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Focus on Agriculture

February 12, 2014

Time for Congress to Act on GMO Labeling

By Andrew Walmsley

Farmers and representatives from a diverse contingent of about 30 companies and organizations recently announced the formation of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. The coalition is urging Congress to quickly seek a federal solution that would protect consumers from a confusing patchwork of 50 different state GMO labeling policies. The coalition is also pushing to entrust the nation’s foremost food safety agency, the Food and Drug Administration, with the appropriate authority to review the safety of new GMO technology and if necessary, the need for any labeling of foods made with GMOs.

With the coalition formally organized and hitting its stride, media attention has been mainly positive and support on Capitol Hill is expected to continue to grow, in recognition that American’s families deserve a food supply that is safe, abundant and affordable.

Foods made with GMOs are safe to eat and have a number of important benefits for people and the environment. In fact, every credible U.S. and international food safety authority that has studied GMO crops has found that they are safe and that there are no health effects associated with their use. America’s farmers rely on this proven technology to protect their crops from insects, weeds and drought.

For consumers, a federal solution to this issue will increase confidence in the safety of American food by reaffirming the FDA’s role as our nation’s foremost authority on the use and labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. Put simply, FDA is looking out for consumers’ safety when it comes to GMO technology.

For example, FDA would establish federal standards for companies that want to voluntarily label products to indicate the absence or presence of GMO food ingredients which will help consumers clearly understand their choices in the marketplace.

Food safety will be improved, with FDA required to conduct a safety review of all new GMO traits before they are introduced into the marketplace.  FDA will be empowered to mandate the labeling of GMO food ingredients if the agency determines there is a health, safety or nutrition issue with an ingredient derived from a GMO.

Regarding the confusion and uncertainty of a 50-state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws, look no further than Missouri for confirmation of why this is important. Farmers growing food in the Show Me state could be forced to deal with a multitude of requirements to sell what they grow if each of eight neighboring states enacts different labeling laws.

Federal labeling requirements rather than a patchwork of state laws could save consumers money in the long run. Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, recently pointed to independent economic studies indicating American families would pay $400 per year on average, to compensate for state labeling requirements.

GMO technology has fostered a revolution in American agriculture that has benefitted consumers in the United States and around the world. And with global population expected to grow from seven to nine billion by 2050, we will need 70 percent more food production to keep pace. A federal GMO labeling solution will provide a framework for the safe and continued use of technology that is essential to the future of our planet.


Andrew Walmsley is director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, a member of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food.