With the US Senate set to vote on a bill establishing a national voluntary labeling standard for foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), opponents are racing to gather support and introduce their own legislation.
Earlier this month, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee passed legislation that would preempt any state law requiring the labeling of products containing GMOs and establish a national voluntary labeling standard. After this vote, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, and others introduced alternative legislation they say will ensure consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging without burdening food manufacturers with confusing or conflicting labeling requirements as a result of state-by-state laws.
“Rather than blocking consumers’ access to the information they want, the US Senate should move forward with a solution that works for businesses and consumers alike,” says Merkley. “There is a way to give consumers the information they are asking for without placing unfair or conflicting requirements on food producers. This legislation provides the commonsense pathway forward.”
Though the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association and many others in the food industry have opposed a mandatory labeling standard, Merkley’s bill is picking up some support from the industry. So far, the legislation has been endorsed by Amy’s Kitchen, Ben and Jerry’s, Campbell Soup Company, Consumers Union, Just Label It and Nature’s Path. “The legislation reflects Campbell’s support for mandatory national standards for labeling foods made with GMOs,” says Kelly Johnston, vice president of government affairs for Campbell Soup Company.
Named The Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act, the bill calls for the clear labeling of foods containing GMOs and offers food manufacturers several options for including this information on or near the ingredients list.
Specifically, the act would require manufacturers to disclose the presence of GM ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways:
-Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate it is “genetically engineered.”
-Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.
-Manufacturers may simply apply a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering.”
-The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, which would be placed on the packaging to clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients.
None of these options would require front panel disclosures or “warning” statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.
GMO labeling has been a controversial topic in recent months. Opponents of a national labeling standard argue consumers have the right to know what ingredients are in their food and how they are sourced, often dubbing these laws DARK acts or the “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act,” which they say are anti-democratic. Vermont, Connecticut and Maine have all passed legislation requiring the mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs.