GMO food labeling agreement is a big win for businesses, consumers and farmers

The strong bipartisan bill on biotechnology disclosure passed overwhelmingly by the U.S. Senate will establish uniform national food labeling standards and promote greater disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients. It is a good solution for businesses, consumers and farmers.
Now it is imperative that the U.S. House of Representatives pass this common-sense legislation before going on recess at the end of this week. Otherwise, there will be long-term, irreversible harm done to our nation’s food supply chain.
 
This impending chaos is created by the State of Vermont, which on July 1st became the first state to begin enforcing a law mandating on-package labels for foods produced with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The biotechnology disclosure bill would prevent the myriad of problems that this small state’s labeling mandate causes for businesses, consumers and farmers.
 
{mosads}By establishing federal disclosure requirements, the bill ensures that food labeling remains a national policy and is not done in a haphazard, costly and confusing patchwork of different state food labeling requirements.
 
And make no mistake. While Vermont would be the first state to begin enforcing a GMO-labeling law, it would not be the last. With each state passing unique laws, manufacturers would have to contend with different definitions, exemptions and requirements. Foods that would need to be labeled as containing GMOs in one state may not be required to do so in another. Food producers and manufacturers will be left spending valuable time and money working to comply with these labeling requirements, instead of focusing on getting food to the marketplace.
 
The United States has the largest and most affordable food supply in the world, with American consumers spending the lowest percentage of their income on food compared to any other country. This is made possible because of a free market governed by a straightforward national food labeling framework that helps streamline the production, manufacturing and delivery of food across the country.
 
Vermont’s law severely disrupts this system with enormous consequences to the food and agriculture sector that accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity. The widespread impacts would be felt everywhere from the corner market to the stock market. A patchwork approach to food labeling also would be confusing for consumers. If the goal of food labels is to inform, imagine the confusion if a product is labeled one way in a state and a different way in the state next door.
 
The bipartisan bill provides for more disclosure of information to consumers about genetically modified ingredients than ever before. It requires companies to disclose this information as soon as definitions and rules are set by the USDA. Companies can meet the disclosure requirement in a range of ways, such as QR codes that link to detailed information, text on the package or an on-package label. The food industry’s SmartLabel™ digital initiative enables consumers to get product information easily and instantaneously through a QR code or a website. SmartLabel™ provides consumers much more information than could ever fit on a label, such as how their food is produced, how animals are treated or how fish are caught.
 
SmartLabel™ puts this information right at the fingertips of consumers, meeting the growing thirst for information.
 
Importantly, the bill would provide greater information about the use of biotechnology without stigmatizing the products that are produced with it. That is what will occur with the Vermont GMO labels, as anti-GMO activists have been clear that they would use required on-package GMO labels to scare consumers away from purchasing these products and attempt to drive biotechnology out of the marketplace, just as it was done in Europe.
 
It’s important to understand that damage from the Vermont law is already being felt. A number of companies are labeling foods sold across the nation to comply with Vermont’s law, making this state’s law the de facto national standard. In addition, several food manufacturers have announced plans to reformulate their products without GMO ingredients in order to avoid putting a stigmatizing label on their product.
 
It is absurd that a state of roughly 600,000 people should be allowed to dictate food policy for the entire nation. But that’s exactly what will happen unless Congress acts to pass this federal law.
 
The stakes are high. Biotechnology in agriculture plays a critical role in ensuring farmers can grow healthier crops while using less pesticides and fewer natural resources like land and water. Every major scientific and health organization, including a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, has confirmed that GMOs are safe as any other food. This technology is too important to be sacrificed in order to appease a small group of activists.
 
This bill reflects the importance of biotechnology, preserves our national system of food labeling and ensures consumers can get new and unprecedented access to information about their food. American businesses, farmers and consumers are counting on the House this week to stand up for them and pass this critically important legislation.

Charles Conner is president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and Pamela G. Bailey is president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. They are co-chairs of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food.

 
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