By: Jason Best

A staggering majority of Americans think genetically engineered foods should be clearly labeled. Why isn’t D.C. listening?

Even if you’ve grown cynical about the outsize influence of special interests in politics, the fight in Washington, D.C., over whether or not to require foods made with genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such is enough to get your blood boiling.

Yep, mere days after the feds approved the sale of genetically modified salmon for human consumption, here we have the results of yet another poll that shows a vast majority of Americans want GMO foods to be clearly labeled. Just how many Americans? Almost 90 percent.

The new figure, from a poll conducted by The Mellman Group and commissioned by a coalition of nonprofit consumer and environmental organizations, confirms the results from scads of past polls—namely, lots and lots and lots of Americans think food makers should be required to label foods made with GMOs. 

It’s not just Democrats who overwhelmingly support GMO labeling (92 percent), but also independents (89 percent) and Republicans (84 percent). No matter how you slice and dice the demographics—by gender, age, race, or geography—no less than 80 percent of respondents, and often upwards of 90 percent, believe the Food and Drug Administration should come up with a mandatory GMO label. They’re not ambivalent about the issue either: A 77 percent supermajority of Americans overall say they “strongly” favor such labeling, according to the new poll.

At a time when there’s been so much emphasis on what divides us as a nation, you’d think when we come across an issue that almost all of us can agree on—one with an approval rating somewhere up near, say, support for bald eagles or National Grandparents Day—it would be a no-brainer for our elected representatives in our nation’s capital to get on board.

Well, hello, Mr. Smith, where are you going—Washington?

Far from tripping over one another to cosponsor legislation that a staggering majority of their constituents would seem to support, 275 members of the House of Representatives are doing precisely the opposite, voting earlier this year to pass the euphemistically titled Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which critics have dubbed the “Denying Americans the Right to Know” (DARK) Act. That law would nullify any and all state efforts to require GMO labeling, such as the law passed in Vermont in 2014, while making the labeling of foods with GMO ingredients strictly voluntary for food makers.

Now, under the guise of transparency, we get one of the food industry’s largest trade groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, putting out its own plan to address the controversy. The organization’s “SmartLabel” program will allow consumers with smartphones to scan a product to see a standardized Web page that offers information about nutrition, ingredients, and the like.  

Critics see the proposal as nothing but disingenuous. Sure, providing tech-savvy consumers another way to access more information about the groceries they buy is super—not least for marketers, who can then surreptitiously gather all sorts of insights about your shopping habits. But consumers don’t want an optional bar code that must be scanned for them to see whether the product contains GMO ingredients—and that’s only when the company decides it wants you to know that information. They want mandatory on-the-package labels.

How do we know? The Mellman Group poll asked that question as well. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they strongly favor printed labels over bar code labels; that’s probably because only 5 percent said they regularly scan a bar code to get information about a product in the first place.

“Americans have yet again expressed an overwhelming desire to know what’s in their food,” Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, one of the poll sponsors, said in a statement. “Shoppers want to see clear labels on food packaging that tell them if products are made with genetically engineered ingredients without having to use confusing codes or smartphone apps. We hope lawmakers hear consumers’ call for meaningful, mandatory national GMO labeling.”

Are you listening, Washington?

Originally Published: TakePart