The Future of GMO Labeling in the United States
By Caroline Dezendorf
On November 6, 2012 after a long, hard-fought campaign, California’s Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of food products containing genetically modified ingredients, was narrowly defeated. The six point loss was due, in large part, to over 46 million dollars of misleading marketing paid for by agribusiness and major food corporations.
Nevertheless, the Yes on 37 campaign attracted interest around the globe. In an interview with Southern California Public Radio, Mark Bittman acknowledged that the fight against GMOs and big food corporations needs to continue, “Every time something like this [Prop 37] comes up they will do their best to knock it down. So maybe if there are 10 or 15 or 30 of these kinds of initiatives on ballots in different cities in a given year then maybe it could just kind of overwhelm the resources of these big food companies” (1).
In counties and cities around the United States, local governments have passed measures requiring labeling of GMO ingredients and restriction of GMO cultivation. On November 15, 2012, just nine days after Prop 37 was defeated in CA, Cincinnati, Ohio passed a resolution requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods (2). The resolution was sponsored by the consumer advocacy organization, Food and Water Watch, which is campaigning around the country to label genetically modified foods. San Juan County in Washington State also took a stand against GMO cultivation. The ballot initiative, which passed on November 6, does not allow propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of plants, animals and other organisms that have been genetically modified (3).
Not only are resolutions and ordinances being passed on the local level, but 30 states are now drafting initiatives and bills to require GMO labeling (4). Both Vermont and Connecticut previously attempted to pass laws requiring GMO labeling, but were stopped by threats of lawsuits from Monsanto. They are taking the lead for state-wide campaigns to label genetically modified foods (5). The Coalition of States for Mandatory GMO Labeling is comprised of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington (6). In addition, there are now federal petitions to both the FDA and Congress urging GMO labeling laws (7, 8).
Grassroots campaigns are also taking steps to ensure people are aware of genetically modified ingredients in their foods. The Non-GMO Project is a third party certifier that has labeled more than 6,000 products found on grocery store shelves as non-GMO (7). The Label It Yourself (#LIY) is a direct-action campaign that encourages consumers to demand GMO labeling by labeling products with GMO ingredients themselves (2). (Note: Adding stickers to shelves and products is not technically legal and can be prosecuted as defacing private property.) In addition, some organizations are calling for a boycott of the companies that backed the No on 37 campaign (listed here).
In recent surveys, 93% of Americans stated they wanted GMO products labeled (9). Consumers, farmers, and politicians are now banding together to support GMO product labeling. Sixty-one countries around the globe already require labeling, (10) with the United States being the only large nation that does not.
Wouldn’t you like to have the right to know?