups in more than 30 states in the last few years. Those laws could be costly to consumers, farmers, retailers and processors. Studies have shown that additional costs could range from $500 to $1,500 a year for families. That’s not chicken feed.
There will be challenges ahead for the bill for sure. Anti-GMO types will raise a stink. They will bring up the “dangerous to your health” argument.
But their arguments ring hollow. Stripped to the bare bones, the case against GMOs is “full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions and lies,” says William Saletan in a recent article in Slate.
Study after study shows that genetically engineered foods are safe to eat. Those studies are endorsed by the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And ignored by activists. And corporations who want to make a buck by playing to fear.
Anti-GMO activists wanted a labeling law. Until confronted with a workable solution that would give consumers a qualified source of GMO-free food. And now they don’t.
What they want is the end of genetically engineered food. May they keep chasing their tails.