Labeling food that is genetically modified shouldn't be controversial but the familiar combination of money and politics has made it so. Massachusetts may provide clarity.

The state Legislature in the coming session will consider a bill crafted in the last session mandating foods that have been genetically modified be labeled as such. Genetically modified foods, commonly known as GMOs, have had their DNA modified, primarily to combat potent herbicides that could have adverse health effects on people when consumed.

Labeling proposals routinely generate hysteria among U.S. corporations, which when finally required to provide more information to consumers, as a rule go forward with little or no harm to their profit margins. In the case of GMO labeling, Monsanto and the agri-business giants assert that the labeling will create a stigma and consumers will stop buying genetically modified foods. This will force companies to use organic ingredients that jack up food prices.

Happily, an ongoing controlled experiment called Europe, where GMO foods are labeled and food costs have not risen, is undermining this assertion. Some U.S. companies that are not labeling GMO foods domestically are doing so as is required in 64 foreign countries. A Consumers Union study also refutes the assertion that GMO labeling will cause massive increases in food costs in the U.S.

The issue, as expressed by biologist and farmer Ed Stockman of Plainfield at The Eagle earlier this week, is that "people have a right to know what's in their food." Mr. Stockman and fellow members of the Ma. Right to Know GMOs, which is part of the Massachusetts Coalition for GMO Labeling, came to The Eagle to make the case for the state labeling legislation.

GMO labeling really should be a federal issue, but that would require Washington D.C. to act and act constructively. Last July, on a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled U.S. House passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, its title an apparent tribute to George Orwell. Buried in the bill's boilerplate is this line: "The FDA must allow, but not require, GMO food to be labeled as GMO." In essence, GMO labeling would be voluntary, meaning there would be no GMO labeling. This bill is unlikely to get through the U.S. Senate, but unfortunately the Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act sponsored by Senate Democrats requiring the FDA to clearly label genetically engineered foods isn't going anywhere either.

In another Washington-style irony, labeling advocates are being criticized as "anti-science" by some of the same forces who ignore scientific evidence in refusing to acknowledge the reality of global warming. As Martin Dagoberto, campaign coordinator for MA Right to Know GMOs, said at The Eagle, there is no effort being made to ban GMOs, only to label them, which in no way constitutes an attack on science.

A labeling bill has a far better chance of passage in Boston than in Washington, D.C. State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, told The Eagle the bill has 154 co-sponsors, which is a remarkably high total for any piece of legislation. This includes all of the members of the Berkshire delegation.

The GMO labeling effort is backed by a variety of Berkshire groups. Among them are Berkshire Organics in Dalton, Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, Shire City Herbals in Pittsfield, Baba Louie's Pizza in Great Barrington and Wolfe Spring Farm in Sheffield. Advocacy groups with an interest in good food like Food Net/Community Restart in Pittsfield and Slow Food Western Mass. in Sheffield are also on board with this effort.

Vermont, after fighting off a legal challenge from Monsanto, will implement its labeling law next year. Connecticut has passed a labeling law contingent upon the passage of similar laws in neighboring states. Massachusetts can benefits its consumers and those next door by passing a labeling law this session.

Originally Published: Berkshire Eagle