By Grocery Manufacturers Association
Organic Consumers Association, January 22, 2014
I. WHAT ARE GMOs?
• Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms are organisms whose genetic material has been altered scientifically.
• Scientists do this to introduce new traits or characteristics to organisms. These alterations are used to improve crop yield by increasing resistance to plant diseases; raising resistance to pests; lowering water requirements—all of which keep production costs down.
• GMOs are present in nearly eighty percent of the foods consumed in the U.S.
II. WHAT IS THE ISSUE?
• GMOs have been the subject of legislation that would require manufacturers to label and distinguish all products containing GMOs.
III. WHAT HAS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DONE?
• The FDA only requires labeling of genetically modified foods if the food’s composition is materially altered (e.g. the food is modified to include an allergen such as peanut proteins that consumers would not expect to be present).
• “The agency is still not aware of any data or other information that would form a basis for concluding that the fact that a food or its ingredients was produced using bioengineering is a material fact that must be disclosed…FDA is therefore reaffirming its decision to not require special labeling of all bioengineered foods.”- Food and Drug Administration**
IV. WHAT DO INDEPENDENT SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATIONS SAY?
• “The World Health Organization, The American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” – American Association for the Advancement of Sciences***
V. WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN OTHER STATES?
• No state has implemented a GMO labeling requirement.
• Maine and Connecticut have passed GMO legislation. However, the Maine and Connecticut labeling laws are dormant and do not go into effect until the following conditions are met: (1) Four other Northeastern states (not including Md.) must enact GMO labeling legislation; (2) One of the states passing GMO labeling legislation must border Connecticut/Maine respectively; and (3) The four Northeastern states must have a combined population of at least 20 million.
• California’s Proposition 37 in 2012 requiring GMO labeling was defeated.
• Washington’s Initiative 522 in 2013 requiring GMO labeling was defeated.
VI. IS THERE A CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE?
• Yes, under the First Amendment, commercial speech has protections which prohibit the government from compelling certain statements. See Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1986).
• State labeling statutes have been overturned for violating the First Amendment. In 1996, the Second Federal Circuit in the case of IDFA v. Amestoy, applied the test found in Central Hudson Gas and blocked a Vermont law that required dairy producers to label milk from cows treated with a growth hormone. The court explained that Vermont’s stated interests in adopting the law – strong consumer interest and the public’s right to know – were not substantial enough to justify the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernible impact on a final product.
VII. WHAT IS THE RISK TO YOUR STATE OF ADOPTING A GMO LABELING LAW?
• The first state to implement a GMO labeling law will be sued on the constitutional grounds seen in IDFA v. Amestoy.
• Litigation in this area could be long, costly and will probably be decided by the Supreme Court.
• Your state would proceed with almost no regulatory or scientific basis for a new unique labeling requirement.
• Your state would proceed despite not being a part of the “trigger” mechanism required in the Maine and Connecticut legislation.
WHY SHOULD YOUR STATE BE THE FIRST TO ADOPT A LABELING REQUIREMENT THAT HAS NO HEALTH BASIS OR REASON?
*GMA is the voice of more than 300 leading food, beverage and consumer product companies that sustain and enhance the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people in the United States, and around the globe. Based in Washington, D.C., GMA’s member organizations include internationally recognized brands as well as steadily growing localized brands.