GMO food labeling bill falls short

If you’re one of those concerned about genetically modified ingredients in your food, the legislation Congress sent to President Barack Obama might make you happy.

Why just might?

Because you’re still going to have to do a bit of digging to find the information you’re after about GM ingredients in that can of corn you just bought. The law as proposed would require most food packages to carry a text label, a symbol or an electronic code readable by smartphone that tells you the food has GMOs. Then, you can scan that symbol or code and be directed to a website for more info on the ingredients.

That’s better than labeling laws now, which don’t require food products to carry labels that they have GMOs.

But some, including Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, believe the bill, rather than making companies simply list GMOs on the label of their food, allows them to make it difficult for consumers to find that out. The code or symbol won’t necessarily say anything about genetic engineering, in contrast to the recently passed Vermont law requires items to be labeled “produced with genetic engineering.”

Now, the food companies aren’t wild about products carrying a GMO label or listing all the ingredients. They believe it could cause consumers to believe there’s a problem with such products, like a warning. They have a point. If your average consumer sees two products, one marked GMO and one not, that consumer will likely buy the one without a special label.

And in case you were wondering, a lot of what you eat, estimates are in the 75 percent range, contain GM ingredients, most of those corn and soy-based.

And there’s a cost involved to provide such an ingredient list, which could force food companies to raise prices. They note there aren’t any tests or studies that indicate there’s a health concern with genetically modified foods. The Food and Drug Administration has said they are safe.

As well, genetically modified foods, many say, are necessary because it makes food more resilient, last longer and more nutritious, all necessary to meet the needs of a growing population on Earth. It will also help reduce food waste.

While both sides have valid points, we agree with Gabbard for a few reasons.

Uniform, nationwide legislation that would require genetically engineered ingredients to be clearly labeled on food packaging with plain and simple wording that is easily and immediately identifiable to shoppers seems reasonable. When you pick up a can of soup, chili or many frozen products, they have a long list of ingredients, many with names that few can pronounce or have a clue what they are. Yet, at least, they are listed. So why not label and list GM ingredients?

We might also note this federal law overrides state laws, like Vermont’s and Alaska’s, which calls for mandatory labeling requirements for genetically engineered fish and seafood. Food companies say they can’t be expected to provide different labels to meet the laws of different states. They are correct. One nationwide law must be adopted.

A buzzword these days is transparency. When the food industry opposes labeling products with genetically modified ingredients, one naturally wonders, why? What are they hiding? The industry answer is, nothing. The argument basically goes, it’s just not necessary, would create fears where they should not be, harm sales and result in higher prices. But, again, for the sake of transparency, clear labeling is best, not codes and symbols.

Here’s what a few of our leaders in Congress had to say about it:

w “People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to know what’s in their food.” — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

w “This is not transparency — this is an industry-backed sham pushed by big food companies to keep American consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.” — Rep. Peter DeFazio.

w “Consumers should have the right to know what’s in the food that they are buying and serving their family. Congress shouldn’t actively work to limit that information.” — Rep. Jared Huffman.

w “This policy will still leave many consumers in the dark and make it difficult for them to access basic information about their food.” – Rep. Annie Kuster.

w “Instead of a clear GMO label, this bill lets food companies keep consumers in the dark by using a QR code, a complicated computer symbol that requires a smartphone – something many Americans simply don’t have.” — Rep. Jim McGovern

There is a clear, common denominator in all these comments: People have a right to know what’s in the food they are buying at the store. Toward that end, products should carry appropriate labels and a list of ingredients. The information shouldn’t just be available to those with the appropriate technology in their pocket or purse.

President Obama should not sign this bill. Instead, he should direct Congress to come up with a bill that requires food products with genetically modified ingreidents to be clearly labeled. That’s not expecting too much.

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