First let me say this blog isn’t about the merits of GMO labeling but rather the politics of the GMO-labeling law battle.
That being said, the Grocery Manufacturing Association and its lobbying arm the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food have stomped a mud hole out of Vermont’s mandatory genetically modified organism food labeling law and would-be proponents of labels disclosing “produced with genetic engineering.”
The media by and large wasted little time in drinking the GMA Kool-Aid to report the grand “compromise” reached by members of the Senate Agriculture Committee to bring the nation clear and concise mandatory GMO labels.
The text of the draft bill released by Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) requires mandatory disclosure of GMOs through “text, symbol, or electronic or digital link” on a label selected by the food manufacture.
Well if “contains GMOs” or some such similar language (to be decided by USDA under the bill) is viable why give the GMA the option of forcing consumers to ferret out the information for themselves via a website, toll free phone number or cell phone SmartLabel QR barcode? Why not just let Vermont’s law stand and call it a day?
The answer is the food industry really doesn’t want to make it easy for a shopper with three screaming children to see at glance if a can of tomatoes contains GMOs.
Vermont’s state GMO labeling law solved that. And for awhile it looked like the Vermont pro-GMO labeling crowd had an advocate in Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) who not all that long ago was gumming up efforts by Roberts and the GMA to establish a national voluntary GMO labeling law.
It turns out Stabenow, who feathers her campaign war chest with contributions from numerous agribusinesses, was holding out for a mandatory GMO labeling law. But easy to read GMO labels not so much.
Within hours of Roberts draft bill hitting the Internet on June 23, GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey tweeted out:
“The legislation enables transparency, clarity and consistency in disclosure and reflects the wide variety of ways that consumers will get this information about the foods they buy.”
I say don’t expect that “variety” to include on-label text, no matter what Roberts’ bill says. And here’s the part of the measure that has the GMA and Monsanto sharing high fives in the corporate office aisles.
“Bioengineering … refers to a food that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonuelic acid (DNA) techniques.”
Sounds impressive right? That is until you realize Monsanto and other food-chain companies are quickly moving away from old-fashioned DNA splicing to RNA interference and gene editing techniques such as CRISPER/Cas9 which are exempt under Roberts bill.
Meanwhile the livestock and dairy industries are also exempt. Feed a chicken GMO soybean meal and the slaughtered bird is unadulterated by GMOs. Feed a Holstein cow GMO corn and the produced milk is unadulterated by GMOs.
The $782 billion per year U.S. restaurant industry also gets a free pass under Roberts’ bill.
The bill faces a murky future should it get in its current form to the U.S. House, which last year passed a voluntary GMO labeling measure that looks little like the Roberts-Stabenow mandatory GMO labeling love-fest.
What is clear is that the food manufacturing industry with some exceptions has not yet embraced Vermont’s required “produced with genetic engineering” language.
Vermont’s state law takes effect on Friday. But if it is eventually voided by Roberts’ bill, I would expect a huge constitutional battle to ensue over states’ rights.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.