With the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama gave his approval to labeling genetically modified ingredients in food. Though he signed the bill into law Friday, we have time before it’ll be implemented — the USDA has two years to write the rules, and the Vermont law that fueled the GMO debate to new heights this summer will be put on hold until federal standards can be devised.
This day was bound to arrive. Two weeks ago, Congress pushed the bill forward, and it was expected that Obama would sign it. The measure will require most food packages to carry a text label or another marker readable by a smartphone identifying any GMO properties. Though this bill represents a compromise — and a relative victory for the ag industry — the activism behind the initial labeling push is suspect and traces to misinformation about conventional agriculture and a negative public perception in many urban areas. Most accusations center around the safety of GMO products (or, at least, the claimed uncertainty of their safety). The reality is that genetically modified products have been around for decades, and the ones that are the source of the anti-GMO movement are, in fact, the most tested food products in the history of humanity. Not only are many of the products researched by the FDA, USDA, and EPA, but foreign countries do their own independent testing and have given wide support on the GMO front.
The public, too often, doesn’t understand that GMOs are part of everyday life — yet GMO has become something of a “bad” acronym. What isn’t always conveyed is that GMO technology has led to reduced pesticide use, less tillage, fewer carbon dioxide emissions, and increased farmer productivity. The science coming out of GMO research has been overwhelmingly positive.
The reason that the measure made it to Obama’s desk in the first place is that Vermont’s labeling law was threatening to create a patchwork of state-level laws that would be virtually impossible and cost-prohibitive to implement by national companies in the food sector. In that respect, a federal standard is better than the alternative of individual state-by-state standards, and some in the production ag industry have signaled support for the national measure.
“It will take more [food] innovation to produce what we need in the future,” Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer and the leader in the development of GMO technology, said to an audience this week. GMOs are an important element of agricultural longevity, and it has been noted that this bill will be an opportunity to educate consumers about the technology.