When it comes to innovation, politics can get in the way. Technology is the thread that runs through a competitive economy, and unnecessary and overly burdensome laws and regulations can impede innovation. That is the case with genetic engineering (GE), which could help increase agricultural efficiency and productivity when we’ll need it most, not to mention promote and facilitate medical breakthroughs.
There is no national standard for labeling foods containing GE ingredients. In November 2015, the Food and Drug Administration declined a petition to require mandatory labeling of GE foods and only discussed voluntary labeling of GMOs when approving GE salmon.
The absence of a national standard means that states have the opportunity to regulate within constitutional boundaries. Despite scientific evidence and conclusions from numerous domestic and international health organizations that foods containing GE ingredients are safe to eat, states have started to take up laws that require GE foods to be labeled. In particular, the Vermont state legislature passed a law, which takes effect this July, that will require manufacturers to disclose on the package if a product contains GE ingredients. Although supporters claim this law provides information that satisfies their “Right to Know,” in that regard Vermont’s law is anything but clear cut.
If the Vermont law takes effect, and any of the other states currently considering labeling laws actually enact them, the result will be utter chaos for companies large and small that produce or process food and sell it around the country. To be clear, the effect of these laws won’t just be felt by food producers and processors (or the manufacturers who will be liable for daily fines of $1,000 per day for a violation in Vermont), these effects will be felt throughout the food chain, and most importantly, by the consumer. For example, the Corn Refiner’s Association found that Vermont’s new law could add an extra $1,050 to the grocery bill of American families.
Thanks to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), we may finally have some clarity for both businesses and consumers.
Roberts released a draft bill last week that creates a uniform voluntary national standard for GMO labeling. It also requires the United States Department of Agriculture to establish standards for designating products that contain GE ingredients so consumers have consistent information regardless of where they live. These two major actions would simplify food labeling regulations for producers, processors and manufacturers; end a needless stigma around foods containing GE ingredients; and keep food affordable for families.
The House passed a similar bill over the summer. The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) would have stopped states from imposing these burdens on producers and consumers and instead create a national voluntary labeling standard. Favorable Senate action on this issue followed by swift action by the House and Senate to get a bill to the president will help everybody understand the rules, create a uniform standard, and help keep food affordable.
We don’t need more red tape. We need more innovation.