Congress continues to battle over food labels, with a recent victory for the public interest.
People who want to know what they’re eating can read Nutrition Fact labels, which the U.S. Food & Drug Administration requires to list the nutritional content of the food product.
In recent years, scientists have developed ways to bypass natural changes in foods by tinkering with their genetic makeup. The results are called genetically modified organisms or GMOs.
The FDA says that GMOs do not differ nutritionally from other foods, and has not required labeling of GMOs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, says that GMOs do not qualify as organic foods.
Still, many consumers—the overwhelming majority, in fact—want to know if fruits and vegetables are GMOs and if food products in grocery stores contain GMOs. Consumers are concerned that GMOs could produce seeds that float into fields of organic foods and change them, or that GMOs have undiscovered ill affects on our health or the environment, or that GMOs enable agribusiness to control the market for seeds. (Historically, farmers would simply save seeds from one year’s crop to plant in the following year.)
Monsanto Corporation and a few other companies that develop GMOs strongly oppose labels that identify GMOs, believing that consumers will interpret such labels as warnings and avoid such foods. Several countries have either banned GMOs or required them to be labeled. In the U.S., some local governments have banned GMOs and several states have tried to pass laws requiring labeling, but industry lobbyists succeeded with intensive campaigns to defeat those initiatives.
One state, Vermont, has approved a GMO labeling law that is to go into effect on July 1st. Some food industry companies opposed Vermont’s law legally, but lost in court. Those opponents have asked Congress to block the states, including Vermont, from requiring GMO labels.
On March 1, 2016, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the National Voluntary Bioengineered Food Labeling Standard (S. 2609) to (a) allow voluntary labeling of GMO foods, (b) prohibit states from requiring GMO labels, and (c) mandate a federal program to promote consumer acceptance of agricultural biotechnology.
Several consumer groups called this legislation the Denying A Right to Know (DARK) Act and urged consumers to ask their state senators to vote it down. These groups want mandatory labeling on the packages of food products, using clear language and not codes, symbols or acronyms. They dismiss industry claims that such labels would increase the cost of foods: two large companies, Campbell and General Mills, soon will begin labeling GMOs without added costs.
The Senate quickly rejected S. 2609 with a margin of eleven votes. Senator Roberts has vowed to sweeten it a little and bring it back.
Meanwhile, a group of six senators introduced Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act (S. 2621) to establish a requirement for standard labeling of GMO foods. The sponsors include Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT).
If you wish to avoid GMOs, your best option is to buy organic foods. By federal law, foods labeled as organic cannot contain GMOs.
The plant exchanges are springing into action! Several occur each year in the Monterey Bay area. The first one spotted, a monthly occasion, begins Saturday, March 26th (yes, tomorrow) at the Live Oak Grange Hall parking lot, 1900 17th Ave, Santa Cruz. Plant exchanges bring together gardeners who prefer to share their surplus plants with other gardeners who enjoy expanding their gardens without cost. Great tradition!