Food industry seeks voluntary GMO labeling


WASHINGTON (AP) — People who want to know more about
genetically modified ingredients in their food would be able to get it
on some packages, but not others, under a plan the industry is pushing.
food companies worried they might be forced to add "genetically
modified" to packaging are proposing voluntary labeling of those
engineered foods, so the companies could decide whether to use them or
The effort is an attempt to head off state-by-state efforts
to require mandatory labeling. Recent ballot initiatives in California
and Washington state failed, but several state legislatures are
considering labeling requirements, and opponents of engineered
ingredients are aggressively pushing for new laws in several states.
move comes as consumers demand to know more about what’s in their food.
There’s very little science that says genetically engineered foods are
unsafe. But opponents say there’s too much unknown about seeds that are
altered in labs to have certain traits, and that consumers have a right
to know if they are eating them. The seeds are engineered for a variety
of reasons, many of them to resist herbicides or insects.
Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the
food industry’s main trade group, said the decision on labels should
rest with the Food and Drug Administration, which is set up to assess
the safety of foods.
"It does not serve national food safety policy to leave these issues to political campaigns,"
she said.
grocery manufacturers announced a partnership with 28 farm and food
industry groups Thursday to push for the legislation. The groups include
the National Corn Growers Association, the National Restaurant
Association and the National Beverage Association, all industries that
have seen pushback from consumers over modified ingredients.
The groups say mandatory labels would mislead consumers into thinking that engineered ingredients are
state laws could also create a complicated patchwork of labeling laws
that would "increase, rather than reduce, consumer confusion," said
Kraig Naasz of the American Frozen Food Institute, another member of the
The industries are lobbying members of Congress to
introduce and pass a bill that would require FDA to create a voluntary
label that would take precedence over any state laws. They are also
pushing for FDA to do a safety review of new genetically engineered
ingredients before they are sold in food. So far, FDA has not found
safety issues with modified ingredients.
Theresa Eisenman, a
spokeswoman for FDA, said food manufacturers are already allowed to
label their foods as free of genetically modified ingredients. She said
the agency "recognizes and appreciates" consumer interest in the issue.
has received citizen petitions regarding genetically engineered foods,
including the labeling of such foods," she said. "The agency is
currently considering those petitions and at this time has not made a
decision, in whole or in part, regarding the petitions."
companies are facing pressure from retailers as the conversation about
modified ingredients has grown louder. Whole Foods announced last year
that it plans to label GMO products in all its U.S. and Canadian stores
within five years.
And some companies have decided to just remove
the ingredients altogether, so no labels will be necessary. General
Mills recently announced it would no longer use GMOs in its original
Cheerios recipe.
It is unclear whether there is support for
voluntary labels in Congress. Many lawmakers from farm states have
defended the technology.
In May, the Senate overwhelmingly
rejected an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. that would have
allowed states to require labeling of genetically modified foods.
amendment to a wide-ranging farm bill was an attempt to clarify that
states can require the labels, as several legislatures have moved toward
putting such laws into place. Senators from farm states that use a lot
of genetically modified crops strongly opposed the amendment, saying the
issue should be left up to the federal government and that labels could
raise costs for consumers.
The final farm bill, which Congress
passed and sent to President Barack Obama this week, does not weigh in
on genetically modified ingredients.
Opponents of the modified
ingredients say the sentiment may change in Congress as more states wade
into the labeling debate. Scott Faber of the Environmental Working
Group, a Washington advocacy group that supports labeling, says he
expects around 30 state legislatures to consider the issue this year.
and Connecticut have already enacted labeling laws for engineered
foods, but they won’t go into effect until other states in the region
follow suit.
And Oregon may be the next state to consider a ballot
measure on the issue.
Faber says momentum is building across the
country for labeling, "not because consumers are concerned about the
technology, but because consumers are demanding to know more and more
about their food."
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