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CONSUMERS & LABELLING: USA: GMO labeling, What We Can Learn From Organic Labeling



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   USA: GMO LABELING, WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM ORGANIC LABELING

SOURCE:  Natural Products Insider

AUTHOR:  Jane Wilson, Michael McGuffin

URL:     http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/articles/2013/12/gmo-labeling-what-we-can-learn-from-organic-label.aspx

DATE:    09.12.2013

SUMMARY: "Washington state voters rejected Initiative Measure Number 522 on Nov. 5, which would have required food labels?presumably including dietary supplement labels?to disclose any ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants or animals (also referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs)."

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USA: GMO LABELING, WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM ORGANIC LABELING

Washington state voters rejected Initiative Measure Number 522 on Nov. 5, which would have required food labels?presumably including dietary supplement labels?to disclose any ingredients derived from genetically engineered plants or animals (also referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs).

Washington?s vote closely mirrors the vote last year in California on a similar initiative, Proposition 37, which was defeated by a similar margin. Both initiatives enjoyed early voter support, attracted millions of dollars in spending by both sides, and ultimately failed.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has been working since July 2007 to find a practical solution for the labeling of products with GMOs and expressed formal support in 2007 for labeling these products. Following the California vote in 2013, AHPA promoted the creation of a federal safe harbor for accurately labeling foods and supplements with the presence or absence of genetically engineered ingredients.

 AHPA continues to promote consumers' right to be informed when GMOs are in the foods they choose, and federal legislation that creates a standard for voluntary disclosure of absence of GMOs seems to be the most pragmatic approach. The labeling of organic products provides a good example of how this could work.

The creation of a federal organic labeling program was initiated to address the challenges presented by the patchwork of local organic certification systems. The U.S. market for organic products grew in the 1980s, sparking the creation of a number of state agencies and private-sector organizations that verified organic products.

Most of these organic certifying organizations were local with little recognition of their certifications outside of their regions. This became a bigger problem as organic foods were shipped to other markets to meet growing demand. Because no federal and few state regulations defined the term ?organic," multiple standards were applied to the industry. This also contributed to consumers questioning the credibility of organic products. These issues prompted the industry to recognize the importance of a federal solution, leading the U.S. Congress to pass the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990.

Importantly, OFPA created a program with voluntary participation from food marketers. If this legislation had proposed mandatory labeling of non-organic foods it almost certainly would not have been adopted by Congress.

Today, USDA's National Organic Program (NOP)?the voluntary federal labeling system established by OFPA?has created a robust market for meats, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, and processed food products that have been grown and processed in accordance with defined organic agricultural practices. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), sales of organic products in the United States grew 9.5 percent in 2011 compared to 4.7 percent growth for conventionally produced products.

Under NOP, USDA accredits a network of certification agencies to standardize the inspection and monitoring of organic practices. NOP defines different levels of organic content, which provides flexibility for the labeling of products ranging from raw agricultural commodities to more processed, multi-ingredient foods. The specific labeling and wording of organic claims is defined by NOP, providing important consistency for consumers seeking these products in the marketplace.

Several similarities emerge between the organic marketplace of the 1980s and today?s market for products that do not contain GMOs. There is growing demand for non-GMO products, but federal regulation has not defined non-GMO. Consumers wanting to purchase non-GMO products buy certified organic products because the absence of GMO ingredients is a requirement of NOP standards.

In the absence of a federal policy, many states are considering laws that would require the labeling of foods containing GMOs. Connecticut and Maine passed laws this year, and at least 24 other states are also considering mandatory labeling laws.

At the federal level, Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-CA), and Rep. Peter DeFazio, (D-OR), introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. Like many of the proposed state laws, this legislation would mandate labeling of all GMO foods and ingredients, and would rely almost entirely on guarantees provided by ingredient suppliers. But based on Congressional voting records on recent related bills, this legislation is unlikely to pass.

NOP provides a good template for the creation of a federal program to verify and label the absence of GMOs in foods and other products. This would create an option for companies whose products are processed without GMOs, but that do not meet the additional requirements for full organic production. Companies whose products are labeled as organic may be interested in this additional label as a means of highlighting the absence of GMOs in their products.

Federal administration of a labeling program for GMO absence would also provide an opportunity for recognition and harmonization with similar international labeling programs for GMO absence, as is currently done by NOP for organic commodities and products.

