Public Good vs. Corporate Greed: The Case for Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods

Pro-GMO-Labeling sign: "Honk if you want your food labeled"Growing numbers of US consumers seek mandatory labeling of genetically modified food — and this time, it just might work. Due to increasing consumer awareness and demand, the push for GMO labeling in the United States is gaining momentum.

Recent initiatives in California and Washington will attempt to (finally!) require labels identifying food containing genetically modified ingredients. California volunteers will collect signatures this February through April, to get the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act on the ballot in November 2012. Washington legislators have introduced two bipartisan bills to require the labeling of GM foods by 2014, with support from the state’s wheat farmers as well as consumers.

The United States produces more than half of the GM foods grown worldwide today; about 75% of the food on US grocery store shelves contains genetically modified ingredients. But the United States is a global straggler when it comes to labeling transgenic foods.

The European Union, Japan, Ireland, Egypt and other countries have been proactive in labeling (and sometimes banning) genetically engineered food, based on consumer demand and the potential for unintended  health or environmental impacts. But in the US, labeling of GM food is not required — largely because the biotechnology industry knows perfectly well that many consumers don’t want it, and has engineered the crafting of FDA and USDA policies to match its own goals.

Sign: "We deserve to know/ Label GMOs"Genetically engineered foods flooded the US market, unlabeled, back in the 1990s. In 2005, Alaska passed a law requiring fish and mollusks raised in that state to be labeled if they were genetically engineered. Last year, 14 states considered bills dealing with banning or requiring labeling for genetically modified foods. Recent initiatives in California and Washington may finally get the legislative ball rolling on what growing numbers of Americans want: accurately labeled GM food products.

There is no question that American consumers want to know if they’re eating GMOs. Depending on which poll you read, 93% to 96% of Americans want the right to know whether they’re eating genetically modified food.

US consumers expect fair and accurate food labeling. Consider some highlights from FDA history:

1906 The original Food and Drugs Act is passed. It prohibits interstate commerce in mis-branded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs…

1924 The Supreme Court rules that the Food and Drugs Act condemns every statement, design, or device on a product’s label that may mislead or deceive, even if technically true

1938 A revised and expanded Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FDC) Act of 1938 is passed. Highlights include: safe tolerances to be set for unavoidable poisonous substances, standards of identity, quality, and fill-of-container to be set for foods, and authorization of factory inspections…

1958Food Additives Amendment enacted, requiring manufacturers of new food additives to establish safety. Going forward, manufacturers were required to declare all additives in a product

1962 President Kennedy proclaims the Consumer Bill of Rights. Included are the right to safety, the right to be informed, the right to choose, and the right to be heard

1965 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires all consumer products in interstate commerce to be honestly and informatively labeled, including food.

Given this set of guidelines supposedly in place for US food, the ongoing lack of GM labeling is a tribute to the biotechnology industry’s resourcefulness and determination to avoid it.

Next>> Reasons to Label GM Foods: Consumer Rights, Weak Research

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7 thoughts on “Public Good vs. Corporate Greed: The Case for Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods”

  1. It’s crazy there’s so much controversy just about labeling. Everyone should be suspect of food suppliers who don’t want people to know about their food.

    1. Right?! Seems obvious, unless you’re Monsanto… Surely with increasing demand/ awareness of the problem, we can finally see some progress!

  2. The debate over labeling reminds me of the ag-gag bills popping up around the country. It is disturbingly suspicious that the people providing our food don’t want the public to know or see exactly what they’re doing or how.

    1. When a used car salesman says ‘just take my word for it, it’s fine! DON’T LOOK UNDER THE HOOD!!!!’ you’re suspicious, right?!… funny how we put up with it, when we’re talking about OUR FOOD! :-P

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