By: Rich Moniak

Rep. Don Young wants the federal government to require labeling of genetically modified fish sold anywhere in the U.S. But how does he feel about other genetically modified foods? Apparently, he believes it’s a states’ rights issue. So, what’s the story behind this apparent contradiction?

Last week the House overwhelming passed a bill regarding the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act supposedly “creates a federal standard for GMO labeling that will eliminate confusion, advance food safety, and provide much-needed consistency for both food manufacturers and consumers.”

At least that’s what the Snack Food Association (SFA) would have us believe. But their statement is as misleading as the claim they made it was approved by a bipartisan vote. This was a Republican bill supported by 95 percent of their members in the House but only a quarter of Democrats.

And how does the bill eliminate consumer confusion? It doesn’t. Companies that sell food products without GMOs will be allowed to use labels stating that. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would establish a standard for food manufacturers who put the word “natural” on their label. But the whole labeling program would be voluntary.

Rep. Young actually voted for this bill even though it would eliminate our state’s requirement that genetically modified salmon be labeled. But he said it was a mistake. On Facebook, he explained “this legislation would significantly jeopardize states’ rights and the efforts made to protect wild Alaskan salmon.”

It seems reasonable to believe Young because the bill conflicts with one he introduced months ago which would require product labeling of genetically modified fish sold anywhere in America. And Alaska’s wild salmon is the one area where he consistently reserves his opposition to federally regulating any industry

Similarly, on the surface it appears the GOP as a whole has contradicted this core tenet of their governing philosophy, but a voluntary labeling program isn’t real regulation.

It’s not the first issue where the GOP has shown their true colors by revealing a pecking order that puts industry interests ahead of everything else, including public health concerns and local decision making. In Texas, where Republicans have significant majorities in both houses, they invalidated local prohibitions against hydraulic fracturing. Despite evidence to the contrary, residents are being told to trust that the industry can use this method to extract oil and gas without polluting sources of drinking water.

On a national scale, the GOP is asking us to trust the food industry. Sure, organizations like the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food support this bill. But the SFA and American Beverage Association are members of that trade organization. It’s hard to imagine companies like Frito Lay and Coca Cola are concerned with long term health implications of the food products they manufacture and sell.

“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” is the title of a lengthy New York Times Magazine exposé on the industry, written by Michael Moss more than two years ago. A Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Moss interviewed more than 300 people working in or formerly employed by processed food companies, including scientists, marketing specialists and CEOs. He tells disturbing stories about how the industry spends a fortune to make their products addictive to consumers without seriously considering public health.

So, why would Congress trust businesses engaged in such practices while developing a law to regulate them. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, claims the “scientific community has spoken with one voice” on this issue. However, like most members of his party, Pompeo doesn’t trust the vast majority of scientist who believe human activity is contributing to warming the planet. That’s one more contradiction that says we shouldn’t trust Republican lawmakers with regulating the food we eat.

What’s really behind this bill is big business’ money. In America, that speaks louder than “we the people.” Not so in the European Union. They’ve had mandatory labeling for foods containing GMOs since 1997. And according to most polls, among the American public there’s bipartisan support for us to follow their lead.

Rep. Young has it right with his bill to label genetically modified fish. He needs to expand it to include all foods. To do that he must find the courage to challenge his party and a powerful industry that prefers us not to know that they’re selling us genetically modified food.

Originally Published: Juneau Empire