As anti-Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) campaigners continue their crusade to mandate GMO labeling, it is clear that their efforts are not geared to advance the public interest but rather to work against it.   

American farmers have used GMOs for more than two decades, and in that time every major scientific and health organization, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has concluded GMOs are as safe as any other food. These truths have been problematic for anti-GMO groups, who initially tried to create fears of health risks. But the overwhelming scientific data has forced these activists to change their attack to something that also is flawed: a claim that their efforts help the consumers ‘right to know.’  

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As a general notion this seems logical, but when applied to the GMO debate it is clear that mandatory labels mislead rather than inform. 

Mandating GMO labels will raise consumer concerns over the product’s safety. The average American may not be familiar with the scientific facts, and will assume that a product is labeled because it is not as safe as its GMO-free equivalent. Make no mistake: this is what the ‘right to know’ campaigners want. Their goal is to scare Americans away from GM food using a deceiving label, and they are trying to get laws passed to do just that.  

In the first three months of 2015, 40 bills pertaining to GMO labeling were introduced in 20 different states. Vermont is slated to begin enforcing their new GMO labeling mandates next summer. 

These state proposals are filled with loopholes and contradictions, and consumers’ confusion will only grow due to the patchwork of regulations from state to state. For example, the Vermont law would label vegetable soup as “GM” but vegetable beef soup would not be labeled because meats are exempt under the law. Cheese and beer get a pass too. In addition, anti-GMO proposals in other states have been filled with exemptions, allowing dietary supplements, milk, gum, alcohol, and cheese to go label-free despite the fact that they may contain GMOs. Loopholes big enough for a Jersey cow to pass through make it clear that the Vermont law is a very expensive talking point in a deceitful campaign to steer consumers to fewer and more expensive groceries. 

Forcing GMOs to be labeled would also be a massive and expensive undertaking. GM products constitute 70 to 80 percent of all the food Americans eat, making these products the norm, not the exception. A study by Nature Biotechnology found that mandating labels to such a massive number of products would cost the government $1 billion, while a study done by a Cornell University professor said that state labeling mandates could increase the average American family of four’s food costs by $500 a year.   

Historically, the government has limited labeling requirements to information that is essential for consumers to know. As the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, recently testified before Congress, “If we mandated everything on a label, the consumers don’t know what is the most critical information…The things that are most critical are either safety information or nutritional information. This doesn’t qualify there.”   

The best way to truly address concerns about a ‘right to know’ is through a uniform solution that applies to people everywhere regardless of where they live or shop, not a state-by-state patchwork approach. This solution exists in the bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which would ensure that the FDA maintains its authority over food labeling and establish a GMO-free certification program, similar to the successful National Organics Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

Under this bill, consumers would have better access to more reliable information about the issues they care about.  This is a meaningful solution that seeks to elevate the public interest rather than wrongly stir up public hysteria, and Congress should pass it this year. 

 

Bailey is president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.