In November 2012, California Proposition 37, known as the “Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative,” was placed before voters and failed to pass 51.4% against and 48.6% in favor. Mandatory GMO labeling has historically been a state-level issue; however, opponents to state labeling laws argue that increased costs cause competitive disadvantages for products relative to similar products from other states.
Currently only one state, Vermont, has successfully passed a mandatory labeling law, Act 120, in 2014 (effective July of this year) and now the issue is being looked at on a national, rather than state, level.
Senate Agricultural Committee Chairman Pat Roberts has recently proposed a national voluntary label law that would prevent states from creating their own laws requiring labeling for all genetically engineered products, stating “No state or a political subdivision of a state may directly or indirectly establish … any requirement relating to the labeling of whether a food … or seed is genetically engineered.”
Barbara Boxer and Richard Blumenthal have reintroduced legislation, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to- Know Act that would require the FDA to label GE food and products that contain GE ingredients.
Although there are varying opinions on both sides of the aisle, most agricultural groups, including the California League of Food Processors, support uniform legislation. State-by- state laws would create an unbalanced result by confusing consumers as to what they’re really consuming. With each state able to define their own parameters, true transparency would not be achieved.
There are other alternatives to manadatory labeling, such as digital disclosure programs like “SmartLabel” that would provide easy access for consumers to review information about the foods they consume. Consumers can also learn more about GE foods and the precise and safe techniques used to produce products.
The next few months should indicate the direction of labeling laws – falling to the states to legislate labeling or to the federal government for a more uniform labeling system.
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