By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
Genetically modified ingredients in food have U.S. consumers confused about health and safety. It is common to see headlines from other countries that require labeling or that have banned genetically modified crops, often called GMO foods. Studies show disagreement about the benefits and risks of eating GMO food but in the USA no label is required to let consumers know which foods contain GMO ingredients.
California introduced a popular ballot initiative to label GMOs in the state called Prop 37. The measure was defeated by a small margin amid a huge advertising campaign by food companies like Hershey, Nestle and Mars Inc. seeking to prevent consumers from knowing which foods contained GMO ingredients. Vermont begin considering a similar labeling law in 2012 but was threatened with a lawsuit against the state by Monsanto, a company which produces GMO seeds.
This year Vermont’s legislature seems poised to pass a GMO labeling bill, with the house voting in favor 107-37. In Connecticut the senate approved a GMO food labeling bill 35-1. A dozen other states have introduced similar measures this year including Arizona. Most seem to have stalled in the legislature but they are a testament to the amount of pressure consumers have put on the right to know what is in their food.
A national bill introduced by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to label GMO foods to benefit consumers. The national bill has found bi-partisan support with co-sponsors including independent Bernie Sanders, Republicans like Senators Lisa Murkowski and Don Young and Democrats such as Arizona’s Raul Grijalva along with two dozen other members of congress. Senator Boxer said, “This legislation is supported by a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree that consumers deserve more – not less – information about the food they buy.”
Former Green Party candidate Jon McLane of Tucson has filed an initiative to label GMOs in foods across the state of Arizona. The campaign is named Label GMOs Arizona and is expected to begin gathering volunteers around the state with an event in Tucson before the March against Monsanto event on May 25th and coming to Phoenix and Flagstaff in June. Jon states the importance of labeling with polls showing that ninety percent of the U.S. population wants to know if their food was produced using genetic engineering. Through labeling Arizona’s GMO food he hopes to increase consumer knowledge, promote healthy food choices, protect the religious and cultural practice of natives who wish to eat natural food, as well as reduce environmental dangers while benefiting the economy by allowing small farmers to grow organic crops – currently a fast growing market.
Those seeking labeling might see their cause moving forward. However, a new farm bill in congress has an amendment to stop states from labeling GMOs which has upset many because some states, such as Arizona, have passed state laws banning cities and counties from making local legislation on food labeling. Food concerns involve everyone and endeavors to stop local efforts which address these concerns seem un-American to many. Farmers and consumer groups seeking a labeling law plan to carry on their state campaigns while fighting any federal ban. Some are seeing the call for a ban as a sign GMO food producers are scared of what consumers will do if given a choice about their food.