Connecticut and Maine have enacted legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified foods. In each state, however, the labeling mandate will not take effect until a sufficient number of other states enact similar legislation.
Only Two State Laws
On June 3, Connecticut became the first state to enact legislation requiring special labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The labeling requirement will not take effect until four other states, including one state sharing a border with Connecticut, enact similar legislation. Also, the labeling requirement will not take effect until a combination of Northeastern states (consisting of the New England states plus New York and Pennsylvania) with a cumulative population of over 20 million residents enacts similar legislation.
Maine soon followed Connecticut’s lead, enacting similar legislation on June 17. The Maine law similarly requires other states to enact GMO food labeling laws before the Maine mandate takes effect.
Legislators in at least 26 states introduced legislation during the 2013 legislative session requiring GMO food labeling. Connecticut and Maine were the only ones to pass such legislation. The Vermont House of Representatives passed similar legislation, but the Vermont Senate did not act on the bill.
In a November 2012 referendum, California voters rejected mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.
Bruce Shields, agriculture policy advisor for the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont-based public policy research and education organization, says labeling proponents seek to convey the false notion that genetically modified foods are a threat to human health.
“Their thrust is that consumers have a right to know what is in their food, even when it is not harmful,” said Shields. “This is an emotional appeal, but it has been very successful. They believe that genetically modified foods are ‘contaminated’ foods. Their reasoning is arcane due to a misunderstanding of how the process works.
“There is also a very strong anti-Monsanto campaign which pushes the idea that the agricultural technology company is guilty of ‘corporate greed,'” he added.
“If it were possible to have a commonsense approach to labeling, you could have a workable solution, but due to the ideology of the proponents, this is not possible,” Shields observed.
Shields said the clock has not run out on the Vermont Senate taking up the House bill.
“It’s already passed the House of Representatives, and there are supposed to be a series of hearings this summer. Our legislature meets for a biennium, so no bill is dead yet. Whatever status is had at the end of this session, it will pick up again and go from there,” said Shields.
‘Terrible in Every Way’
Gregory Conko, a senior fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says the anti-technology food labeling crowd is running a well-financed campaign that is gaining traction.
“They see it as a backdoor way to get consumers not to buy these products, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration already says there is nothing harmful about these products,” Conko explained. “Pretty much anything that is grown on a farm has been genetically modified. The only thing that hasn’t been changed is wild game, mushrooms, nuts, and berries.
“The big deal right now is that Connecticut passed a law that once a certain number of other states have genetically modified food labeling, then they will too. I think this is the cheap and easy way out—it shows the environmentalists they are ‘doing something,'” he added.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, says nothing positive will come from the Vermont bill because it contravenes the FDA’s approach to labeling, conveys warnings where none are appropriate, and constrains commercially free speech.
“It’s terrible in every way,” Miller said. “It loses scientifically, legally, economically, and in the court of common sense all at once,
“So how does this happen, one might ask? Activists appeal to a few stupid legislators, and they take up the cause because it sounds good,” Miller explained.
“The big lie spread by anti-genetically modified food activists is that the application of molecular methods of genetic improvement is unwanted, unneeded, unsuccessful, and unsafe. These allegations have been debunked repeatedly over the years—just ask farmers,” he added.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.