Obama’s New So-Called GMO “Labeling” Law Is a Gift to Industry

Aug 4, 2016 by



2016aug4 gmolabelingOn July 29, President Obama signed a bill that is a setback for our right to know about GMOs in food. (Photo: David Goehring)

You may have read that President Obama signed a so-called GMO “labeling” law on July 29. Media outlets like ABC News reported that the bill “mandate[es] GMO labeling.”

However, the reality of the new legislation is what Rick North, writing on the progressive commentary forum BlueOregon, calls a “sham”:

It’s a major victory for Monsanto, the biotech industry and Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, all of whom know labeling could diminish their profits.

Most polls found about 90% of respondents wanted on-the-package GMO labeling, an almost-unheard-of support level for any issue. True public advocates, like the Organic Consumers Association, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Cornucopia Institute, Food Democracy Now, etc., exposed the bill for the charade it was.

All to no avail.

Why does North consider calling the so-called “GMO labeling” bill a misnomer? North cites one reason, among others:

This is a labeling law that doesn’t require labeling. It allows toll-free numbers and QR codes requiring smart phones to read. Any corporation trying to hide its use of GMO’s (i.e. most of them) will employ the QR codes.

You know those squiggly codes some people with smart phones use as tickets to board planes nowadays? Well, that’s all the new law requires on food packaging (although food companies can disclose more on a “voluntary” basis). So, if you don’t have a smartphone with you, or aren’t in the habit of reading QR codes in supermarkets, then you will not know if the product has GMO ingredients. That’s right — there is no requirement to disclose in plain language whether or not the food you purchase has GMOs in it. Also, think about the additional time it will take to scan each potential food purchase. It will be a rather daunting process.

FoodSafety Magazine also noted that the precedent of allowing QR code “labeling” as sufficient informational disclosure to consumers could have other detrimental impacts:

  • Once a federal labeling standard is in place, it will become harder for consumers to make informed food buying decisions because ingredient information will likely only be available with the use of technology (i.e., scannable bar codes, smartphones, toll-free phone numbers, Internet access, etc.) This will be a detriment to low-income consumers
  • High-tech labels may also replace the specific mention of ingredients that consumers are leery of, like high fructose corn syrup which is derived from genetically modified corn.

Where did this do-nothing bill come from? Basically, Obama signed what is known as an industry-backed bill, not a consumer-friendly one. One of the threats that energized Big Ag, food processing and GMO industries was a Vermont law that required that consumers be informed in plain text of food products that contain GMOs. The new federal law pre-empts state laws, thus making Vermont’s GMO labeling requirements null and void. An article in Vermont’s Stowe Reporter today states:

The law, passed by Congress two weeks ago, immediately pre-empts Vermont’s GMO labeling statute, Act 120, which went into effect on July 1….

The new federal law also pre-empts a 2004 Vermont statute requiring companies to label genetically engineered seeds. The federal rulemaking process will take two years.

The Vermont law required that companies put a simple label on the package indicating whether products have GMO ingredients.

The Stowe Reporter notes that “in 2015, food manufacturers spent more than $100 million lobbying in Congress to block GMO labeling, according to the Environmental Working Group.” That spending to influence members of Congress paid off. In the end, the food and GMO corporations got what they wanted: a GMO “labeling” bill that doesn’t require easily accessible consumer information, and a federal bill that prohibits states from passing stronger GMO disclosure.

Once again, corporate dollars have passed a bill that shortchanges consumers on a vital food safety issue.


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