The GMO-labeling movement — the latest cause célèbre of liberal elites — was dealt a major blow last week when Congress passed HR 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. The bill, sponsored by Representative Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), prohibits states from mandating labels on products with genetically modified ingredients and creates a voluntary certification system at the USDA. “This bill, supported by over 400 groups that provide safe and affordable food for our world, will eliminate the state-by-state labeling patchwork that would serve to confuse consumers, stigmatize GMO crops, and raise food costs,” Pompeo said after the 275–150 vote on July 23.
Forty-five Democrats voted in favor of the bill — including Marcia Fudge, Sheila Jackson Lee, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus — over concerns that labeling would mean higher costs to their constituents. The bill now needs a Democratic co-sponsor in the Senate.
Culinary crusaders boiled over. Opponents of the bill referred to it as the DARK Act, Denying Americans the Right to Know. Organic-industry leaders, who would hugely profit from the scarlet letters of a GMO label on non-organic products, lobbied heavily against the bill. “We are disappointed but not surprised that the majority of House members have sided with large chemical and food companies to protect corporate interests,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Organic and a major funder for various anti-GMO front groups. Celebrity chef and left-wing activist Tom Colicchio wrote that members of Congress were “actively trying to deny us the basic right to know what we are putting in our bodies.”
They also howled that Republicans were denying states’ rights, even though the bill will preempt a labeling law in only one state (Vermont, home to Democratic presidential candidate and ardent GM foe Bernie Sanders) while preventing a labyrinth of 50 different labeling requirements.
You really can’t blame anti-GMO folks for being a bit cranky lately; it’s been a rough stretch for them. Labeling referenda failed last year in Oregon and Colorado, following the defeat of a similar initiative in California in 2012. State lawmakers across the country aren’t too keen on the idea, either, and “most state GMO-labeling laws did not get far in 2015” according to Food Safety News.
Chipotle’s anti-GMO announcement this spring was roundly panned by nearly every major newspaper (and National Review); the Chicago Tribune accused the fast-food chain of embracing the “fearmongering of some food, environmental, and health activists who have turned GMO into a dirty word.”
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And earlier this month, Slate ran a lengthy and devastating piece about the anti-GMO movement, deconstructing every argument its activists use, from labeling to pesticide use. Reporter Will Saletan researched the issue for nearly a year and concluded: “The war against genetically modified organisms is full of fearmongering, errors, and fraud. Labeling them will not make you safer.” Of labeling, Saletan wrote:
The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy.
The bottom line is that labeling is only a cover for the anti-capitalism agenda of leftist foodies. They oppose biotechnology entirely. Even though modern genetic engineering of plants has been deemed safe by most international science organizations and practiced for decades here in the U.S. without any ill effects, GMO foes can’t get past their anti-corporate hatred toward companies such as Monsanto to acknowledge the usefulness and promise of genetically engineered crops. It’s a political issue, not a science issue.
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Let’s hope that time is running out on these fear-peddlers. With rejection at the ballot box, inaction at the state level, and now a resounding defeat in the House, anti-GMOers might want to turn their attention to another cause. Like how to get GMO rice to starving kids in Third World countries.
— Julie Kelly is a cooking instructor, food writer, and food-policy adviser for the Heartland Institute. She owns Now You’re Cooking, in Orland Park, Ill. You can reply to her on Twitter @Julie_Kelly2.