Tag Archives: GMO-labeling

Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group
Beltway Beat

A Mandatory GMO Labeling Ban—What Do You Think?

By Dr. David Acheson
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Dr. David Acheson is the Founder and CEO of The Acheson Group

We’ve said this already: 50 different methods for labeling U.S. food products just aren’t realistic from both a practical as well as a cost standpoint. Thus, it is not surprising that we continue to see activity in this space from Congress.

The latest round from Congress would pre-empt state efforts and put the responsibility on federal food agencies. The move is a result of the voice-vote passage of The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599) by the House Agriculture Committee. This bill would stop state GMO-regulatory efforts and ban mandatory GMO labeling. FDA would also develop a non-GMO labeling standard, similar to that of USDA’s organic labeling.

The bill, which is a substitute amendment of the original bill, will go to the House (which is expected to pass it) and then to the Senate (where passage is less certain).

If approved by Congress and signed by President Obama, H.R. 1599 would:

  • Pre-empt state-level efforts to enact mandatory GMO labeling laws, overturning the state GMO-labeling laws recently passed and prohibiting local regulation of GMO crops.
  • Create a voluntary, consistent federal process of certifying and labeling food products as non-GMO, while prohibiting the mandating of labeling for all GMO foods.
  • Allow the Secretary to require labeling of a GMO food if “(A) there is a material difference in the functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics, allergenicity, or other attributes between the food so produced and its comparable food; and (B) the disclosure of such material difference is necessary to protect public health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of the food so produced from being false or misleading in any particular.”
  • Require that manufacturers have written FDA certification that a GMO product is safe.

While “right-to-know” activists are pushing GMO labeling, some on the other side are saying that this bill recognizes that right to know about a food’s origin and production is similar to the current labeling of organic foods. Rather than requiring that food manufacturers label their products as non-organic, the USDA National Organic Program allows approved products—and only NOP-approved products—to be labeled as organic. Similarly, as proposed in the bill, a standard to be developed by FDA would allow food manufacturers to label approved products—and only approved products—as GMO-free. Thus, like organic, those concerned with GMOs could purchase products fitting their needs.

This is an important difference, especially regarding the perceived safety of food products. Research conducted by the PEW Research Center reveals that although 88% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science say GMO foods are safe to consume, 57% of the general public believe these foods are unsafe. If more than half of your potential consumers mistakenly believe your product is unsafe, that would certainly have significant effect on your company’s business. Again, it is a similar argument as that of organic, where supporters often promote the food as healthier, despite USDA’s repeated assertion that “organic” simply means organic, not better or healthier.

In addition to the pro- and anti-labeling sides, the controversy has long been about who should have the authority. As we’ve said before, establishing state laws (i.e., those already passed by Vermont, Connecticut and Maine) would create a patchwork of rules, and food manufacturers would have to adapt to 50 different sets of laws.

Fundamentally, the consumers right to know what they are eating is not only understandable but, to me, totally appropriate. Where this goes off the rails is when it comes to complex labeling requirements and a push to require food companies to put information on labels that is nice to know but not critical to know. Regulations should be about protecting the consumer, and until (or unless) we have solid science indicating GMO foods are a problem that requires a warning, let’s keep mandatory labels where they belong and information for curious consumers in places where they can access it easily using modern technology.

Retail Food Safety Forum

All About Food Policy: Interview with Baylen Linnekin

By Chelsey Davis
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GMOs, FSMA and menu labeling are all hot topics right now in the world of food policy and regulation. To further discuss the latest updates,TraceGains’ Chelsey Davis sat down with Baylen J. Linnekin, Executive Director for Keep Food Legal, Adjunct Professor at George Mason School of Law, and Columnist at Reason, to explore his take on a few of these key issues.

GMOs, FSMA and menu labeling are all hot topics right now in the world of food policy and regulation. To further discuss the latest updates,TraceGains‘ Chelsey Davis sat down with Baylen J. Linnekin, Executive Director for Keep Food Legal, Adjunct Professor at George Mason School of Law, and Columnist at Reason, to explore his take on a few of these key issues.

Linnekin is a licensed attorney and is the founder and executive director of Keep Food Legal Foundation, a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes food freedom of choice—the right of every American to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing. He serves as an adjunct professor at George Mason University Law School and an adjunct faculty member at American University, where his teaching focuses largely on contemporary food-policy issues. Along with faculty from Harvard Law School and UCLA Law School, Linnekin is one of six founding board members of the new Academy of Food Law & Policy. He is currently writing his first book, which focuses on the ways that government policies often thwart sustainable food practices, for Island Press. He is also serving as an expert witness in an ongoing First Amendment food-labeling lawsuit.

What are your thoughts on the final rules for menu and vending labeling that are set to be enforced by December 2015 (2016 for vending)? Do you think it will help fight obesity?

Linnekin: From both a theoretical and practical standpoint, mandatory menu- and vending-labeling is a lousy idea. Looking forward—from a theoretical perspective—even the chief architect of the country’s first menu-labeling law, former New York City health department head Thomas Farley, admits menu labeling “won’t stop the obesity epidemic[.]” Practically, we know Farley is right, as study after study has found that mandatory menu labeling doesn’t lead consumers to choose lower-calorie options, and may even cause them to choose options with more calories.

What is your take on “natural” labeling and advertising claims? Do you think things like this should be regulated, or better yet, more specific in regulation?

Linnekin: This is properly a matter for the courts. If someone believes they’ve been harmed by an “all natural” label—e.g., they were tricked into buying something by what they believe is a misleading label—then they should sue. The FDA should stay out of it. Instead, the FDA should permit any food label so long as it contains the required information—including an accurate list of ingredients—and doesn’t contain statements that are demonstrably false (fraudulent).

You talk about GMO labeling in a few of your recently published articles. If Congress were to pass a mandatory GMO-labeling law, what do you think would be the immediate ramifications to food manufacturers?

Linnekin: Mandatory GMO-labeling laws are bad for food manufacturers and consumers. Costs would rise for both thanks to new regulatory requirements and, for the former, threats of lawsuits. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be any stomach in Congress for passing a mandatory GMO-labeling law.

Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say things like, our “food freedom is under attack”?

Linnekin: I define food freedom as an individual’s right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of his or her own choosing. Federal, state, and local government officials—both elected and working in regulatory agencies—are threatening this individual right. Many cities restrict a person’s right to plant a garden in their own yard, or to share food with the homeless and less fortunate. States have banned foods and food ingredients—from foie gras to Four Loko to raw milk. The federal government subsidizes farmers who grow some crops (i.e., corn and soy) and bans farmers from growing others (e.g., hemp). And it’s cracking down on foods that contain salt, caffeine, trans fats, and other ingredients. The list goes on. If the government were to restrict our speech—what comes out of our mouths—in the same way it does what we put into our mouths, we wouldn’t hesitate to say that free speech is under attack. That’s why I say food freedom is under attack.

With so many food recalls that occurred during 2014 and in previous years, how would you suggest food manufacturers prevent these issues while also not requiring additional regulation?

Linnekin: The U.S. food supply is remarkably safe. That’s thanks in very large part to the nation’s farmers and food manufacturers. The threat of harming consumers and consumer confidence—not to mention the lawsuits and calls for increased regulations that arise when such harm occurs—should be incentive enough for food companies to seek to prevent these issues from arising. But not all food regulations—even newer ones—are bad. I support the FDA’s mandatory recall authority under FSMA for many reasons, including because I think it makes lots of sense given the FDA’s original mission to protect food safety.