Amid legislative uncertainty, AFBF wants market to decide on GMO labels

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Failure by the U.S. Senate last month to pass a genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill doesn’t mean the fight to make it happen is over, Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), said.

“AFBF is not opposed to GMO labeling, Walmsley told Crop Protection News. "It’s opposed to mandatory and state-by-state labeling laws. We are fully supportive of companies who want to voluntarily label their goods. We want the market to decide. We want consumers to decide. If a company wants to put a GMO label or a non-GMO label on their product, as long as it is truthful and not misleading, that’s great. That’s consumer information,” Walmsley said.

The AFBF was angry when U.S. senators recently failed to invoke cloture on a bill for a voluntary GMO labeling system. AFBF President Zippy Duvall said the lawmakers’ inaction amounted to them turning their backs on rural America.

“We continue to work with both sides of the aisle to find a solution in the near term," Duvall said. "We will continue to educate members of the Senate of the negative consequences of a patchwork of state labeling laws that will create havoc in the food supply chain, unnecessarily raise costs for farmers and consumers alike, disrupt interstate commerce, and stifle agricultural innovation,” Walmsley said.

The bipartisan Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act was re-introduced last year, and the House passed it in July 2015. Opponents dubbed it the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act because the bill proposed a ban against states creating their own GMO labeling laws and against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from developing a mandatory federal labeling law.

Instead, the bill would have retained a 14-year-old voluntary labeling system, but senators who supported it couldn’t drum up enough votes to pass it.

Because of the bill’s failure in the Senate, several big U.S. food manufacturers have said they will begin to label foods with GMOs, though they remain steadfast that genetically modified ingredients are safe.

At the same time, AFBF said farmers and ranchers need to have access to multiple production techniques.

“You look at the challenges facing us – whether it’s what Mother Nature throws at us or the moral imperative to feed 9.5 billion people by 2050 – you need all the options on the table,” Walmsley said.

Walmsley said one of the things that people are losing sight of in this debate is that Americans are pretty fortunate today to be able to choose among abundant, affordable food options.

“In a lot of cases, not all, there are consumers who are affluent enough to dictate how their food is grown," Walmsley said. "That’s a beautiful thing for consumers as far as choice. It also provides choice for farmers to grow to these different markets."

If the federal government doesn’t create a clear, mandatory package-labeling standard soon, the first state-required GMO labeling law will go into effect in Vermont in July.

AFBF is hopeful that Congress will re-address the situation soon to prevent an increase in domestic food costs.

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