Health Impact News Editor Comments: The GMO labeling issue is taking a new turn early here in 2013. Some of the major food companies are now beginning to discuss labeling initiatives. As the story below by the N.Y. Times shows, the issue is becoming more than just a consumer rights issue, but also a major economical issue as the state initiative in Washington State illustrates.
How long can the U.S. continue to hold out on being one of the last nations in the world to require labeling of GMO products? If it wants to continue its participation in world trade, I suspect not much longer. But, given the powerful lobby of the biotech companies, don’t expect the FDA or government to just automatically do what is right if it is not popular with the GMO seed companies. We could end up with such a watered-down GMO label requirement that it could be basically worthless. So this is one issue we will need to keep a close eye on here in 2013.
Genetic Changes to Food May Get Uniform Labeling
With Washington State on the verge of a ballot initiative that would require labeling of some foods containing genetically engineered ingredients and other states considering similar measures, some of the major food companies and Wal-Mart, the country’s largest grocery store operator, have been discussing lobbying for a national labeling program.
Executives from PepsiCo, ConAgra and about 20 other major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart and advocacy groups that favor labeling, attended a meeting in January in Washington convened by the Meridian Institute, which organizes discussions of major issues.
The inclusion of Wal-Mart has buoyed hopes among labeling advocates that the big food companies will shift away from tactics like those used to defeat Proposition 37 in California last fall, when corporations spent more than $40 million to oppose the labeling of genetically modified foods.
“The big food companies found themselves in an uncomfortable position after Prop. 37, and they’re talking among themselves about alternatives to merely replaying that fight over and over again,” said Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University who attended the meeting.
“They spent a lot of money, got a lot of bad press that propelled the issue into the national debate and alienated some of their customer base, as well as raising issues with some trading partners,” said Mr. Benbrook, who does work on sustainable agriculture.
Proponents of labeling in Washington State have taken a somewhat different tack from those in California, arguing that the failure to label will hurt the state’s fisheries and apple and wheat farms. “It’s a bigger issue than just the right to know,” Ms. Bialic said. “It reaches deep into our state’s economy because of the impact this is going to have on international trade.”
A third of the apples grown in Washington State are exported, many of them to markets for high-value products around the Pacific Rim, where many countries require labeling. Apple, fish and wheat farmers in Washington State worry that those countries and others among the 62 nations that require some labeling of genetically modified foods will be much more wary of whole foods than of processed goods.
“If there is a documented issue with this overseas, it could have a devastating impact on the U.S. food system and agriculture,” Mr. Benbrook said. “The F.D.A. isn’t going to get very far with international governments by saying Monsanto and Syngenta told us these foods are safe and we believed them.”