What exactly is a GMO? Is it big brother at work? Is every GM corn kernel really a chip that will imbed into our brains and turn us into the undead? Well, judging by the bias of some popular media, that seems possible. Overwhelmed by the constant battling between those for and against genetically modified organisms, it is perfectly understandable why some people have avoided the subject all together. However, “GMO” is ruling the airwaves as Vermont has become the first state to pass legislation mandating the labeling of genetically engineered products.
Bill H.112 titled “An Act Relating to the Labeling of Food Produced with Genetic Engineering” was signed by Governor Peter Shumlin on May 8th of this year, the law being scheduled to take effect July 1st of 2016. The Bill initially summarizes that Federal law does not currently require labeling of food that has been genetically engineered or require testing of food to determine if it is genetically engineered; it then states that genetically engineered products are increasingly available and pose a threat to consumer health. Therefore: “For multiple health, personal, religious, and environmental reasons, the State of Vermont finds that food produced from genetic engineering should be labeled as such”. Justification for this statement includes the need for “natural” products and providing information to consumers so that they may make informed decisions.
So: good or bad? Depending on who you ask, you’ll get very different answers. As backlash, the state of Vermont is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit from the combined forces of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers. In a representative statement, the National Association of Manufacturers said “With zero justification in health, safety or science, the State of Vermont has imposed a burdensome mandate on manufacturers that unconstitutionally compels speech and interferes with interstate commerce.” It’s hard to argue with the fact that the law is burdensome, the extra cost of labeling and testing likely falling on producers and integrators in the marketplace, but is it unconstitutional? Supposedly the state has safeguards ready for constitutional challenges likely to come up in court; obviously Vermont legislators knew they wouldn’t be pleasing everyone. To give the law power in court, Ben & Jerry’s – one of the Bill’s biggest supporters – is helping with finances by donating $1 of each sale in their Burlington and Waterbury stores to the Food Fight Fund. They even renamed Fudge Brownie to “Food Fight!” Fudge Brownie; it was an easy choice for Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s, saying simply: “Vermonter’s want the right to know what’s in their food”.
What all of this comes down to for consumers, though, is a misconception of what “GMO” really means. Scientific communities are confident in the progress that can be made using genetically engineered crops throughout the world; drought-tolerant corn, anyone? But if the stated goal of this Bill is consumer education, then the bill should probably not contain language that insights fear and further mystifies definition of GMOs altogether. Rather, what needs to come next is a conversation based in sound-science and practicality.
If we truly want to demystify the GMO, then fear and misinformation have no place—in news articles, Facebook ads, and yes, even—and most importantly—legislation. I would encourage everyone curious about GMOs to visit GMOAnswers.com and read up!
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