While I did not personally see any airborne swine, I am sure they were out there someplace; and, undoubtedly, there were icebergs forming in the River Styx, as Congress took the unusual and quite uncharacteristic step of using sound science and a dose of common sense on two pieces of controversial agricultural legislation. One of these was H.R. 1559.
Last week, the House passed H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which would establish a national, voluntary framework for the labeling of foods either containing or not containing genetically engineered ingredients. This action came in an atmosphere of political divisiveness and consumer fear mongering.
Anti-GMO groups have known from the beginning they could not get a mandatory labeling bill passed by Congress. This is why they started their legislative efforts in individual states, like Vermont. While I am generally an advocate for states’ rights, there are circumstances when having uniform federal regulations make sense: food labels, for one. The measure passed by the House does NOT prevent food makers from labeling their products that contain GMOs. It simply does not require such labels on all food products. The amount of misinformation and disinformation on the topic of GMO labels has been tremendous. While those who oppose the House legislation claim this bill is actually hiding things from consumers, in reality it is giving more information to consumers.
The legislation would require developers of genetically engineered plants to obtain FDA safety clearance on all new plant varieties before those foods are introduced into commerce; uphold FDA’s authority to specify special labeling if it finds a health or safety risk is posed by such a variety; create a legal framework governing the use of label claims regarding either the absence or presence of GMOs in a food product; require FDA to define the term ‘natural’ on food labels. So, not only does this legislation prevent a patchwork of state by state regulations that would drive up food costs, it also empowers and guides those companies who wish to label and market their products as GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.
You would think this compromise would satisfy those who wish to put “GMO Free” on their packages, but it does not because their real objective all along was to obtain a perceived competitive advantage by forcing products that contain GMO products to label their products. “But what about the consumer’s right to know?” goes the mantra of consumer activists. This legislation actually goes a long way to addressing a consumer’s right to know. It lets the consumer know that the safety of any GMO crop has been reviewed by the FDA before it has been allowed into the food supply. It also gives the consumer some idea of what the overused and often misused term ‘natural’ means. “Mandatory labeling of safe products that contain genetically modified material does a disservice to both producers and consumers, raising costs, creating confusion and generating fear,” said Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock.
Passage of this legislation is a major step forward for efforts to bring some sound science and common sense to the GMO debate. It is, however, not the end. More legislative hurdles remain. Anti-GMO forces are well-organized and well-financed both in Washington and on social media channels. But it gives me hope that, if we can convince Congressmen of the validity of sound science and common sense, perhaps we can reach the mothers of the world.
By Gary Truitt