A Bad Effort in Congress to Thwart States on Food Labels
The Senate could soon join the House to try to make it harder for consumers to know what is in their food by prohibiting state governments from requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods. This is a bad idea that lawmakers and the Obama administration should oppose.
In July, Vermont will become the first state to require the labeling of genetically modified food. Many food companies and farm groups say such laws are problematic because they could dissuade consumers from buying foods that federal regulators and many scientists say pose no risk to human health. But that is an unfounded fear and states should be free to require labels if they want to.
The Senate Agriculture Committee is considering a bill by its chairman, Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, that would prohibit state labeling laws. The committee is likely to approve it, primarily with Republican votes. The House passed a similar bill last summer along party lines.
There is no harm in providing consumers more information about their food. A study published in the journal Food Policy in 2014 found that labels about genetic modification did not influence what people thought about those foods. Some companies are deciding on their own to increase the information they provide to consumers without fear of losing sales. Campbell Soupsaid last month that it would begin voluntarily disclosing whether its soups, juices and other products had genetically modified ingredients. Around the world, such labeling is commonplace, with 64 countries requiring it, including all 28 members of the European Union, Japan, Australia, China and Brazil.
Various polls have found that about 90 percent of Americans favor mandatory labels for genetically modified foods. Several states are or have considered labeling laws. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that would require labeling when nearby states adopt similar legislation. Efforts to require labeling in California and Washington State have been defeated by aggressive campaigns by the food industry.
Usually, Republicans in Congress are eager to give states more power to set policy in areas like environmental protection, health care and social services when they think that legislatures and governors will weaken regulations or cut spending to help the poor. In this case, however, they want to take power away from states that want to impose new rules that their residents support. The only thing these lawmakers seem to favor consistently is protecting corporate interests.