GMO Food

Why Congress Shouldn't Act on GMOs

Let the Supreme Court rule on mandatory labeling.


Credit: MillionsAgainstMonsanto / photo on flickr

This month it's become increasingly clear that political debates over GMO labeling mandates may be coming to a head. Reports suggest there will be a compromise in Congress on GMO labeling by the end of 2015.

Generally, this is something that many supporters and opponents of government-mandated GMO labeling alike have wanted for some time. But both sides want far different outcomes. And the rub is that no one seems to know just what a compromise might entail.

"New bipartisan life has been breathed into the national GMO labeling debate," Farm Futures reported last week, "but many are left wondering what it could include."

When isn't the devil in the details?

This past summer, the House passed a bipartisan GMO-labeling bill that seeks largely to assuage food industry fears over state labeling laws.

The House bill, which I referred to here as "flawed," would prohibit the federal government and the states from enforcing any mandatory labeling of foods that contain GMO ingredients and permit the voluntary use of GMO-free labeling claims and the use of claims pertaining to GMO ingredients alike.

If the bill only went that far, I'd be inclined to support it. Instead, it also prohibits food producers from touting the safety of their foods based solely on whether or not their food contains GMOs. Tout away either way, I say.

More problematically, the bill would also require the federal government to "establish a non-bioengineered food certification program" and set national standards for the labeling of non-GMO food.

The precedent for the House bill is the USDA's takeover of organic labeling earlier this century. That process made a mess of organic labeling. It's been beset with controversies that have shaken consumer confidence in organic labels.

"The truth is that most federal labeling schemes are flawed at best, and often involve conflicts and compromises that rob meaning from the label," I wrote in a 2013 piece extolling the virtues of private labeling choices. "The USDA's widely panned takeover of organic labeling in this country is perhaps the best example."

Creating a new USDA bureaucracy and crushing successful, existing market-based labeling efforts, including the Non-GMO Project, wouldn't benefit consumers one bit.

That's why, instead of supporting the House bill, I urged the Supreme Court to strike down Vermont's first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law once that case makes it to the Court—as it likely will if Congress doesn't muck things up—and effectively put the question of mandatory GMO labeling to rest once and for all.

It appeared for a while that might happen. The House bill hasn't gained traction in the Senate.

Now, though, the Senate is working on its own bill. The bipartisan effort is spearheaded by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who worries—like many House colleagues—that food producers forced to comply with dozens of dueling state laws will have to raise prices for consumers.

"I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements and frankly, it won't work," Sen. Stabenow said recently.

Stabenow's language closely tracks that of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which opposes mandatory labeling rules and supports efforts in Congress to rein in existing and potential state labeling laws, and which supported the House bill. In a press release last spring, the GMA cautioned against "a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that will be costly and confusing for consumers."

The Senate bill would appear likely to distinguish itself from the House bill in some important ways. Just how different, and how important those differences will be, is what's unclear to date. But here are hints.

According to Agri-Pulse, Stabenow says she wants a bill that balances "disclosure and transparency" with assurances it won't "stigmatize biotechnology."

Whatever the end result, it's one the food industry will likely support. That's because Congress has shown overwhelmingly that it has no interest in forcing food makers to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

We need less—not more—politicization of food. Yet Congress appears inclined to find a political solution to what is a legal problem that can and should be settled by the Supreme Court.

NEXT: Watch Matt Welch Talk 2016 Politics on CNN's Smerconish Today at 9 a.m. ET

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21 responses to “Why Congress Shouldn't Act on GMOs

  1. Screw congress.

    Happy Halloween.

    Your sexy Vampire

  2. No H’ween “killer tomato” costume? No alt text?

  3. “Creating a new USDA bureaucracy and crushing successful, existing market-based labeling efforts, including the Non-GMO Project, wouldn’t benefit consumers one bit.”

    But what would central committee do in spare time? Testing cannabis strength?

  4. “My little GMO…. You’re really looking fine…
    Three deuces and a four speed… and a 289..”

    I don’t see what the issue is… I wish they could GMO on me a little. There’s a flaw or two I’d like changed.

