Just Label GMO Foods

An expert weighs in on state GMO labeling laws.

Just Label GMO Foods

Consumers just want to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown.

As Congress considers whether to block state GMO labeling laws, legislators may lose sight of this simple truth in a cascade of misleading and downright false claims made by some food and biotechnology companies. Food labeling opponents will try to twist a debate about transparency into a debate about a new (and still largely unproven) technology.  We can’t let them.

Consumers want to know more about their food – what’s in it, who made it, where it was made, how it was made. We want food with a story. No wonder more than 90 percent of consumers tell pollsters they want to know whether their food was made with GMOs. This should be simple. Give us the facts and trust us to make good decisions. That’s how markets are supposed to work. 

Not so fast. Some food and biotechnology companies don’t trust us to make these choices for ourselves. Of course, it’s bad business to tell consumers we're not smart enough to decide. So, instead they’re rolling out the same tired arguments used to fight any and all food regulations – that labeling will increase food prices and prevent our farmers from “feeding the world.”

Put aside the canard that America’s farmers feed the world (fact: we produce only 8% of global food calories). Do we need GMOs to feed the world? Yields from conventionally bred crops are rising just as fast as yields for GMO crops. In fact, conventional breeding is providing more drought-resistant crop varieties to farmers in Africa  at less cost. 

But forget about yields. The simple truth is that there are far more effective ways to meet the globe’s long-term food security needs than betting on biotech – including such strategies as reducing food waste and making better use of fertilizer.

What about food prices? Will GMO labeling increase food prices? Of course not. Food companies change their labels all the time to make new claims. 

Lessons learned from labeling around the globe show us that consumers will not view a GMO disclosure as a warning sign. Sadly, the same food giants made the same arguments when they fought mandatory nutrition labeling more than two decades ago. The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” just gave the industry “Three Pinocchios” for their bogus claims. 

Big food and their fellow travelers will also say “they’re safe.” But we don’t label unsafe food. We take it off the shelves. Are GMOs “safe?” FDA reviews are voluntary and based on industry science. 

So, why not let consumers decide? Some legislators not only want to block states like Vermont from giving their consumers the right to know but also want to limit the Obama’s administration’s ability to craft a national labeling solution. They also want to enshrine the “voluntary” label system that has failed consumers since 2001. That’s nuts. 

Americans just want the right to know what’s in our food and how it was grown – just like consumers in 64 other nations. It’s time to let us know what we’re eating.

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