There are few more divisive topics in the food world now than genetically modified organisms. The majority of Americans view GMOs as dangerous even though a majority of scientists think they’re safe. Most recently Chipotle, which holds itself up as the vanguard of ethically-sourced, transparently prepared and healthy(ish) fast food, declared war on GMOs as did ice cream do-gooders Ben & Jerry’s.
Whatever your opinion of food’s genetic manipulation and the agricultural tinkerers who perform it, one idea that seems uncontroversial is GMO labeling. Recent polling suggests only seven percent of Americans are against the idea of labeling genetically modified food, but a bill continues to wind its way through congress that prevent states from doing that. House Bill 1599 puts the entire responsibility for labeling GMOs in the hands of the FDA by “preempt[ing] state and local restrictions on GMOs or GMO food and labeling requirements for GMOs, GMO food, non-GMO food and ‘natural’ food.” This would nullify laws like one recently passed in Vermont, which require foods made with even partial genetic engineering to carry a label.
Putting the labeling process in the hands of the FDA is not, on its face, problematic. The issue is that the FDA said it has no interest in labeling anything and wants the process to be voluntary. And the chances that GMO producers will giddily raise their hands to take on the cost and burden of putting extra labels on their products are about the same as Ben or Jerry personally placing a genetically modified walnut in a pint of Chunky Monkey.
We’ll leave the debate over GMOs to the scientists who best understand them, but people should certainly have the ability to know what they’re eating.
You can find a petition on bill 1599 from the political action group co-founded by Chef Tom Colicchio, Food Policy Action.