    1. I happen to be pro-GMO, and I’m surprised that Congress is trying to protect it in any way, because I have seen rapid talking point spouting opposition to it in the comments under GMO related articles for years. So I’m used to seeing the anti-GMO side promoted.

      I am surprised that Reason wants a Judge or Judges to rule us rather than our elected legislature. Are libertarians supposed to support that because of the bureaucracy that would accompany a law? Yes, and the cancerous growth of bureaucracy will continue to metastasize in any case. Cutting that back is one of the projects that one or two of the 80 or 90 Repub candidates had put out-quietly, before it became about being low energy, sweaty, etc.

  5. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,


  6. I guess there’s hope in that we didn’t attract a single luddite to propose the precautionary principle (as if none of us had ever heard of it before!)
    Are they dying out from their vegan diet? Can we hope?

  7. Live Free[er]?

    Dear Reason reader,

    one of the most personal freedom- damaging beliefs you can have [one of many :-)] , is the belief in the necessity, and the effectiveness, of political involvement – to supposedly “improve” your own life and the lives of others via the political process.

    Fact: as an individual you will _never_ enjoy a freer life for yourself until you completely reject the “drug”, “religion” [ or whatever else you want to call it] known as “political activism” or “involvement”, in its entirety.

    It is nothing more than a trap- a dead end that dramatically _decreases_ your chances of ever achieving more personal freedom and happiness for yourself in this world.

    Regards, onebornfree.
    Personal Freedom Consulting:

    1. You’ll have to forgive this old timer, but with all your grammar mistakes and odd punctuation, I had a hard time grasping what you’re trying to say.

      Are you saying, don’t get involved in politics? Just avoid and ignore elections, proposed laws, regulations, etc? Are you saying we should let those elected to government office alone and just sit back and be enjoy being free?

      This is a joke, right? Where’s the camera?

      1. He’s serious. Ignorant, but serious. Which is what happens when you leave education up to a rabble of open and avowed leftists. He probably has never read, and certainly does not understand anything that animates this statement –

        “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…

      2. Will4Freedom|11.2.15 @ 1:18PM|#
        “You’ll have to forgive this old timer, but with all your grammar mistakes and odd punctuation, I had a hard time grasping what you’re trying to say.”

        He’s only here to flog his ‘consulting business’.

  8. So much for a nation of laws, now we are to be a nation living under the Council of Black Robes.

    Such an improvement!

    And the idea that de facto legislation masquerading as a SCOTUS ‘decision’ somehow wipes everything free from the taint of ‘politics’ is as inane as it is insulting.

    If Vermont wants to drive up the price of their foodstuffs out of a shamanistic fear of technology then so be it. If that also negatively impacts certain business interests – (the “food industry” hardly being monolithic) it is unfortunate, but not within the purview of the Federal government.

    1. So much this! Thank you for so cogently stating what I was thinking!

    2. Now there’s a man who understands the Constitution, particularly the 10th Amendment. Thank you ThomasD

  9. Organic food should be labeled “Grown in sewage”.

    That would be good for science, technology, freedom, and America.

  10. Think of government mandated food labeling as if they were government mandated fortune cookies and horoscopes on your food.

    “Mama Oba sees a long life and a mysterious dark stranger in your future!”

  11. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  12. I don’t understand how they wouldn’t have to label it. That is like saying you don’t have to put if it is natural or artificial flavoring! Big difference. I make an extra stop every time for grocery’s to my local Kroger to get organic. Those gmo bananas are green one day and rotten with worms the next! That is like them trying to regulate liquid tobacco. Are they really that bored that they have to mingle in this shit and can’t keep well enough alone.

  13. I think that all foods should be labeled as GMO, unless it can be demonstrated that the genome of every ingredient that they contain is identical to the one that was used by humans 10,000 years ago, before the start of agriculture, when humans were simple hunter gatherers. This would ensure that everything that we have altered is identified, which means that ALL foods would be labeled as GMOs.

    This would put an end to any controversies about GMOs.

  14. Hear, hear! Politics can make anything inedible. I’d rather trust the lawyers and the insurance companies to know what’s dangerous.

  15. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

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