Photo credit: Stockbyte/Getty Images/Thinkstock
The question of informing consumers about genetically modified products has never been more topical, as more and more states join the lengthy debate over their safety in terms of public health. As a result, the number of states that are considering action to increase consumers' awareness and to make genetically modified products easily detectable in retail stores is also on the rise.
The last time the matter was addressed on federal level was in 1992, when regulators stated that genetically engineered foods were not "materially different" from conventionally produced food products and therefore should not be labeled as different. However, certain states have opposed this ruling since then and some of them have achieved success.
Last month Vermont became the first state to pass a bill requiring manufacturers to place special labels on products made from GMOs. Connecticut followed shortly after, and at present there are 26 states that have introduced some form of labeling bill regarding GMO products, according to a lobbying coalition calling itself Right To Know GMO, quoted by USA Today.
Other states are due to take action. In November, Washington state is having a referendum on GMO labeling. Last November a similar referendum took place in California but failed by a vote of 53% to 47%. It was reported that the local biotechnology industry spent about $45 million on ads against labeling.
RELATED: Food processors should take public opinion into account when using processing aids
The situation is predicted to change at the federal level too. In April, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced a bill that would instruct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure all genetically modified products are clearly labeled. The bill has 11 co-sponsors and the House version was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Boxer explained.
While the bill is independent from the farm bill, Boxer also proposed two key amendments to the latter. The first one states that the United States should join the 64 countries that require labeling of GMO products, including the European Union member states. The second demands a report from a number of federal agencies on current labeling approaches used globally and the possible impact of relying on different labeling requirements across states, rather than having a fixed federal policy. The report should be presented in six months, USA Today noted.
Regulation of GMO products is desperately needed, campaigners claim. Companies have full control over studies into genetically engineered products and actually very little of their nature is known to the public, claimed Andrea Stander, executive director of non-profit farm advocacy group Rural Vermont, which demands that communities should receive full information regarding the production and the impact of GMO.
According to BIO, an industry group that represents giant companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Bayer, about 90 percent of the corn, cotton, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States are genetically modified, which makes labeling useless. In addition, they claim that labeling would imply that GMOs are inferior to their traditional counterparts, potentially having a negative impact on their business.