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    GMO Labeling Act Earns Cheers, Jeers

    Legislation attempts to grapple with controversial issue

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, Stagnito Business Information

    The introduction of the bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act by U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and others, which aims to establish a federal labeling standard for food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), has triggered widely varying responses from different corners of the food industry.

    “The introduction of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act was an important first step to restoring sanity to America’s food labeling laws,” said Martin Barbre, president, National Corn Growers Association, a member of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. “GMOs are perfectly safe, and America’s farmers rely on this proven technology to protect our crops from insects, weeds and drought. Important food safety and labeling decisions should be made by the scientists and qualified policymakers at the FDA, not political activists and campaigns. A federal solution on GMO labeling will bolster consumer confidence in the safety of American food, while giving farmers and food producers the certainty we need to continue providing safe, affordable food for America’s families.”

    According to the coalition, which also includes the American Beverage Association, the American Frozen Food Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Confectioners Association, the National Turkey Federation and the Snack Food Association, the legislation reaffirms the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the United States’ only authority on food safety and labeling requirements, thereby “avoiding an expensive and confusing patchwork of state-by-state labeling laws.”

    Further provisions of the legislation would "require the FDA to approve all new GM ingredients before they are brought to market and … set a federal standard for the labeling definition of ‘natural’ foods,” according to the coalition.

    The DARK Side

    Others however, have branded the legislation the “Deny Americans the Right-To-Know Act,” or DARK, as they maintain it “would codify the failed voluntary labeling system that has been in place for the past 13 years [and] also prevent the FDA from ever mandating GE [genetically engineered] labeling in the future,” in the words of the “Just Label It” campaign in support of such labeling.

    The Washington-based campaign adds that the legislation would “pre-empt states from taking any legislative efforts to require labeling of GE food [and] allow foods labeled as ‘natural’ to contain GE ingredients.” It would also “nullify the efforts in more than 30 states that are currently working to require GE labeling,” according to Violet Batcha, Just Label It’s communications manager.

    “The Pompeo bill will leave consumers even more confused, not less,” asserted Sarah Bird, chief marketing officer at Berkeley, Calif.-based Annie’s Inc. “Allowing genetically engineered ingredients to be included in products [labeled] ‘natural’ will undermine consumers’ trust in the growing, vibrant natural products industry. This bill sends us backwards in terms of addressing consumer confusion.”

    “The majority of consumers want the right to know what’s in their food,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm, in reference to polls finding that 93 percent of Americans want GE foods to be labeled. “The DARK Act would take away this right by making it impossible for the FDA or individual states to ever mandate GE labeling.”

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, Stagnito Business Information
    • About Bridget Goldschmidt In addition to serving as Progressive Grocer’s Managing Editor, Bridget writes many print and digital features encompassing a range of grocery and fresh categories across the store. Bridget also enjoys on-site reporting assignments at such key industry events as the New York Fancy Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show, in addition to visiting stores for PG’s prestigious Store of the Month feature. In her years with the magazine, she has developed into a knowledgeable voice on grocery industry trends, sought by such distinguished publications as The New York Times.

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