By: Peter Marcus

DENVER – Colorado activists are mounting a campaign to oppose federal legislation that would prohibit states from requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, despite Colorado voters already rejecting mandatory labeling. 

The coalition – including Food and Water Watch – points to a Republican-led effort in Congress that aims at “safe and accurate” food labeling, though the group believes the legislation is deceptive. 

The bill would tighten standards companies must use to designate GMO-free foods, while also preventing individual states from requiring GMO labels by pre-empting any state and local labeling requirements.

Supporters of the legislation say labeling falls short because safety data do not support that GMOs are dangerous. However, given growing concerns around GMOs in recent years, the bill underscores that voluntary labeling must meet tough standards, including that crops are not planted with bioengineered seeds and animals are not fed bioengineered food.

In a dramatic protest, blindfolded activists this week delivered 900 letters to Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, calling on the Democrat to oppose the legislation. The group claims that without labeling, people are kept in the dark about where their food comes from.

“As a mom, one of the most intimate and important decisions I make is what food I choose to feed my family. As a nation, we ought to be making transparency the norm when it comes to the food we purchase, giving parents and individuals the information they need to make the best choices for them and their families,” said Melissa Munoz, a Denver resident and mother of two.

Last year, Colorado voters were presented with a ballot question that would have required the labeling of GMOs. But voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, 65 percent to 35 percent. 

Farmers and producers fought the initiative with large amounts of cash, pointing to concerns about costs and highlighting that the initiative would raise the price of food for consumers. They also raised fears around competition, suggesting that the mandate would put farmers and producers at a disadvantage compared with other states and nations.

Questions were even raised as to whether the initiative would have had teeth, with exemptions for chewing gum, alcoholic beverages, foods prepared for immediate consumption, restaurant food and foods derived entirely from an animal, such as milk and meat.

A spokeswoman for Bennet said the senator plans on reviewing the GMO issue as it makes its way through the legislative process. 

“The Senate Agriculture Committee has just begun its consideration of biotechnology and GMO issues. Our hope is these discussions result in common-sense bipartisan legislation that takes into account input from consumers and the agriculture community,” said Bennet spokeswoman Erin McCann.

GMO-labeling proponents point to a 2013 New York Times poll of U.S. consumers, which found that 93 percent of Americans favored a mandatory labeling program. They say Colorado voters rejected the labeling initiative last year only because of a “misinformation campaign launched by Big Agribusinesses and junk-food companies.”

“It should be a fundamental right that consumers know what is in the food they eat and feed to their families,” said Bill Midcap, director of external affairs for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “Consumers should be fully informed and free to choose between genetically modified or non-genetically modified foods.”

Originally Published: Durango Herald