GMO labeling amendments may have died a tragic death during the fall election cycle, but a bright light may now be shining on the horizon – with a caveat. Food industry giants that spent millions of dollars fighting state laws pertaining to genetically modified  crops are now pushing for a federal law to accomplish the same goals.
But despite the progress in the fight to know what is in your food, there may not be a cause for celebration just yet.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association  (GMA), which was a major foe in the GMO labeling state initiative fight, is promoting what many consider a “watered-down” version of GMO labeling laws with only voluntary standards. A host of food advocacy groups have deemed the proposal merely a power grab by the food industry, which has consistently placed hurdles in front of transparency initiatives in the past.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association represents food and beverage suppliers such as Kraft, ConAgra, and PepsiCo. Statements coming from the group claim the industry is attempting to find a “national solution” to the GMO labeling debate, and that having a “patchwork” of laws which vary by state would mean creating different packaging for each state. While such an argument may appear valid on its face, if the food manufacturers simply opted for full disclosure across the board, the alleged need for alternative packaging would be eliminated.
A draft of the nationwide GMO labeling  proposal will be submitted to Congress in the near future. Part of the bill, according to excerpts published by Politico, indicate the food industry is willing to submit to more FDA oversight. Considering the fact that the United States Food and Drug Administration has ignored European and Japanese tests and reports about the dangers posed by genetically modified food, the enhanced oversight by the federal agency likely will not amount to much of a change in the industry’s standard operating procedure.
Said Louis Finkel of the Grocery Manufacturers Association:
We believe it’s important for Congress to engage and provide FDA with the ability to have a national standard. A 50-state patchwork of regulations is irresponsible. We’ve fought a mandatory label at the state level because we believe that a mandatory label misinforms consumers (by implying that there is something wrong with the product).
Those who cherish states’ rights might disagree with Finkel’s argument. Both Colorado and Oregon are pushing forward with GMO labeling initiatives later this year. Maine and Connecticut both passed similar labeling measures in 2013. The downside of the Maine and Connecticut laws is they have “trigger clauses,” meaning that other states must pass similar legislation for the laws to take effect.
Washington and California each failed to pass their own genetically modified food labeling statutes, both losing by miniscule margins. The food industry, accompanied by biotech giants like Monsanto, pumped approximately $70 million in anti-GMO labeling campaigns in the two states.
Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group’s vice president of government affairs and a former GMA lobbyist, said the bill likely will be filibustered.
Every lobbyist in this town can name the dozen senators who would read the Bible backwards before this would become law and that’s what’s so striking. A far better course would be for industry to come to the table.
Faber went on to call the shift in Big Food’s strategy a “legislative hail Mary.” The American Frozen Food Institute, Snack Food Association, and the American Bakers Association are also joining in with the GMA on the voluntary nationwide labeling project.
If the food industry proposal is approved by Congress, it will look significantly different than recently passed state bills, according to food safety advocates. Two nationwide GMO mandatory labeling bills were introduced last April by Representative Peter DeFazio (D.-Ore.) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) and are still pending. The bills have each garnered 48 (House) and 14 (Senate) co-sponsors respectively, but have failed to muster much traction.
DeFazio said the voluntary labeling could actually be misstep by the GMA. “If they are going to kindle a national debate, given the polling on the issue, they better be thinking billions of dollars instead of tens of millions to fight it.”
What do you think about GMO labeling?