New GMO labeling law simplifies (Editorial)

(Aug. 16, 2016) On July 29, President Obama signed a bill into law setting a national standard for labeling food products that have genetically modified ingredients.
The new law prevents a cumbersome patchwork of state laws that would have been confusing for consumers, especially in the small states of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and a logistical nightmare for food companies.
The legislation will require most food products to carry a label on the packaging, a symbol or an electronic code readable by smartphone that indicates whether the food contains GMOs.
USDA has two years to write the rules for implementation.
Though the law ends a months-long debate on Capitol Hill with a bi-partisan compromise, the broader food fight rages on, with food labeling advocates vowing to challenge the law in court because it does not go far enough to meet their standards.
Even if groups decide not to go to court over the law, future challenges are sure to come with new proposed legislation which ultimately doesn’t work towards solving the education gap to understand what GMOs are and are not, the purpose and benefits each use provides and to unburden research efforts to explore new uses to better feed the world’s coming population boom.
Much of the advocacy of stricter labeling requirements doesn’t reject the safety of GMOs used in foods but harps on the public’s right to know what’s in the products they buy.
But in early July, about a week into the implantation of the Vermont state law that required on-package labeling of food products with genetically modified ingredients, data from a survey sponsored by several farmer and food organizations pointed to the labels being misleading to customers.
The Vermont mandated GMO label statement caused approximately 73 percent of consumers to be less likely to buy the food, according to the survey which also said 36 percent perceived the labeled food to be “less safe.”
Twenty-eight percent perceived it to be “less healthful,” 22 percent perceived it to be “less nutritious” and 20 percent perceived the food to be “worse for the environment.”
“With shocking clarity, the survey results demonstrate why food companies would be pressured to switch to non-GMO ingredients to avoid the requirement of on-pack GMO label disclosure and potential conflicting multi-state labeling requirements,” the ag groups said in a joint statement. “Switching away from GMO ingredients is the key assumption of a recent economic analysis that concluded the Vermont on-pack GMO label law would increase food costs for the average American household by approximately $1,050 annually.”
Though the federal law signed by the president sets a unified standard for companies and consumers to use, it’s not a silver bullet solution, either.
Writing in The Atlantic before the bill became law, senior editor James Hamblin, M.D., said biotechnology is neither good or bad but rather the “specific use in a specific instance” that denotes its value and that’s where the conversation should be directed.
“Prominent, blanket labeling of all products that contain any trace of in-vitro recombinant DNA technology only further polarizes discussion, penalizing all use of the technology and limiting the odds of implementing it as judiciously and safely as possible,” Hamblin said.
Without a civil discussion, rooted in sound science, with an engaged public ,any label has the potential to do more harm than good.