Push For GMO Labeling Gaining National Momentum

By Ruby de Luna

In June the Connecticut legislature made history when it passed legislation to require labeling of GMO foods. It was the first state in the country to pass a comprehensive labeling law.

Williams: “We’re not talking about banning GMO foods as many countries in Europe have done. We’re just simply talking about being transparent and letting consumers know what’s in the food that they eat.”

Grocery aisle, a Creative Commons Attribution image  from The Consumerist via flickr.comDonald Williams is president of the state senate in Connecticut. The law passed early summer. But it won’t take effect until other New England states pass similar labeling requirements.

Williams: “We wanted to make sure the industry could not claim that we were placing an unfair burden that would result in a significant price increase of any kind to consumers in Connecticut. So we wanted to make sure there was a market share that would obscure any potential problems.”

Supporters like Williams say the provision ensures that no one state is at a competitive disadvantage.

In July Maine followed suit. And like Connecticut, the requirement doesn’t take effect until neighboring states enact a similar law. To date there are 20 other states considering bills to require GMO labeling. It’s an indication of the growing curiosity among consumers about what’s in their food.

Photo: Grocery aisle, a Creative Commons Attribution image  from The Consumerist via flickr.com

It’s hard to avoid genetically modified foods in the U.S. More than 70 percent of our processed foods use genetically engineered ingredients like soy, corn, and sugar beets.

Even here at PCC Natural Markets, considered a beacon for organic products, the store is not entirely GMO-free. Just check out the center aisles.

Bialic: “Cookies, crackers…”

Trudy Bialic is PCC’s public affairs director. She also co-chairs the Yes on 522 campaign.

Bialic: “We’re certain there must be genetically engineered ingredients in these foods, but we don’t know because they’re not labeled…these are the very foods that shoppers are asking about.”

Bialic says packaged foods already provide information about ingredients and nutritional content. Adding a GMO label would be no different…

Bialic: “And we should have a right to know, just like we have labels on natural and artificial colors, fresh or from frozen concentrate juices, we should know which ones are genetically engineered and 522 will give us transparency and more choice on hundreds and hundreds of foods.”

Right now some food companies voluntarily label their products to let consumers know whether their food is made with organic or non-genetically engineered ingredients. But such claims aren’t always verifiable. Bialic says labeling would help standardize the process.

But opponents say labeling would be costly, and not necessarily helpful. Dana Bieber is spokesperson for No on 522. She points to genetically modified corn for example. When processed to make oil, the final product does not contain the genetically modified protein.

Bieber: “The other day I was making a salad and I looked at the back of my salad dressing and I noticed it had soybean oil, and I thought it probably came from a GE soybean.”

Under 522, Bieber says a label would say the dressing contains GMO, but it would not tell the entire story…

Bieber:”I wouldn’t know how much GE is in there, which ingredient did it come from, and I certainly wouldn’t know the fact that it actually doesn’t contain it. That’s where we would get to that misinformation. That just confuses consumers and it provides inaccurate information and that doesn’t help us make any useful decisions.”

Bieber says people who want to avoid genetically engineered foods can look for packages that are labeled organic or non-GMO. But Trudy Bialic of Yes on 522 right now, the only stores that do provide those details are specialty stores. She says she’d like to see people have equal access to information no matter where they buy their food.

As Washington voters contemplate the labeling proposal, a handful of genetically modified products are awaiting approval from the feds before they hit the market. They include transgenic salmon and genetically modified apples.

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