The Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry heard testimony on a bill this week that would bar states from requiring GMO labelling.
The US House of Representatives passed similar legislation in July, and critics labeled that law the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” or DARK Act. Among other things, the legislation would overturn state laws mandating GMO labelling. (Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth report on the bill here.)
Farm-state senators – both Republican and Democrats — want such a law passed by the end of the year, Politico reported.
“I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements and frankly, it won’t work,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan who backs the bill.
Said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, “I believe the science is so strong in this area — that these are products that will not have an adverse effect in any way on health, in fact can improve health by making food more available worldwide.
It is not know if President Obama would sign the bill, although he has sided with Monsanto and biotech companies in the past.
Opponents of the bill said passage would infringe on consumer rights.
“Our position is simple: consumers have the right to know what is in their food and how it is grown — the same right held by citizens in 64 nations,” Gary Hirshberg, the chairman of organic company Stonyfield Farm, told the committee.
Hirshberg’s company supports Just Label It, a coalition opposed to the legislation.
Big Food Supports the Bill
Corporate interests, including the trade group Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), support the bill.
“We are confident that Congress will act on this issue this year given that members of both Houses and both parties have repeatedly told us that a 50-state patchwork of laws is not sustainable,” GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy said in a press release.
One reason why manufacturers support the law is that it would nullify Vermont’s GMO labeling requirements and prevent other states from enacting such laws. Food companies do not want the hassle of making special labels for different states.
The vast majority of Americans favor GMO labelling on food. A 2013 New York Times poll found that 93 percent of Americans surveyed supported the concept. The same survey discovered that three-quarters of Americans are suspicious of genetically engineered ingredients in food.
“Recent polling and consumer data tell us that nine out of ten Americans – regardless of age, income, race or party affiliation – want the right to know whether the food they eat and purchase for their families contains GMOs,” Hirshberg told the committee.
Hirshberg, a 32-year veteran of the food industry, also took issue with the idea that labeling would hurt food sales. He disputed claims that GMO labeling would increase food prices.
“Actual experience shows that food prices have not increased in the 64 countries that have adopted GMO labels, nor do consumers in these countries view GMO disclosures as warnings,” Hirshberg said. “At the same time that GMO disclosures have been adopted around the globe, GMO crop acreage has steadily increased – from 27 million acres in 1997, when the first GMO label was introduced, to 448 million acres in 2014.”
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