GMO labelling

Vermont vs Science: The little state that could kneecap the biotech industry

Per capita, Vermont has more organic farms than any other state. Montpelier is America’s only McDonald’s-free state capital. A fitting place, then, for a law designed to satisfy the unfounded fears of foodies. Vermont, today, became the first state to enact a law requiring labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients after the governor signed the bill into law. The bill will go into effect in July 2016.

Repeated studies have found no threat to human health from GM ingredients, which are found in up to four-fifths of processed food in American shops; nor have any ill effects appeared during the 20 years in which Americans have been eating the stuff.

Indeed, ever since the genetically engineered Flavr Savr tomato reached supermarket shelves in 1994 Americans have taken a more relaxed approach to the technology than much of the rest of the world. Some 64 countries, including the 28 of the European Union, require labelling. America does not, but that is changing.

In 2012 and 2013 GM-labelling initiatives in, respectively, California and Washington state failed narrowly after biotech and food companies spent millions on ads to persuade voters that they would be costly and pointless.

Last year Maine and Connecticut passed labelling laws, though both have trigger provisions stopping them from taking effect until nearby states follow suit. Generic polling finds 90% or more of Americans in favour of compulsory labelling. Over a million have signed petitions urging the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees national food-labelling rules, to mandate labelling of GM food. (In 1992 the FDA ruled that since there was no material difference between GM and non-GM food, labelling was not required.)

Rural Vermont’s website has a cartoon depicting GM foods as radioactive mutant creatures with eyes on stalks. But most campaigners downplay the wildest claims about Frankenfoods, preferring to emphasise consumer choice, which is hard for GM food producers to argue against.

If they lobby to suppress information, consumers may wrongly assume they have something to hide. Yet if the government requires labels, consumers may assume that this is an official health warning, even if it isn’t. Europeans shunned GM food after labels were introduced, and many European supermarkets declare themselves (not entirely accurately) GM-free. The same could happen in America.

“The activists did a great job of scaring people about their food sources,” sighs Norm McAllister, a farmer (and Republican state senator) who grows GM corn in Vermont.

GM: Odd PrioritiesThe fatuous fear of Frankenfoods

Genetic modification is one of the most promising tools for feeding a global population that will one day hit 9 or 10 billion. Yet its development depends partly on consumers in rich countries, since the 842m malnourished people don’t have much spare cash. As with other technologies, the techniques honed in rich countries tend eventually to spread to poor ones. But if greens scare Americans into rejecting GM food entirely, that benign process may be interrupted.

Vermont (population 626,000) is small enough that food firms could withdraw their products from its shelves at no great cost. But dozens of states, including California, are considering labelling bills. If they pass, America would have a patchwork of labelling laws, creating a financial and logistical headache. Food firms would have to separate GM from non-GM ingredients, disrupting the whole supply chain. Prices would rise for everyone.

Aware of the threat, the food industry is seeking federal help. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry body, has convened 35 food organisations to lobby for a law that would oblige the FDA to test all new GM traits before they reach the shelves, and to finalise guidelines for a voluntary labelling regime. Crucially, this would preclude state laws that mandate labelling, like Vermont’s.

The organic lobby, naturally, cries foul. But, points out Greg Jaffe of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, in other countries compulsory labelling has tended to restrict consumers’ choice; try finding GM products in European supermarkets. As things stand, those who want to avoid GM foods can buy organic products. Moreover, state laws are often badly written; the California and Washington initiatives contained impossible-to-attain “zero-tolerance” provisions that could have led to endless lawsuits….

The Economist: Read the full article

Vermont’s GMO labelling Law: What it really means for consumers

By substantial majorities, the Vermont legislature recently passed a bill to require labels on “genetically modified” foods. Governor Peter Shumlin signed it into law on Thursday, today. Everyone paying attention expects a lawsuit (which VT is certain to lose).

What is this all about? Spoiler alert: It’s not about safety, it’s not about choice, and it’s not about transparency. It’s about special interests abusing the power of the state to promote their ideology at the expense of safe food, more sustainable agriculture and lower prices.

It should first be noted that all food, produced by whatever method, is genetically modified by any definition that respects the facts of nature. Genetic modification is the essential and unavoidable foundation of life, and all the techniques biotechnologists use are derived directly from what we find happening everywhere in nature. Given this, the overbroad definition of “genetic modification” enshrined in the bill will make enforcement difficult, to say the least, and is even less scientifically sound than those laws decreeing pi to be 3.00 to secure the compelling state interest in making geometry calculations more convenient.

Second, there is an overwhelming global scientific consensus on the safety of biotech improved crops and foods. This consensus is reflected in numerous examples, including the fact that the European Union has spent more than 300 million Euros over 25 years on 131 studies involving more than 400 research groups, leading them to conclude “the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make [GM foods] even safer than conventional plants and foods.”

Food Safety News: Read the full article