US farmers joined with the food industry to launch a united front against labelling
genetically modified products, amid mounting consumer pressure and an
ongoing trade dispute with China.
More than half of US states introduced bills aimed at requiring GMO labelling
last year, in a country where 80% of the food contains ingredients that were
made with genetically modified organisms.
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While only two states have passed such measures, and none have yet
implemented any labelling requirements, farmers are clearly concerned about the
"If each state had a different label requirement, our farmers just
couldn't adapt to that and really economically grow safe, affordable
food," said Ray Gaesser, president of the American Soybean Association
which represents 600 000 US farmers.
Big price hike
Gaesser estimated that any new state-by-state labelling laws would hike
prices 15 to 30%.
Stressing the lack of scientific evidence that GMOs cause harm, Gaesser
joined with corn farmers, bakers, restaurants, fisheries, animal feed and
grocery store groups in forming the 30-member Coalition for Safe Affordable
The umbrella group aims to "avoid unnecessary and confusing 50-state
patchwork of GMO labelling laws", said Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of
the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Instead, members are calling for a federal solution that would only mandate
GMO labelling "if the FDA, our nation's foremost food safety authority,
determines that there is a health or safety risk," she told reporters.
"Up until now, (the) FDA has said GMO technology is safe and it would
be misleading to mandate a label on a GM product," Bailey said.
Recognising that some consumers want to know more about what is in the foods
they eat, Bailey asked the FDA "to outline clear labelling standards that
companies can use voluntarily."
GM products more resilient
Corn, soybeans and sugar beets have been genetically modified in the United
States for many years, and farmers say these altered seeds are more resilient
against pests and harsh weather.
Wheat is the only major crop that has not gained approval for genetic
modification, as the prospect of GMO wheat faces resistance from foreign
exporters, particularly in Asia.
When it comes to corn, which is typically accepted abroad in GMO form, an
ongoing dispute with China remains unresolved and is dampening global trade.
China has blocked or cancelled hundreds of thousands of tons of a certain
strain of GMO corn produced in the United States since late last year, according
to the US Department of Agriculture.
"If there was any indication that GMO ingredients were not safe, we
would not be using them," said Martin Barbre president of the National
"Obviously there is a little issue with China now as we speak but we
are working to get that resolved."
Consumer pressure in the United States is a key driver of state ballot
initiatives that aim to label GMO foods, and health advocacy groups like the Centre
for Food Safety have said to expect more in the year ahead.
California narrowly rejected a 2012 initiative to require GMO labelling,
which was fought with tens of millions of dollars in advertising from corporate
giants like DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Kraft, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Only Maine and Connecticut have approved GMO labelling measures, though no
changes have come into effect because the laws require several contiguous
states to first adopt similar labelling requirements.
GMO technology "has been used safely in our food supply for 20
years," said Bailey.
"Efforts to label these foods otherwise are often the product of
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(Picture: Food labelling from Shutterstock)