GMO labeling should be left to federal regulations, BIO official says

A lack of consistency on food labels can cause considerable confusion for consumers, BIO official Karen Batra said. | File photo
The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMO) is not just about the fundamentals of its technology or the stresses it causes on the environment anymore; the debate has recently entered into labeling disputes and determining whether or not these labels should be regulated on the state or federal level.

A lack of consistency on food labels can cause considerable confusion for consumers, some argue. 

“If GMO labeling bills are mandated at the state level, American growers and food companies will be forced to comply with a confusing patchwork of regulations with many states having different rules and differing labels, and most of them having confusing exemptions for certain food items,” Karen Batra, director of Food and Agriculture Communications at Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), recently told Crop Protection News. “If there’s no standard for GMO labels, how can consumers understand what they mean or derive any valuable information from them?”

Batra also explained that state-based requirements would raise the production and transport costs on food manufacturers and farmers who would be forced to segregate their products for each state’s requirements. Additional costs will also be borne by taxpayers because the state will have to pay millions of dollars in rulemaking and enforcement. Lastly, those costs will be passed on to consumers. Economic studies have estimated that this could raise the food costs for the average family by $500 per year, she said.

“There is pushback for a uniform federal regulation on both sides of the debate,” Batra said. “Farm groups and food companies have agreed that if consumers want more information about their foods, there should be a mechanism put in place to provide that. But this information needs to be conveyed in a way that’s factual and informative.”

One solution Batra suggests is the use of a SmartLabel, which is essentially a bar code that would direct consumers to a landing page that could tell consumers more than just whether or not their foods might contain GMOs.

One food company has already decided to use such technology, Batra explained, where the landing page could also give consumers information such as:
**"More than 75 percent of the produce we buy is from the U.S."
**"We employ around 4,000 people at the locations where we make our products."
**“Our steel cans are recycled and environmentally sustainable."

The page could also provide facts about high fructose corn syrup, gluten, artificial coloring, BPA and MSG.

“Farm groups and food companies have even gone so far as to support having such SmartLabels be a mandatory disclosure mechanism,” Batra said. “Unfortunately, labeling proponents have stated that they will only support mandatory on-package labeling that states whether or not the food may contain GMOs on the food label.”

The most effective approach, Batra argues, is to work with stakeholders and members of Congress to pursue a more achievable, uniform agenda on how to inform consumers about whether the food they purchase may contain GMOs.

Organizations in this story

Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) 1201 Maryland Ave SW Washington, DC - 20024

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