That effort hit a roadblock last week when a legislative committee in New Hampshire voted against a labeling bill, giving it an uphill climb to pass in the full Legislature. But a pro-labeling movement is growing strong across the country, backed by polls that show public opinion strongly in its favor.
The forces against labeling are led by Monsanto, the agriculture biotech giant that engineers seeds, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is supported by the creators of the kinds of popular artificial foodstuffs that overwhelmingly incorporate GMOs. Efforts to impose labeling laws failed by slim margins recently in California and Washington state when opponents, funded by the two groups, vastly outspent the proposals’ supporters.
Opponents of GMO labeling argue that the science surrounding the health effects of GMOs is inconclusive and that a label would confuse consumers.
That’s an interesting point, especially coming from companies that label products “all-natural” when they are anything but. New labels enter the marketplace all the time, and we should have enough confidence in the consumer to figure out what they mean, and why they matter.
As for the science, it is unclear. First, much of the complex testing is done by the producers themselves, with only cursory oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. Second, genetic engineering in food cannot be pigeonholed. Proving that using one type of gene in one food for one purpose is safe does not mean that the use of all types in all circumstances is, too.
“It does not appear that there’s any risk that applies across the board to all genetically engineered food and to all people,” Margaret Mello, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Grist.org, an environmental and climate issues website. “Each plant is different, each gene insertion is different, each person’s response is different.”