Vermont is again poised to be the one who steps out on labeling requirements.
In 1995 it mandated the labeling of any dairy products containing milk from cows treated with rBST (recombinant bovine Somatotropin). And now, it’s poised to require labeling of any retail food product that contains genetically engineered materials.
It only took a year for courts to overturn the mandatory rBST labeling law as the courts held that the right of producers not to divulge information on its production methods should be equal to the consumers’ right to know the production methods.
Many of the same concepts are playing out in the GMO labeling debate. And Vermont looks to become the first state to implement it into law. (See the bill under consideration here.)
Cathy Bacon, president of Vermont-based Freedom Foods, shared that the debate isn’t about the government protecting everyone’s right to know where their food comes from. “Everyone already has the right to know; no one is forcing any consumer to buy any product to satisfy their concerns.”
As Bacon said she doesn’t want the “protection” which comes with a multi-million dollar regulatory scheme under states' GMO labeling. If consumers want to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, buy certified organic or even the third-party verified GMO-free certification.
Rick Zimmerman, executive director of the Northeast Agribusiness & Feed Alliance, pinned it accurately when he said the GMO-labeling campaign is really an “elitist campaign.”
“Currently we have choice today, but it will remove choice from the marketplace if you mandate choice,” he said.
Proponents of GMO-labeling have stoked the fires of misunderstanding and outright lies. It’s working for them. Somehow bringing facts into play to offset an emotional perspective goes nowhere.
No one wants to hear that food prices will rise. No one thinks about the small businesses that can’t survive with a regulatory patchwork of confusion between states on GMO labeling.
Despite the many attempts by farmers, commodity groups and agribusinesses to provide reason in the debate, the battle will be fought with millions, possibly billions of dollars, trying to educate states in an effort to slow further enacting labeling mandates.
A federal solution is needed on GMO labeling, but the current proposal on the table might as well be dead on arrival. But as Bacon said, any state that’s allowed to pass regulations that overrule the FDA labeling guidelines is going to create conflict, which is what the federal bill corrects.
The use of rBST was developed using genetic engineering of a naturally occurring hormone in cows. Use resulted in a nearly 20% increase in milk production and improved feed efficiency. But public pressure led many to use labels advertising their nonuse of rBST in the milk production processes, which stigmatized the use.
Zimmerman said the loss of the use of rBST technology was the result of years of court and state debates on rBST labeling. Fortunately, dairy producers in the U.S. have been able to adjust.
If the same occurs with biotechnology, the end result is not going to be the same.
“If we abandon biotechnology because of public pressure, people are going to die,” Zimmerman said, of the inability to meet the world’s growing population with limited resources.
“It is tough head waters to swim against,” Zimmerman shared. “The general public’s lack of understanding of science in our life and the role of the risk of losing it creates a cocktail of confusion which poses a huge threat to our industry and on society.”