Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas announced legislation that will require the labeling of GMOs nationally — kind of.
The legislation will be more lenient than a mandate slated to go into effect in Vermont July 1, however. Vermont's law would require products with biotech ingredients to be labeled as produced or partially produced with genetic engineering. Under the Roberts-Stabenow deal, that text would be optional: "Companies could instead use a symbol or an electronic label accessed by smartphone," reports the Associated Press.
In a statement, Roberts said the legislation will protect producers and inform consumers. "Unless we act now, Vermont law denigrating biotechnology and causing confusion in the marketplace is the law of the land," said Roberts. "Our marketplace — both consumers and producers — needs a national biotechnology standard to avoid chaos in interstate commerce."
Among the bill's key provisions is that it essentially preempts Vermont's law from being enacted altogether. As it reads, the Roberts-Stabenow legislation will "immediately prohibit states or other entities from mandating labels of food or seed that is genetically engineered. "
Though it mandates a "national standard" for GMO labeling, the requirements are lax. As it is written, the bill would allow companies to select almost any method to disclose the use of GMOs in a product — including QR codes, 800-numbers, websites, and, of course, on-pack labeling. Which begs the question, what company is going to label its product "Warning: Contains GMOs" when it could just slap a QR code or 800-number on the package instead?
Additionally, the Roberts-Stabenow bill will exempt any type of meat product: "Foods where meat, poultry, and egg products are the main ingredient are exempted. The legislation prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from considering any food product derived from an animal to be bioengineered solely because the animal may have eaten bioengineered feed."
According to OpenSecrets, agriculture was one of the top five industries to contribute to Roberts' campaigns in recent years. Crop production was one of the top five to contribute to Stabenow's campaigns. So it's perhaps unsurprising that groups such as the American Soybean Association have expressed their support of the duo's measure.
In a press release, the group said the bill would "remove the stigmatization that comes with explicit language on products." That's because, according to ASA first vice president Ron Moore, consumers "react negatively when presented with a product containing a warning label." Moore was quoted in the ASA's release as saying stricter GMO labels would result in more expensive food. "If consumers panic and run from these products based on false stigmatization, companies are forced to reformulate away from this safe and affordable technology."
The Center for Food Safety called the bill a "blow to to the food movement and America's right to know" in a press release sent out Thursday afternoon. Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell went so far as to say it was,"in many ways worse than prior iterations of the DARK Act that were defeated - it is a blank check for biotech."
The so-called DARK Act, otherwise known as the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act, was also introduced by Senator Pat Roberts. That bill would have made GMO labeling for foods strictly voluntary, and prevented states from enacting their own legislature to mandate GMO labeling. The Senate blocked that bill in March.
According to Kimbrell, Roberts' new legislation is just the DARK Act 2.0 — one essentially crafted to benefit Big Ag, and keep consumers in the dark.
Daren Bakst, a Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank), agrees that the new bill is even worse than the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act — but for entirely different reasons. "The issue of mandatory labeling is about misleading consumers by giving the impression that there's something wrong with genetically-engineered food," he says. "It legitimizes bad science."
Though much has been made of the cost of enacting such a bill (companies would have to pay increased labeling costs in order to comply, for instance), Bakst says there's a larger concern: that the law would essentially allow the federal government to compel speech — a First Amendment violation.
"Satisfying the curiosity of consumers is not valid justification for the government to compel speech," he says. "Labeling costs are important, but they pale in comparison to these other concerns — compelled speech, misleading consumers."
If the legislation is enacted, he says, the federal government could face lawsuits regarding that very issue. Agriculture and biotechnology, he adds, could suffer as a result of the bill, no matter how weak it might seem.
"Terms like 'genetic engineering' or 'genetically modified' don't sound very good and there's a lot of misinformation out there," says Bakst. "Biotechnology and agriculture has all kinds of incredible potential to help keep people safe from dangerous pests, to feed the world... that's something that we don't want to risk."
Polls have shown the vast majority of U.S. residents are in favor of labeling GMOs (some surveys have found as many as 77 percent of respondents strongly favor the idea). Yet some studies suggest that genetically engineered or modified ingredients are just as safe as conventional crops.
