Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:00 PM
Here's a reality check -- and a suggestion -- for the folks running the state-by-state campaigns to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients.
Currently before the Washington Legislature is an initiative that calls for mandatory labels on some food sold in that state. The initiative, which will likely be on the November ballot, is similar to one that California voters rejected last fall, but slightly "improved."
The main "improvement" is that an ominous section of the California initiative has been dropped. It basically said that if the initiative passed, the state Legislature could never get rid of it or modify it unless it was made more stringent.
The Washington initiative also modified who can sue a farmer or processor. The California initiative basically said anyone could sue if he thought a farmer was selling genetically modified crops that weren't labeled. In Washington, the initiative makes the state Department of Health the food police and equips the department with the power to fine any miscreants up to $1,000 a day.
Even with those improvements, the Washington initiative is a mess. It exempts food sold in restaurants, alcoholic beverages, most meat and food certified as organic. It also doesn't say how the state, which is strapped for cash, will be able to afford all of the testing required on the many thousands of food products sold in Washington. And how will the state monitor every batch of food that's produced? And who will pay for it? Here's a hint: taxpayers.
Another flaw is that a food processor wrongly accused of mislabeling food has no recourse for recovering its court costs under the initiative. Only a successful plaintiff -- the state -- can be awarded court costs.
We have editorialized on this subject for more than a decade, ever since a biotech labeling initiative was first proposed in Oregon in 2002. Some folks called GMO-Free Oregon are planning another try, as is a group in Idaho, so we will no doubt get more opportunities to comment on these and other initiatives.
As an aside, it's interesting that many of the groups use the phrase "GMO-free" in their names, not "we want to help consumers" or "we believe in the right to know." It appears there's more to the issue than slapping a label on a bottle of corn syrup. We suspect this is more about a national campaign targeting Monsanto, which develops biotech crops, than about food safety.
In fact, there is no evidence that genetically modified foods are in any way unhealthful. In fact, most have been in the marketplace for more than a decade. If any health consequences existed, we're confident scientists would have discovered them long before now.
Beyond that, the main problem with these state initiative efforts is the hodgepodge of standards and laws they would create for farmers and companies that market food across state lines. Because of that, the only answer to the issue would be a federal standard, which we already have in the form of the National Organic Program. It provides a label that specifies that food certified as organic does not contain genetically modified ingredients. The California and Washington initiatives even recognize that to be true.
Which, as we understand it, is the main point of those and the other initiatives.
Beyond that analysis, we also have a suggestion. Instead of involving 50 state governments in efforts to label food that have genetically modified ingredients, why not develop a voluntary certification program that would label foods that don't have genetically modified ingredients? If organic certification is in some way inadequate, food could be tested and certified as GMO-free by an independent group.
It wouldn't take an initiative or an act of Congress to do it, only a group that believes such labels would be beneficial and important to consumers.
It would also create market segmentation for farmers and processors and another option for consumers.
And best of all, the state and federal governments -- and taxpayers -- wouldn't be saddled with yet another expensive, and unneeded, program.
Posted By: Kent Wagoner On: 3/3/2013
Title: I have a very different definition of a smokescreen
Who do you think is going to pay for if not the taxpayer and food shopper? = NO SMOKESCREEN
Have you ever been involved with a far-reaching new regulation before? = NO SMOKESCREEN
Why should farmers have to constantly be defending themselves against any idiot who feels like bringing a lawsuit? = NO SMOKESCREEN
If the people wish to waste resources with a no-account law, why do NOT want to make it universal? = NO SMOKESCREEN
Why shouldn't the people with the irrational fears foot the bill for labeling? = NO SMOKESCREEN
In short, the whole labeling scheme is just that. A scheme whose sole purpose is to inspire fear and mistrust with the final goal being the elimination of a perfectly viable and safe form of food production. This is identical to the efforts of climate change deniers, anti-Obama "birthers," and the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. I would suggest spending your time and effort fighting something truly harmful -- like Dihyrogen Monoxide. Look it up; it's killed more people than GMO's ever will.
Posted By: Pdiff On: 3/2/2013
Title: A small correction
I522 does allow anyone to sue a producer or retailer if the state fails to act within 60 days of notification. New Section 5, Part 3 of the bill states:
"An action to enjoin a violation of this chapter may be brought in any court of competent jurisdiction by any person in the public interest if the action is commenced more than sixty days after the person has given notice of the alleged violation to the department, the attorney general, and to the alleged violator."
The manin difference from Prop 37 is that damages are limited to the plaintiffs cout costs and any fines levied by the state ($1000 a day per violation. Each day is considered separately). Of note: Anyone can do this. WA citizen, or not; a competitor, etc.
Posted By: Dan Kallem On: 2/28/2013
Title: Cough, cough--its getting real hard to get past this smoke!
Excessive cost to the taxpayer to implement/have a new law = smokescreen
Regulatory nightmare in adding a new law = smokescreen
Scoundrel farmers being sued for breaking the law = smokescreen
Unlabeled restaurant/other GMO foods = smokescreen
Voluntary labeling "program" run by the industry = smokescreen
Witness ten years of building fires and maintaining smokescreens in a self-interested and fortunately apparently ill-fated attempt to confuse the citizens of the state, consumers who quite sensibly are simply asking to have particular foods labelled a particular way. If this is what the residents of this state want, perhaps then we ARE willing to pay for it, regardless of the price increases and other societal costs. And yes, EVEN if it costs the agricultural industry profits! Welcome to the real world, where corporations DON'T simply get to have it their way because they can game our political system and buy our politicians.
The rest of us have simply to keep asking ourselves, if GMO containing food aren't any problem, do you imagine these sanguine industry supporters would be so apoplectic over this relatively simple requirement?