February 13, 2014
The GMO labeling issue, which focuses on whether or not products made with ingredients that have been genetically-modified or genetically-engineered (also sometimes called GE foods), is a hot button topic in the US these days. Recently, to try and offset the potential 30 states that are estimated to bring GMO-labeling bills to their public ballots this year, 29 of the most powerful food organizations created the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food.
Background: In the US, unlike many other countries around the world, products that are made from genetically-modified ingredients are not required to be labeled any differently than non-GMO foods. Those in favor of GMO-labeling say that this does not give consumers the power to make their own decisions regarding food safety whereas those against GMO-labeling say that the labeling requirements would be too cost prohibitive and would drive up food costs for everyone.
In the last two years, Maine and Connecticut have both passed GMO-labeling laws but those laws don’t go into effect until other states also pass similar laws so as not to put undo burden on food manufacturers to have to have separate packaging for only two states. California and Washington state both had GMO-labeling initiatives on their ballots but neither passed. Similar bills are expected in up to 30 states in 2014.
Regardless of state law, Whole Foods Market – due to an understanding that their consumers want to know whether or not they are eating GMO-ingredients, has stated that by 2018 all products in their stores would have to be labeled as to whether or not they contain GMO ingredients. Other natural food and supermarket chains are considering following suit.
Where the GMO-labeling issue currently stands: Food manufacturers and seed companies like Monsanto (who produces GMO seeds) are not keen to see a repeat of the nasty political fight and millions of dollars they spent in California and Washington play out in other states. To try and get ahead of that, 29 major players in the food industry recently formed a coalition, which includes companies like PepsiCo and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, called the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. This group plans to lobby Congress to try and set up federal guidelines that would make GMO labeling voluntary for food manufacturers and would seek to educate the public about the safety of GMO ingredients.
“They know that the food movement’s power is growing and that labeling is not a matter of if but when,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety which does not support the coalition’s efforts. “These companies have failed to win over consumers who overwhelmingly support the mandatory labeling of GMOs and now they’re trying to steal away consumer choice in Congress.”
Kimbrell points out that voluntary labeling of GMO products already exists under the law. “No company has ever chosen to do so because GE foods offer consumers no benefits and only potential risk. Instead of working together to meet consumer demand, GMA is using its deep pockets to ensure that congress and consumers are misled about their food supply.”
Coalition members and opponents to GMO labeling laws say that the potentially conflicting state labeling laws would make it impossible for manufacturers to provide food in the most cost-effective manner and may potentially confuse consumers.