Update, 5:28 p.m.: This post has been updated to include statements from Daren Bakst and the Center for Food Safety.
Pretty Much Everyone Is in Favor of GMO Labeling [E]
GMOs Have No Impact on Human Health, New Study Claims [E]
All GMO Coverage [E]
Senators reach deal on GMO labeling [AP]
what was officially said and what not.
The original source for the story is attributed to a German left daily, TAZ which printed excerpts from an interview with an official spokeswoman of Monsanto Germany.
Ursula Lüttmer-Ouazane reportedly told Taz "We've come to the conclusion that this has no broad acceptance at the moment.”
Her remarks were circulated worldwide and Reuters interviewed Monsanto corporate spokesman Thomas Helscher who reportedly said, "We're going to sell the GM seeds only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system. As far as we're convinced this only applies to a few countries in Europe today, primarily Spain and Portugal."
A Monsanto interview with a leftist German paper created the impression around the world that the world’s largest patent-holder of GMO seeds is in full retreat from pushing their GMO seeds, at least in the European Union. The reality is anything but that. Among other things, on June 10 the EU Commission plans to approve a new Monsanto GMO maize sort.
What Monsanto really says…
ers can avoid hexane-extracted foods in the grocery store. View the report in online buyers guide: www.cornucopia.org
When I Look at Candy, All I See Is Petrochemicals and GMO
Agra and Kellogg’s will soon begin labeling their food products which contain Genetically Modified or Engineered Organisms. The announcement comes in response to Vermont’s recently passed GMO labeling law, which goes into effect in July 2016. In a statement provided to Agri-Pulse, Kellogg North America President Paul Norman said some of the company’s products would be labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering” as soon as mid-April. Norman said the labels will appear nationwide “because a special label for Vermont would be costly for us and our consumers.”
“We stand behind the health and safety of all of our products, including those with genetically modified ingredients, and believe consumers should be informed as to what’s in their food,” ConAgra Foods said in a statement. ConAgra agreed with Kellogg, stating that state-by-state labels would be costly and complicated. The company also called on Congress to pass a “national solution as quickly as possible.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a similar decision from Mars Incorporated, the company that owns many popular chocolate candy brands. The company will label its products nationwide, including M&M’s, SNICKERS, Dove, Galaxy, Mars, Milky Way, TWIX, 3 MUSKETEERS and more. A week before, General Mills’ announced that it would voluntarily label products containing genetically-modified or engineered ingredients.
Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President for General Mills’ U.S. Retail, Jeff Harmening, said the company could not exclusively label their products in Vermont without driving up the cost for consumers. Harmening also said GM was disappointed that a national solution has not been reached.
One “national solution” that has been proposed is Senate Bill 2609, or the Biotech Labeling Solutions Act. The legislation, introduced by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) in late February, would create a federal voluntary standard for labeling genetically modified or engineered ingredients, and block mandatory labeling efforts by states. GE seeds are engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides. The majority of the United States’ corn and soybean crops are now GE, including a large portion that is used for animal feed.
The bill recently failed to reach the 60 votes needed during a procedural vote, with 49 votes in favor and 48 votes against. The bill would “amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a national voluntary labeling standard for bioengineered foods.”
Roberts’ bill is similar to the controversial Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which passed the House in June 2015. To critics, the bill was known as the “DARK” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act because the law would have effectively nullified GE labeling measures, such as the Vermont bill. Senator Roberts’ bill would prevent the Vermont bill from becoming law. Lawmakers say that a new bill is necessary to avoid a “patchwork” of laws that vary from state to state. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring labeling, but those measures will not go into effect until bordering states also pass legislation.
Whole Foods Market Inc, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and Campbell Soup Co have also begun voluntarily labeling products with genetically engineered ingredients. Perhaps the companies recognize that involving the U.S. government will only create more problems, especially when the government is so heavily interlaced with biotechnology companies like Monsanto. It appears as if companies are finally recognizing that the American people want to know what is in their food. As Anti Media recently noted, it seems as if “Vermont, one of the smallest states in the Union, might have just managed a coup for consumers” by being bold enough to pass a labeling law that is inadvertently persuading food manufacturers to voluntarily label their products.…
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