GMO and 'right to know'

GMO and 'right to know'

House approval of voluntary GMO labeling bill actually a win for intelligent choices

I’m scrolling my Facebook feed today and I stumble upon a link to “The DARK Act: What’s Next?” that a distant family member shared and added how much this “upsets” her and how “we have a right to know exactly what is in our food.”

What upsets me is how this whole “right to know” campaign has gotten out of hand. For farmers, I think you will agree that finally commonsense prevailed in the House.

You may have heard the House voted July 23 by a count of 275-150 in favor of H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and over 100 co-sponsors. The bill has been in the works for over two years and made several changes along the way to help maintain the integrity of GMO-labeling and the role of the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture throughout the process. (Read more on the story here.)

That whole premise of right to know what’s in your food really can start to spin when you read an article such as, “Actually, all food is full of chemicals.” As the article states, “…there’s no shortcut to consumer knowledge. Yep. There are tons of chemicals in your banana, and your can of beans is processed.”

The confusion about GMO continues to baffle me as 88% of scientists agreed that GMOs are "generally safe" to eat. By contrast, only 37% of the public agreed that GMOs were safe.

During debate on H.R. 1599 Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, called the House GMO-labeling bill as an “anti-consumer, anti-right-to-know bill that would prevent families from making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to buy food with GMO ingredients.”

Thank goodness the majority of the House didn’t buy that lie.

Considering that 70-80% of our food likely contains at least some amount of ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops, the “intelligent” thing would be to create a label and pathway that allows for a truthful claim backed by the agency which has experience regulating it, rather than any city council, county commission or statehouse. That’s what the House bill does.

If a consumer wants to buy something without genetically engineered ingredients, this bill allows for a process that verifies and substantiates the claim of non-GMO. Just like organic producers have standards and certification verified by the USDA, this too would put USDA and FDA in the same position to help verify the safety and validity of non-GMO and GMO products.

The American Soybean Association said the bill empowers and guides those companies who wish to label and market their products at GMO-free to do so through a USDA-accredited certification process.

“ASA believes this approach, which would label a select subset of products marketed at a premium, makes far more sense than labeling the vast majority of common, everyday products in the grocery store. What it also avoids is the inevitable demonization of these products based on debunked science and willful misinformation,” said Wade Cowan, ASA president and Texas soybean farmer.

This spring, the International Food Information Council Foundation released a study which asked consumers what information they look at on a package before purchasing. Statements about the absence of certain food ingredients was at 13%, while country of origin labeling was 15%. Those stats have steadily declined nearly in half over the last three years of the survey.

Taste and price remain the highest driver of consumer purchases, so the higher food costs mandatory labeling brings passes costs to everyone. A Cornell University study found those costs could be as much as $500 per year for consumers.

The House measure allows for farmers and food processors to receive a premium for non-GE products, while not burdening the entire system with the liability of wrongly labeling something as well as labeling and segregation costs.

The market, not the government, can help encourage and reward demand for products that consumers want. Hopefully the mistrust can stop and reason can prevail in what has become an unintelligent conversation.

More food for thought:

Five reasons to support the GMO labeling act

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