In AHPA?s view, a voluntary federal labeling program for GMO absence will provide more consistent information to consumers while minimizing the expense and potential confusion of mandatory labeling laws for GMO presence at either the state or federal level.

Michael McGuffin is president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), and Jane Wilson is director of program development at AHPA.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   USA: PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO LISTEN IN THE FIGHT OVER GMOS

SOURCE:  Jayson Lusk Blog

AUTHOR:  Jayson Lusk

URL:     http://jaysonlusk.com/blog/2013/11/26/people-are-willing-to-listen-in-the-fight-over-gmos

DATE:    09.12.2013

SUMMARY: "Polls consistently reveal overwhelming support for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.  But, in two test states, California and most recently Washington, initiatives to require such labels have gone down in defeat when put to the voters.  "

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USA: PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO LISTEN IN THE FIGHT OVER GMOS

Polls consistently reveal overwhelming support for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.  But, in two test states, California and most recently Washington, initiatives to require such labels have gone down in defeat when put to the voters.  

Supporters of the failed initiatives in Washington and California have vowed to fight on, and they are not alone.  Indeed, it appears the fight has just begun.  There are organizations in at least 37 states pushing for state-level ballot initiatives, and Connecticut and Maine have already passed mandatory labeling laws for genetically engineered foods, which will go into effect once other states nearby states pass similar laws.

The question is how the future labeling battles will play out

In states that allow initiatives, the California and Washington examples suggest that voters can be swayed away from supporting mandated labels.  For example, in what was pitted as a David versus Goliath battle, opponent of the Washington initiative raised a state record $22 million from the likes of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto.  Yet, the carpetbagger label could equally apply to supporters of the initiative, who raised $7.7 million, 70 percent of which came from out-of-state mostly from natural and organic associations and retailers.       

A cynical view is that massive advertising turned consumers into pawns of Big Food at the ballot box.  A more charitable interpretation is that reasonable people, when confronted with the evidence of the safety of genetically engineered food and the potential benefits, changed their minds about an unfamiliar technology.

Biotech companies and food manufacturers have shown that the public can be persuaded about the merits of labels at the polls.  The question is whether food companies are willing to continue to spend such sums state-after-state.  Indeed, General Mills which donated millions in the fight against mandatory labeling initiatives in California and Washington has come out in favor of a national labeling standard for products produced without genetically modified ingredients (but not necessarily mandatory labeling).  Such a call is an effort to head-off future, costly state initiative battles, but it is far from clear that such a standard will alleviate the concerns expressed by mandatory labeling advocates.

One of the key issues in the debate about mandatory labeling surrounds the potential cost that would arise should mandatory labeling become law.  The ultimate impact hinges critically on how food manufacturers and retailers choose to respond to a mandatory label.  There is some chance manufactures will simply add the label indicating the presence of genetically engineered ingredients, most consumers will ignore it, and life will go on as usual.  Ironically, this is the outcome that label supporters suggest will happen.  There is also a chance manufacturers will avoid the label for fear of losing customers, the entire production system eschews biotechnology, food prices go up, and farmers are less profitable.  This is the outcome feared by opponents of mandatory labels, yet the choice of how to respond is, at least partially, in the manufacturers? and retailers? hands. 

The focus thus far has been on government mandated labels.  But as the actions of General Mills suggests, more attention is been devoted to the impacts that food and biotech companies might have on attitudes toward biotechnology more generally.   

The willingness of food and biotechnology companies to donate millions to change minds about mandatory labels could also be spent changing minds about the technology.  Spending by food and biotech companies in the ballot fights, while creating temporary victories, might ultimately be counterproductive.  Fighting the label feeds conspiracy theories and suggests that there is something to hide. 

Why not spend money educating consumers?

To be clear, the food companies were right to oppose the initiatives.  One should be careful about when the government can compel company speech.  A case could be made that mandated labels are appropriate when there are legitimate safety or health risks, for example transfats or nut content.  But, the best science shows no such worries for biotechnology. Moreover, by requiring a label, the government might well send a false signal that biotechnology is something to fear.  

It has become no longer acceptable for reputable journalists to repeat the scare tactics of GMO fear mongers.  More nuanced critics point to issues associated with market power, resistance, and gene flow.  These are reasonable conversations worth having.  So too are the conversations about the benefits already accruing from the adoption of biotechnology, such as lower food prices and reduced insecticide use, not to mention promising developments on the horizon such as engineered citrus varieties resident to a disease that is destroying the industry in Florida, drought tolerant crops, and developing-country staple foods engineered to contain micronutrients.

