The subject of genetically modified (GM) food is a notoriously controversial one for all the wrong reasons. Thanks to a campaign of misinformation by some parties, and a lack of scientific understanding of GM technology among the general public, it has sometimes provoked outrage across both Europe and the US.
Addressing the topic head on, this month Vermont became the first state in the US to enact a law requiring all GM food to be labelled as such. Worrying that different states would take on very different laws, the Senate has now stepped into the fray, and just last week voted 63 to 30 to approve a bill that would supersede Vermont’s law with a nationwide equivalent. The so-called “Mandatory Labeling Bill” describes this action as the first step in creating a national bioengineered food disclosure standard.
Companies now have a choice. Either they have to put a text statement or a symbol on their food packaging denoting that it contains GM ingredients, or they can include a digital QR code that customers would have to scan with a smartphone to learn about the GM ingredients in their product. Smaller companies can simply include a URL on the package to link to more information.
Any product that contains GM material must be labelled (most cheese, corn and soy in the US, for example), but interestingly, any product made from GM ingredients but that no longer contain the original GM DNA after they have been processed (including many oils and sweeteners) are exempt from labeling.
The bill now needs approval from the House, where Republicans have already voted to block Vermont’s law in favor of a voluntary labeling law. Curiously, many Republicans are often known for their misalignment with the views of scientists, particularly when it comes to “big issues” – climate change, for example. However, in this case, many scientists would agree that labeling foods as containing GM ingredients is somewhat ludicrous.
Indeed, more than 100 Nobel laureates just signed a letter to Greenpeace – a fervent opponent of GM technology – pleading with them to look more carefully at the science, which is by and large in favor of GM processes. It’s likely that Republicans are angry about the thought of mandatory labeling because they have never traditionally been a fan of governmental intervention.
It's passed one hurdle. Now it has to be approved by the House. eurobanks/Shutterstock