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In early May, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law HB 112, a bill that would require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients in Vermont. While consumer advocacy organizations are praising the nation’s first GMO labeling law, industry food groups like Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) are challenging the bill, claiming it’s critically flawed.
In light of this labeling debate, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) recently released the results of its 2014 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey. According to the survey, 63 percent of consumers are content with current labeling policy for foods produced with biotechnology, which calls for labeling only when biotechnology substantially changes the food’s nutritional content/composition or if there’s a potential safety issue. The survey shows that only 4 percent wanted information about biotechnology or related terms.
Many consumers also report they’re likely to buy foods produced through biotechnology to obtain certain benefits. For instance, more than two-thirds of Americans say they’d likely purchase foods made with biotechnology to reduce the potential for carcinogens (69 percent), be protected from insect damage and require fewer pesticide applications (69 percent), enhance nutritional benefits (67 percent), and eliminate the trans-fat content in foods (67 percent).
“When consumers understand the potential benefits that technology in food production can have for both people and the planet, they can get behind it. People need to know what’s in it for them,” says Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RD, LD, FADA, FAND, senior vice president of nutrition and food safety at IFIC.
“GM crops are safe and have important benefits for people and our planet,” according to a statement from GMA. “They use less water and fewer pesticides, reduce crop prices by 15 to 30 percent, and can help us feed a growing global population of seven billion people.” The organization points out consumers who prefer to avoid GM ingredients can buy products already labeled “certified organic.”
But Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell has begun the process of drafting rules to implement the new Vermont law. The Attorney General’s Office is soliciting input from the public, including food processors, grocers and other retailers, the agricultural community, and consumers.
Wanting to avoid a “50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies,” GMA is pushing for bipartisan federal legislation, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, HR 4432, which would require a label on foods containing GM ingredients only if the FDA determines there is a health or safety risk. This would help ensure food labels are accurate and consistent, eliminating consumer confusion.