America has a proud tradition of empowering consumers. You can walk into any grocery store in the country, pick up a product from the shelf, and immediately learn the calorie count, the amount of protein per serving, and the full list of ingredients.
So it’s alarming that Congress could soon pass a bill that aims to keep consumers in the dark when it comes to foods with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
This week, the House of Representative will consider the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Unfortunately, the bill does nothing to support safe and accurate food labeling. Instead, it protects the status quo by preventing states from requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients and locks in the current and inadequate voluntary GMO labeling system.
As more of the foods we eat contain GMOs, consumers naturally want to know which foods contain them. All they are asking for are the facts. This bill ignores that.
Congress needs to pass a law that puts consumers first by requiring mandatory GMO labeling across the country, eliminating confusion and establishing one national standard.
Polls consistently show that there is overwhelming support for clearly labeling foods that have been genetically modified or contain GMO ingredients. In a 2012 survey by the Mellman Group, 89 percent were in favor of labeling with 77 percent saying they “strongly” prefer GMO labeling. That same survey also showed strong bipartisan support for GMO labeling with huge majorities of Democrats (85 percent), independents (93 percent), and Republicans (88 percent) all in favor.
While Congress has been stuck in neutral, states have stepped up and passed laws that give the power back to consumers. In 2014, Vermont became the first state to require mandatory GMO labeling. Connecticut and Maine have both passed laws to require labeling and more than a dozen other states are considering similar oversight, including Massachusetts. What’s more, 64 other countries have GMO labeling, including Brazil whose consumption patterns are similar to those in the United States.
Supporters of the bill claim that GMO labeling will increase food prices. While plenty of things impact the prices we pay at the grocery store — including transportation costs and ingredient costs — GMO labeling is not one of them. In study after study, we have seen that a simple GMO disclaimer on food packaging will not increase prices.
Food companies change their labels all the time to make new claims, and all food companies will soon have to change their labels to make important changes to the Nutrition Fact Panel. Adding a few words to the back of the food package about genetic engineering will not have any impact of the cost of making food.
Opponents of updating food labeling made the same bogus arguments when they fought nutrition labeling in the 1980s. Back then, they claimed that disclosing the presence of calories, salt, fat, and sugar would require costly reformulations. But those much more significant changes to foods labels — adding the Nutrition Facts Panel and including more information about ingredients — didn’t change the price of food at all.
Americans want more information, not less. What we need is one law that makes GMO labeling mandatory across the country and establishes a single national standard that eliminates confusion and puts consumers in charge.
This debate isn’t about the safety of GMOs. It’s about consumers’ right to know what’s in the food they put on their tables. We ought to give them that right.
Jim McGovern is a US representative from Massachusetts. Chellie Pingree is a US representative from Maine.