June 19, 2015
With GMO labeling a heated issue at the state and federal level, the House Committee of Energy and Commerce hearing on “A National Framework for the Review and Labeling of Biotechnology in Food” drew quite a crowd.
The House hearing, on Thursday, June 18, focused on Representative Mike Pompeo’s (R-KS) Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, known as the “Deny Americans’ Right to Know” or DARK Act by opponents. This bill would block federal and state efforts to require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The majority of lawmakers present at this hearing expressed support for the most recent version of Representative Pompeo’s bill, which would also preempt individual state labeling efforts and set up a voluntary GMO-free certification system within USDA.
The House committee heard witness testimony from Rick Blagden, President of the Council of Supply Chain Management; Todd Daloz, Assistant Attorney General of the Office of the Vermont Attorney General; John Reifsteck, President of GROWMARK, Inc.; Gregory Jaffe, Biotechnology Project Director from Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); and Val Giddings, Senior Fellow of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
John Reifsteck, President of GROWMARK, Inc., an agricultural co-operative, insisted that there be a national framework for GMO labeling because too many individual rules would create economic burdens for producers and supply chains.
Gregory Jaffe stated that CSPI did not endorse the bill because it still did not make the necessary changes to FDA’s authority over genetically engineered (GE) foods, and that it remains critical that the government ensure transparent and non-misleading claims on any labeling rules decided upon.
Members of the House Committee, including Representative Pompeo, expressed concern that GMO labeling will create a false sense of risk for the products containing GE ingredients, in addition to causing issues for farmers producing and marketing GE crops. There was continuous discussion of the overall safety of GE crops, and Mr. Reifsteck even went as far to state that “biotechnology is the best solution for protecting farms” from environmental risks in the future.
Overall, the hearing failed to address the real issues present in the bill, with air time instead given over to constant repetition of the mantra that GMOs are safe, environmentally beneficial, and economically valuable while failing to acknowledge the documented impacts that GE food production has had on the environment, corporate consolidation, and the farmers’ economic bottom line, not to mention that consumers want to know whether foods contain GMOs.
Hence the real questions at hand regarding GMO labeling — whether providing transparency is a good thing, and if it should be the authority of the state or federal agencies to provide this transparency and public access to information — got short shrift. The important issues instead got mired in a debate on the merits of GMOs rather than discussing the appropriate regulatory solution.
What do voters say?
A recent national survey of registered voters by the Mellman Group found that support for requiring labels on foods containing GMOs is overwhelming across party lines. The survey found that 88% of overall respondents supported mandatory labeling for GMOs; 93% of Democrats polled favor labels, followed by 86% of Independents, and 86% of Republicans.
Opponents of mandatory labels on foods containing GE ingredients state that it would confuse consumers, drive up food costs, and cause problems for food producers. These claims are not firmly rooted in fact, and the recent survey by the Mellman Group found that even after offering arguments on both sides of the GMO labeling issue, the support for labeling was still strongly maintained, with 86% of the respondents supporting labeling.
Despite the bipartisan support from the American public for mandatory GMO labeling, it was clear at the hearing that many politicians do not share this view.