By: Dan D'Ambrosio
The battle over GMO labeling has gone national, and different regions of the country disagree dramatically on what should be done.
A bill from Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, proposes voluntary labeling, along with ending the rights of states to pass their own legislation requiring labeling. That could make moot the law Vermont passed last year requiring mandatory GMO labeling.
Another bill from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, co-sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, would essentially do the opposite. Similar to the Vermont law, it would mandate a national label for genetically engineered ingredients in food.
Leahy said in an email he strongly opposes the language in the House bill that would preempt the right of states to establish labeling requirements of their own. Leahy believes states should retain the right to go even beyond whatever the federal government ends up doing with regard to GMO labeling.
"I believe in the consumers' right to know," Leahy said. "That's why I support a uniform national requirement to label consumer products that are produced through genetic engineering."
Vermont's law is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2016, but has been challenged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Earlier this month, the grocery association appealed the decision by a federal judge in April to deny a motion to block the Vermont law.
The case has been referred to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Meanwhile a fight over the U.S. House bill evokes many of the same arguments seen in Vermont.
Opponents of the voluntary labeling bill from Rep. Mike Pompeo, R- Kansas, call it the DARK Act, which stands for the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. Opponents also maintain the bill was essentially written by Monsanto, one of the biggest manufacturers of genetically engineered seed in the world.
"Monsanto didn't get to be a multi-billion dollar corporation by being stupid," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, who believes the Pompeo bill is a clever ploy by Monsanto to undermine a growing state-based movement to require GMO labeling.
"Corporations like Monsanto can decide if they want to label and then decide what goes on the label," Welch said.
An attack on farmers
Heather Denker, communications director for Rep. Pompeo, begs to differ with the notion that Monsanto was behind The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, as Pompeo's bill is actually called. The first vote on the bill, co-sponsored by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, will come in June.
"Congressmen Pompeo and Butterfield spent quite a bit of time penning this bill and take a lot of pride in that this is their bill," Denker said. "The state of Kansas is a big agricultural state, and this is something our agricultural community supports."
Denker said Pompeo was prompted to introduce the bill by his constituents, many of whom are farmers, and were upset by what they saw as an attack on GMO products. Most of the corn and soy grown in this country is from GMO seed, along with other crops.
"There was definitely an attack on these products our farmers are growing," Denker said. "We've heard from a number of farmers, one who testified that this is his livelihood and he would never produce and provide a product that he thought was unsafe and was harming his own family."
The right to know
Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, said no one is attacking GMOs. Greenfield was one of several business icons who joined Peter Welch, D-Vt., last week in Washington, D.C. to hold a news conference opposing Pompeo's bill and to call for mandatory GMO labeling.
"There's labeling in 64 countries," Greefield said. "It's not as if this is an unheard of idea. It's completely common in the rest of the world. This is not about GMOs are good or bad or if you like them or don't. It's simply about consumers' right to know so they can make informed decisions about what they're purchasing to feed themselves and their families."
But Denker said the decision on GMO safety has already been made, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is reflected in Pompeo's bill.
"The bill really relies on the studies that have been done up to this point that say GMOs are safe, and historically the FDA has not required a label on something that has been proven safe," Denker said. "The bill gives that sole authority to the FDA. If the FDA were to ever in the future find GMOs to be unsafe it would be up to the FDA to create that label as it sees fit."
If GMOs are safe, countered Welch, why all the fuss about requiring labeling?
"The bizarre position taken by Monsanto is to be in all-out opposition to letting consumers know about ingredients they say are good," Welch said. "There are no health issues, but we won't tell you they're in the product you're buying."
"This legislation says to consumers, 'Shut up, we'll let you know what we want you to know when we want you to know it,'" Welch said.
Welch said he expects the Pompeo bill to pass the Republican-controlled House, but then run into strong opposition in the Senate. President Obama would almost certainly veto the legislation if it did pass, Welch added.
Originally Published: Burlington Press