While genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not banned in the U.S. — the amount of GMO crops grown in the country has only increased in the last 10 years — there continues to be widespread support for requiring GMO products to be labeled. A recent poll conducted by The New York Times showed 93% of respondents supported mandatory labeling.
Members of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, a group representing the food supply chain focused on food safety and GMO education, recently met with members of Congress and the Senate recently to urge them to create a federal standard for labeling foods made with GMOs*. While states continue to consider or pass their own GMO labeling laws, members of the food industry struggle to adhere to the “maze of differing” mandates, the coalition said. A nationwide, uniform law on labeling would erase this complexity, the group said.
Among coalition members who traveled to Washington, D.C., last week include representatives from food companies, farming groups, seed producers and co-ops.
“A patchwork approach to labeling would force farmers to implement costly new crop segregation techniques, create confusion in the marketplace and would limit choices both for consumers and American farmers,” the coalition said in a release last week. “We are determined to make sure Congress knows just how vital this issue is to the farmers we represent.”
Congress passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act in July, which the Senate now has to debate and decide on. The law would create a national GMO-free certification program, making it possible for consumers to determine if their food contains GMO ingredients.
GMO Regulations Abroad
The U.S. is a global leader in GMO crops, however, and we have come to rely on them. As of 2012, more than 40% of all acres of land dedicated to growing GMO crops, the U.S. accounted for 40% of them. About 93% of soybeans, 90% of cotton and 90% of all corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.
A report published on the Library of Congress’ web site states, “Compared to other countries, regulation of GMOs in the US is relatively favorable to their development. GMOs are an economically important component of the biotechnology industry, which now plays a significant role in the US economy.”
The Future of GMO Laws in the US
Vermont passed its Genetically Engineered Food Labeling Act last year and requires that all food and beverage products sold in the state to have a proper label identifying any GMO ingredients. Companies have until July 2016 to comply with the law.
Other states are working on similar laws, such as New York and Massachusetts. But the Vermont law is facing criticism – a number of groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and International Dairy Foods Association have sued to block the law from taking effect. The Grocery Manufacturers Association says another state-specific law will end in a complicated “patchwork” of GMO labeling policies.
Consumer Union, the policy and advocacy group of Consumer Reports, supports the Vermont law, however. The need for such laws is clear: “The debate over GMO labeling is about consumers’ right to know what they are eating."
*This sentence has been updated with the correction that the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food wishes to have a federal standard for labeling foods made with GMOs, not a nationwide law mandating foods made with GMOs be labeled.