Labeling issue far from finished
ST. LOUIS -- The debate over GMOs and GMO labeling will continue, despite passage of compromise federal legislation, an expert says."If you thought this new act would make the labeling issue go away, I think it might be mistaken," said Carmen Bai...
ST. LOUIS - The debate over GMOs and GMO labeling will continue, despite passage of compromise federal legislation, an expert says.
“If you thought this new act would make the labeling issue go away, I think it might be mistaken,” said Carmen Bain, a sociologist at Iowa State University. Her teaching and research focuses on the sociology of agricultural and food systems, and she has studied Americans’ attitudes on GMOs and GMO labeling.
Bain spoke during the recent National Press Foundation fellowship on the Future of Food and Agriculture in St. Louis. The four-day event covered a wide range of food and agricultural issues.
To understand the debate on GMO labeling, it’s necessary to realize that “GMOs really are a proxy for many of their (critics) other concerns about the agrifood system,” Bain said.
“They’re fundamentally critical of industrial agriculture that’s dependent on chemicals and biotechnical."
Critics are concerned about the environment and human health, growing consolidation in the agrifood system, and corporate control of patents, said Bain, who stressed she’s not taking a position on whether those concerns are valid.
The important point is, ”We have to engage in these broader value issues if we want to engage seriously in this discussion,” she said.
President Barack Obama recently signed into law compromise legislation establishing national GMO labeling. It requires most food packages to carry a text label, a symbol or an electronic code, which can be read by a smartphone, that indicates if the food contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says GMOs, which are thought to be in about 75 to 80 percent of the nation’s food, are safe. As a result, national labeling hadn’t been required.
Opponents of GMO labeling, primarily commodity groups and food companies, had based their case on science. Several states, including Vermont, passed their own laws requiring GMO labeling, showing that “the effort to frame the debate as purely one to do with science hasn’t been successful,“ Bain said.
GMO critics, in contrast, enjoyed at least partial success by arguing that, safe or not, people should know what’s in their food, framing the debate in terms of choice, not science, she said.
Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has two years to write the federal law, which will preempt state laws.
GMO critics will continue their fight, despite the new federal legislation, Bain said.
“We’re going to see a shift in the focus of anti-GMO groups,” she said.
The new push likely will include efforts to regulate gene-editing and to target GMOs foods in the marketplace, she said.