The GMO Debate Continues

By Robert Joachim – Summer 2016 Intern for Sustainable Westford and UVM Student

Image of Dragonfly Farm’s Non-GMO corn at the Westford Farmers Market
Dragonfly Farm’s Non-GMO corn at the Westford Farmers Market
Dragonfly Farm’s Non-GMO corn at the Westford Farmers Market
After a long uphill battle, state legislation requiring GMO labeling has taken another hit, this time from the federal government. Recently, a bill passed the Senate that would trump the states’ labeling laws and require a standard throughout the country. Advocates for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Bill uphold it as the best method for informing consumers while supporting manufacturers’ rights. Opponents of the bill, often referring to it as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act, claim that the laws are too lenient, lack transparency, and hinder state rights on the matter. One such opponent, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), voted against the bill, which is far less restrictive than the labeling law passed and in effect in his own state of Vermont.

Proposed by Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) the bill has received criticism for giving manufacturers too much freedom. The bill would give them the option of displaying a USDA symbol, a GMO label in print, or using a QR scanner for smartphones linking a list of ingredients. As it currently stands, there is no mandatory signage. The language used in the bill to designate GMO products has also been deemed weaker than the Vermont bill, for example, due to vague language and many loopholes.

The bill came from the need for a unified law on GMO labeling nationwide, in order to avoid what is referred to as “patchwork” state laws containing different and possibly confusing requirements. Supporters also claim the bill would not stigmatize foods containing GMOs as unsafe, as this was a major concern among opponents of Vermont’s labeling law. Noted as a reasonable measure by supporters and a weak implementation by opponents, the bill is still highly contested despite passing with a 63-30 vote.