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Obama expected to sign GMO food labeling legislation

Measure would eliminate state requirements, create national standard

by Britt E. Erickson
July 14, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 29

Credit: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/Newscom
A growing number of people in the U.S. want to avoid eating genetically modified foods.

In one of its last moves before the start of a seven-week summer recess, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill (S. 764) on July 14 that would create a national standard for labeling genetically modified foods.

The legislation, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign, would prohibit U.S. states from enacting their own laws for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Senate approved the measure on July 7.

S. 764 is a compromise, offered by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). The legislation requires companies to label GMO foods either with text on the packaging, a symbol created by the Agriculture Department, or a barcode that can be scanned with a smartphone.

Leaders in the House had hoped to create a voluntary program to certify that foods do not contain GMOs and even won passage last year of a bill to do so, H.R. 1599. But they voted for the Senate compromise, saying it was the only way to immediately stop states from requiring labels on genetically modified foods.

Vermont became the first U.S. state to require labels on GMO foods on July 1. Other states are considering similar measures.

The food industry and farm groups have been pushing for quick passage of S. 764, claiming that a patchwork of state laws will lead to confusion and higher prices at the grocery store.

“The passage of this bill allows for both consumers and producers to move on from this fight, and benefit from a uniformed, standardized labeling law across the country,” says Richard Wilkins, a soybean farmer from Greenwood, Del., and president of the American Soybean Association. Most soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified.

But organic food producers and consumer advocacy groups are urging President Obama to veto the legislation. They say the use of barcodes would deny one-third of Americans who do not have smartphones—low-income, rural, minority, and elderly populations—the right to know what is in their food. Many GMO foods, including those made with gene-editing tools such as CRISPR, would also be exempted from the labeling requirements, they say.



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Roy Williams (July 20, 2016 3:13 PM)
The anti-GMO movement should be of concern to everyone who wants to see further advances in science and technology. Anti-GMO, Anti-Vaccination, and Pro-Climate Change all fit in the same ideological "bucket": big business is "bad". In case you are not a farmer or employee of an ag-related company, the anti-GMO campaign has focused on corporate influence in agriculture, and has cast all of "science" as corrupt propaganda agents of evil "big business" that are poisoning the world for the sake of profits. Seriously. This story line has been extensively promoted by several organizations - rather successfully, leading to an increased suspicion of "science" by the "general public". Let us not forget that to a large extent our ability to "do science" in either an academic or corporate setting depends directly or indirectly on public acceptance of new knowledge and new technology. The anti-GMO campaign, to a much greater extent than the anti-Vax or pro-Climate-change activism, appears to be fueled by financial and political interests that are dedicated to abolishing 100 years of technological progress in agriculture (and to a lesser extent, biotechnolgy generally). Unfortunately, this campaign is promoting an anti-science, anti-technology, anti-business agenda that plays on emotions to discredit scientists and "science" generally. I urge everyone who is concerned about the future of scientific and technological progress both in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world to become active in "pro-science" organizations and activities. Promote more and better science education in schools and at the adult level, be politically active, take the time to learn how to "communicate science", and do it! The consequence of inaction is an increased risk of a world more driven than ever by superstition and myth and the irrationality that is so abhorrent to most of us in science and engineering.
Lana (July 25, 2016 1:17 PM)
Contrary to the last sentence, food modified by CRISPER and RNAi would be regulated. A USDA letter to the bill sponsor stated as much. ( t

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