By LJ Levi

U.S. Bill HR4432 Would Pre-empt States’ Regulations on GMO Labeling

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Last year, a bill was introduced in Congress to override individual states’ requirements for labeling food that contains genetically-modified organisms (GMO), imposing on states’ sovereignty and jurisdiction and ignoring their citizens’ opinions (votes) on the matter.

It’s been touted “Monsanto’s Dream Bill”.

The Bill, which has 37 co-sponsors, failed to pass in last year’s session and has been re-introduced to the current Congress. Called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014, the Bill is worded to make us feel warm and fuzzy: the Act will require testing of GMO that will be used in food, manufacturers must notify the Secretary of Health and Human Services well in advance of plans to put the GMO on the market, and the Secretary is required to determine that the food product is as safe as the same product produced without the particular GMO. Then there is a clause that says that this Act will supersede any state legislation already passed regarding the particular GMO and any labeling requirements the state mandates.

The author of Bill HR4432 explains his reason for introducing it:

“We’ve got a number of states that are attempting to put together a patchwork quilt of food labeling requirements with respect to genetic modification of foods. That makes it enormously difficult to operate a food system. Some of the campaigns in some of these states aren’t really to inform consumers but rather aimed at scaring them. What this bill attempts to do is set a standard.”[1]

Food labeling makes things difficult? If it costs more to have different labels for different states, then it seems simple enough to openly disclose all ingredients on every label. Or is that too simple? The essence of the Bill is to legislate convenience for giant food manufacturers to do whatever they please, regardless of what their consumers want.

Confusion is a lesser problem than intentional misrepresentation.

In addition to the changes to state labeling requirements, Bill 4432 allows GMO foods to be labeled “natural”. We can’t go down this path in this small article–it’s too egregious in and of itself. Here is what the Chief Marketing Officer of one natural foods manufacturer stated about this part of the law:

“The…bill would leave consumers even more confused, not less. Allowing genetically engineered ingredients to be included in the product’s label ‘natural’ will undermine consumers’ trust in the growing, vibrant natural products industry. This bill sends us backwards in terms of addressing consumer confusion.”

Does the federal government know better?

The debate continues around GMO foods and their safety for human consumption. Studies on both sides support their findings–it seems to depend on who is funding the research.

Let’s look at the federal government’s track record on substances that were later admitted to be detrimental to human health: saccharin, DES, DDT, triclosan, the pesticide Roundup, synthetic statins–the list is too long to cite. To summarize, the federal agencies that exist to protect our health have consistently fallen short.

Where does our power lie?

Consider Illinois that passed legislation last year to prohibit the use of plastic particles in personal products because of the danger to human and marine health.

Oregon’s voters passed a ban on genetically engineered crops from being planted in their counties, despite Monsanto and other Big Ag spending half a million dollars to stop it.

Residents of Texas banned hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Hawai’i has limited the use of GMO crops. It is on the smaller local scale that individuals and grassroots organizations can make their voices heard. State and local governments were set up for that purpose.

Contradictory evidence

There is no evidence that GMO enhances crop yield–quite the contrary, even by Monsanto’s admission. GMO are therefore not the “enormous boon to all of humanity” that the Bill’s author suggests.

In addition: in the last year, one of the U.S.’ largest corn importers, China, rejected GMO corn, causing a loss of almost half a billion dollars for corn farmers. Many countries are passing more stringent anti-GMO laws, not weaker ones.

There are many issues here to consider. Regardless of where you stand on the GMO issue, the impingement of states’ rights are at stake in this case. We work hard to do the best for our families. Our representative government was formed to enable the majority to make the rules. When the power to make our voices heard is rescinded, we have relinquished much more than the ability to decide which can of corn to buy.

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About the Author

LJ Levi