Those For and Against GMO Labeling Lost With the Defeat of a Senate Bill



Increasingly, scientists are modifying, or altering, organisms (such as seeds) for any of several reasons. Seeds are modified to make them more resistant to diseases. They also are altered to speed the growth of whatever a given seed was ‘designed’ to produce.

Other reasons for modifying an organism can include [1] to either speed or slow its ripening process and [2] to improve its ‘stability’ on long journeys from its place or origin to the place it will be processed or consumed.

Some segments of the public believe that any modification done to an organism, for whatever reason, should be disclosed. Many of those people believe that such disclosures of a Genetically Modified Organism, or GMO, should be on a product’s label – either, from one perspective, identical labels comprising details established at the federal level (in the U.S.) or, from another perspective, state-mandated labels that could, in any number of ways, vary from state to state.

The U.S. Senate refused to give the go-ahead to a bill that would have allowed voluntary GMO labeling at the federal level – for products distributed nationwide, in other words – and disallowed another approach to labeling: Mandatory labeling at the state level.


It’s hardly surprising that a leader among those opposing state-level GMO labeling is the Grocery Manufacturers of America, a trade group. Their view is based on the not-unreasonable assumption that state-level labeling would be a nightmare for manufacturers, since states’ standards could conflict with each other both as regards the information GMO labels must include and, for example, the size and positioning of the type to be used. Then there’s the issue that a plethora of existing label rules already get in the way of each other and, even setting that aside, often tend to leave consumers worse off rather than better-informed.

Two examples:

[1] [portion sizes, relative to their content. An 8-ounce (226g) bag of Ritz Toasted Corn Chips declares a serving size to be 13 chips, or an ounce of chips. Thus, there are eight servings per bag.

‘Reminds me of an old potato chip (crisp) commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just one!”

But you should limit yourself to one ‘serving’ in this and many similar instances: Each of those in this bag contains 160 calories, 60 of them from fat. And that serving also contains 140mg of sodium – 6% of the governments ‘recommended daily allowance’ (RDA) for that mineral.

Compare that to a 3.5 ounce (100g) box of Nabisco’s Gluten Free Rice Thins. Its serving size is 18 pieces, or thins, containing 130 calories, 15 of them from fat. And its 84mg of sodium are said to represent 4% of the RDA for salt.

Is the portion size, on many packages, truly reflective of consumer behavior? Or is it, more accurately, a measure designed to let manufacturers/packagers express, in the most favorable way, an ingredient content level they anticipate consumers will view as ‘reasonable’ relative to their own health or their RDA?

[2] label size/contents. As it happens, both of the above-described products are served up in packages large enough to include all the details – some of them ‘optional,’ where the label is too small for all the details – spelled out in the government’s existing labeling standards.

Those standards are up for revision under the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2015, which has been kicking around since it was the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013.

Among that Act’s provisions is one that would require manufacturers and/or importers foods of introduced into the U.S. to provide the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) “information that must be included in the labeling of food (the NFB, or Nutrition Facts box; ingredient statement, and any natural or artificial flavoring; any applicable allergy statements; nutrient content claims; health claims; a copy of the principal display panel; and whatever else FDA might request),” the FDA Law Blog website of the Hyman, Phelps & McNamara law firm says.

So, the already-crowded (and not-as-informative-as-was-originally-intended) NFB is likely to get more crowded, or not feature more ‘optional,’ potentially-valuable bits of information.

GMO labeling came into effect in Europe in 2004. At that time, the just-cited website initiated an online survey for “stakeholders with interests in the risks and/or benefit assessment of GMO’s.” Scheduled to end last July (2015), the survey’s aim was “to identify which research needs should be prioritized, thereby contributing to the commissioning of research on the health, environment and economic impacts of GMO’s.”
Results of that survey haven’t been announced, but you can count on one thing: The “research needs” identified by European participants, at whom the survey was directed, will vary, perhaps significantly, from comparable GMO-related findings in the U.S.

That’s as sure as the fact that the just-defeated bill in the U.S. Senate was applauded by the website, reflecting its labeling of that bill as The DARK Act – with DARK standing for Denying Americans the Right to Know Act – because it would have outlawed state-level GMO labeling laws.

It’s one thing to argue for the public’s right to know this, that or the other thing. But it’s another thing altogether to favor legislation that would have, beyond a doubt, push food prices up because of manufacturers’/packagers’ higher costs due to their need to comply with various states’ differing rules.

Yes, genetically modifying organisms has both proponents and opponents. As is usually the case, the argument for one or the other side of that position will no doubt continue – possibly long beyond the working or even actual lives of the arguers.

But here’s the thing: It would make no sense, from anyone’s perspective, to have a patchwork of GMO labeling laws, conflicting with each other in any number of ways. Sadly, unless Congress (which can’t, these days agree on anything) acknowledges the need for and passes legislation for a nation standard, people like Mike Rogers, the guy behind the website, will continue to favor faulty public, state-level policy not likely to truly benefit anyone.

Just as he promotes dietary supplements that may, perhaps, be just as beneficial.


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