Action On GMO Labeling Is Needed

With Vermont's GMO-labeling law taking effect in 9 months, the U.S. Senate is feeling pressure to move on GMO-labeling options.

by Dani Yokhna

Food labeling laws could be taking a new turn—make sure your voice is heard.
Environmental Illness Network/Flickr

Time’s a’ticking for the U.S. to put together a uniform genetically modified foods labeling system. Legislators keep saying this is what they want, and if that’s true, they need to get on it. The Senate started a biotechnology hearing last week, and it looks like it’s close to bringing the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (HR 1599) up for discussion.

You might remember that Congress passed this act back in July and sent it to the Senate for approval. Only Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) has stepped up to sponsor the bill; there are no Democrats in the Senate sponsoring it. Now that it’s nearly November, members of the senate are realizing someone needs to do something soon if they don’t want Vermont’s mandatory labeling bill to take effect, starting off a patchwork of GMO-labeling bills from states across the country.

Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is pro-biotech/pro-GMO and supports Americans’ right to know what they’re eating. In her opening statement from the Senate hearing on biotechnology, she says:

“I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements. Frankly, it just won’t work. However, we also need to recognize and respect the interests of many American consumers who care deeply about where and how their food is produced.”

What Stabenow Suggests

Stabenow is not in favor of the current Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act—also known by opponents as the DARK Act, or Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. She is also not supporting the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act (S. 809), which was introduced to this session in February. In her opening hearing statement, she instead outlined her goals for a GMO-labeling law that she thinks can be passed by the end of this year, and I’m hopeful about what these can yield:

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  • “A solution that addresses the problem of a 50-state patchwork of regulations.”
    The current concern is that if Vermont’s GMO-labeling bill says one thing and New Hampshire’s says another and Maine’s says another (and so on), food manufacturers will have heaps of costs associated with labeling foods bound for certain states in different ways. This incongruence would be rather confusing for consumers, too.
  • “A national system of disclosure and transparency for consumers who wish to know more information about their food.”
    The spirit of the current Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act shuts down mandatory GM-food labeling and puts GMO labeling in the control of the Food and Drug Administration. The bill would leave it up to the FDA to decide whether the food was safe (by examining studies done by the food manufacturer, of course), and if they decided that it somehow differed from non-GM food of the same type, they would put a label on it. Stabenow’s statement could mean she backs the voluntary USDA GMO labeling system that was introduced this summer or that she’s looking for something more substantial.
  • “An approach that does not stigmatize biotechnology.”
    I’m going all-out hopeful here in thinking this could mean some kind of consumer-education component to a labeling program. Farmers and food manufacturers that work with GM foods are concerned that consumers will shun products with a GM label on them because consumers don’t understand what the label actually means. I continue to say that I am not fully anti-GM/anti-biotech, rather I am not OK with the effects that the production of some of these crops and foods have on human and environmental health. So to not stigmatize biotechnology could mean to inform people of the full picture of biotechnology and let them make their own decisions about their food.

Get On It

I’m sure that upon reading my blog entry about the DARK Act back in July, you jumped on the telephone and called your senator to voice your opinion immediately. (You did that, right?) And now I’m asking you to exercise the basic right given to you in this democratic society to do so again. If you’d like to see GMO foods get a label, tell your senator! If you’d like to not have mandatory GMO labeling, tell him that, too! Whatever your position, don’t miss this chance to speak up.

There are just four steps (really easy!):

  1. Watch this three-minute video to see how smoothly a call to your senator will most likely go.
  2. Make some notes about what you’d like to say to your senator about the passage of a GMO-labeling bill. Be brief and clear with your ideas. Ask him to vote one way or another.
  3. Find your senator’s telephone number.
  4. Pick up the phone. Your call will likely be answered by a legislative staffer who will be very nice to you, or it will go to voicemail, which is an easy and less stressful option.

You do not have the right to whine and moan that GMOs didn’t get labeled or that GMOs did get labeled if you do not do this simple task. Your legislators work for you, so tell them how you—their bosses!—want to see them vote. With the Safe and Affordable Labeling Act coming into Senate hearings, this really might be the last chance you have to constructively voice your opinion on GMO labeling!

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