Food Safety Experts Critical of GMO Labeling Bill

In an open letter released today, several food safety experts warned of the problems with a new Senate bill that would regulate the labeling of genetically modified foods. A reaction to a Vermont state law and resulting regulations on the same topic, the bill would establish a nation-wide labeling policy for products that contain genetically modified organisms.

As the signers, including CEI’s own Gregory Conko, point out, the bill is designed to preempt Vermont’s policy and prevent a “patchwork quilt” of conflicting state laws on the topic, but at the moment that concern is premature – not only have Vermont officials announced that they won’t begin enforcing the law until next year, there are currently no other state laws set to go into effect.

Even if one is worried about multiple state laws coming into eventual conflict, though, that’s not an excuse for adopting a poorly thought out policy. Today’s letter lays out the drawbacks of the current Senate bill. Federal mandatory labeling would, among other things:

  • Use the power of government to compel commercial speech that is misleading to consumers.
  • Convey the false connotation that genetically engineered foods are in some way unsafe.
  • Create a mandate that is inconsistent with science, including the government’s own scientific conclusions that genetically engineered foods should be regulated no differently than other foods.

Although supporters of the bill argue correctly that the Vermont labeling law would have significant negative economic effects, the Senate proposal would be even worse. Instead of one small state enacting misguided and detrimental policy, the Senate bill would require the federal government to create a misguided and detrimental policy for the entire country.

Instead of passing this poorly thought through compromise bill, Congress should instead use its authority under the U.S. Constitution to preempt state labeling laws like Vermont’s and codify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current labeling policy, which requires special labeling for foods derived from new plant varieties only when the food product itself has been changed in a material way, such as a higher or lower level of vitamins or other nutrients; a change in the level of macronutrients, such as fats or carbohydrates; or another change that could have a relevant impact on safety or nutrition.

The full Senate could vote on the proposal as soon as this evening. More on risk and consumer freedom issues here.