Biotechnology is not a panacea, but all tools should be on the table to sustainably meet the demands of a fast growing, hungry world.         

For now, food companies are not required to add labels indicating the presence of genetically engineered ingredients.  But, it might ultimately be in their best interest to do it voluntarily, and in a way that avoids the negative connotations implied by the labels that would have been mandated in state ballot initiatives.

Some day in the near future, after concerted efforts to educate the public and create consumer-oriented biotechnologies, we may see food companies clamoring to voluntarily add a label that proclaims: proudly made with biotechnology.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   USA: GMO LABEL MANDATE ONEROUS AND UNWARRANTED, NOT BASED ON SCIENCE

SOURCE:  Bangor Daily News

AUTHOR:  Gordon Colby

URL:     http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/03/opinion/gmo-label-mandate-onerous-and-unwarranted-not-based-on-science/

DATE:    09.12.2013

SUMMARY: "Earlier this year, the Maine Legislature passed a bill that will force onerous food labeling requirements on farmers and grocers that sell products that contain genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. Despite the complete lack of scientific basis for such a law, and despite the fact that Maine?s attorney general testified the bill would likely not stand up to constitutional scrutiny, legislators cowed to special interest pressure and passed this anti-business bill anyway."

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USA: GMO LABEL MANDATE ONEROUS AND UNWARRANTED, NOT BASED ON SCIENCE

Earlier this year, the Maine Legislature passed a bill that will force onerous food labeling requirements on farmers and grocers that sell products that contain genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. Despite the complete lack of scientific basis for such a law, and despite the fact that Maine?s attorney general testified the bill would likely not stand up to constitutional scrutiny, legislators cowed to special interest pressure and passed this anti-business bill anyway.

But what happens when the concept of GMO labeling is left to the actual citizenry to decide?

When voters are asked to weigh in on forced GMO labeling requirements, the results are the same over and over. Citizens in California and, more recently, in Washington state rejected attempts to mandate GMO labeling. Why? Because they understand that ultimately the cost of this unnecessary legislation will fall on them.

Voters last month in Washington rejected the idea that they should be forced to pay more for their groceries in order to satisfy the preferences of a small group of people. Equipped with the understanding that everyone already has the ability to decide whether or not to consume GMO products, voters rejected the effort by the organic food lobby to inflate the price of traditionally grown products in order to grab more market share.

Washington and California are two very liberal states, not prone to coddle the business community. Nevertheless, both states rejected forced GMO labeling laws.

The Los Angeles Times editorialized against forced GMO labeling, saying, ?On genetically engineered food, let the market decide.? And the Seattle Times editorialized against labeling as well, calling the effort a ?clumsy, emotion-based campaign to require labeling of selective food products containing genetically modified organisms.?

It?s common sense, after all: If you don?t like GMO products, you don?t have to buy them. We don?t need to create more bureaucracy and higher operational costs for our already-struggling farmers and retailers. Organic food producers have the freedom to label their products GMO-free, and many do. Consumers already have the freedom to choose.

And there is no scientifically compelling argument to be made against the consumption of GMO products. From the World Health Organization to the American Medical Association to the Food and Drug Administration, the consensus is clear: GMO crops are as safe for human consumption and the environment as conventional and organic crops.

In fact, GMO methodology has been credited with saving literally millions of lives through the increased production of staple food products around the world, and pioneers of these practices have even received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

Farmers can now produce more crops in an environmentally sustainable way at a lower cost thanks to the science of biotechnology. The benefits of this technology are so real that genetically modified crops are now planted on nearly a quarter of the world?s farm land by more than 17 million farmers.

We need to find better methods of food production now more than ever. By the year 2050 ? for many of us, that?s within our lifetime ? we?ll need to double food production to feed 9 billion people. To meet this challenge, we must embrace modern food production, not shun it.

The worst thing we could do is stigmatize modern farming and genetically improved food products with warning labels that are meant to scare rather than inform. The absolute most horrible thing we can do is force those labels on our own citizens and make them pay more for their groceries than anywhere else in the country.

>From editorial page writers to farmers, from pediatricians to government researchers, and from small-town grocers to American voters, there is strong consensus that forced GMO labeling bills are unwarranted.

It?s unfortunate the Maine Legislature wasn?t listening.