© Josh Sager – April 2014
Recent reports by political media outfits have indicated that Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KA) will be introducing a new bill in the House of Representatives aimed at stopping state-level reforms mandating GMO labeling.
In the face of inaction by the federal government in labeling GMOs, state-level movements in virtually every corner of the United States have sprung up to enact state regulations on GMO labeling. Currently only Maine and Connecticut have successfully passed GMO labeling mandates, but more are likely going to join these states in the coming years. To stop these states, and all who may come in the future, from labeling GMOs, the Pompeo bill would use the supremacy clause of the Constitution to override any potential labeling campaign that passes through state grass-roots.
Ultimately, the Pompeo bill is correct about one thing: regulations regarding produce labeling should be implemented on the federal level to prevent some states from refusing to implement sane regulations. We need a federal labeling mandate that forces all GMO produce and processed foods to be labeled clearly so that all Americans can have a choice about what they put in their bodies.
According to a draft of the legislation obtained by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), the Pompeo bill would have wide-reaching consequences on the issue of GMO labeling–here is a breakdown of the bill’s contents:
Title 1 of the bill concerns itself with the regulations surrounding the disclosure of bioengineering in food. Currently, there is no federal framework for GMO labeling, so numerous states have taken it upon themselves to fill the regulatory gap—this bill would “preempt” any state-level legislation and prevent any state in the future from passing any sort of independent legislation mandating more disclosure.
The most damning portion of the first title is in section 102 and reads as follows:
“As part of the review process, FDA may specify any special labeling the agency believes is necessary to protect the health and safety or to prevent the label of the bioengineered food from being false or misleading, based on any material difference between the bioengineered food and the comparable traditional food. The use of bioengineering does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.”
Basically, what this portion of the law is saying is that the FDA may mandate labeling of bioengineered food if they see it as a danger to the health of the consumer, but they cannot label a GMO simply due to its nature as a GMO. This section absolutely kills the idea of labeling genetically modified organisms and ensures that it is legally codified that genetically modifying an organism is not grounds for disclosure or labeling.
The language of “material difference” has long been used to sidestep regulation on GMOs and this is no exception. By claiming that their GMO crops are materially similar to natural crops (but for some reason they can still claim that they can hold patents over those crops), GMO producers are able to fast-track their goods through approval processes.
The disclosure requirements mandated in this bill are consist of allowing non-GMO produce to be labeled as such if they can prove that the food was not produced with GMO seeds or animal modifications. The two largest exemptions in this labeling are the ability of milk manufacturers to call milk produced by cows that were fed GMO grains non-GMO, as well as allowing food created with bioengineered enzymes or processes to be called non-GMO.
In short, this labeling process is not only ineffective in ensuring that people know what foods are not GMO, but it also turns the entire idea of GMO labeling on its head by putting the onus of labeling on those who don’t use GMOs.
In addition to shifting the burden onto non-GMO producers, labeling “[To avoid misleading consumers,] claims regarding bioengineering would not be permitted to state or imply that a food is more or less safe solely because of the use or absence of bioengineered food.” This would prevent non-GMO producers from pointing out the positive selling-point of their product over their GMO-using competition (in a way that likely violates the 1st Amendment).
Title 2 of the bill is aimed at standardizing and codifying the definition of “natural” in regard to food labeling. While this idea is, in theory, necessary to prevent false-claims surrounding foods being “natural,” the other contents of the law make any such labels in this context extremely worrying.
If the FDA cannot use genetic modifications as a factor in labeling, they will default to the GMO industry position that GMOs are “natural” in that they use genes from several natural species (like calling Frankenstein’s monster “natural because it is made up of the natural parts of a dozen different bodies). Put simply, this effort to define natural in this context is simply a way for GMO manufacturers to sneak their products under the classification with non-GMO foods.
The sponsor and author of this bill—assuming that it wasn’t actually written by a corporate policy mill like ALEC—is Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KA). Pompeo’s involvement in this anti-GMO labeling bill is unsurprising, as he is a textbook example of a politician who lives in the pocket of special interests.
As a Kansas politician, Pomeo represents a district that is economically reliant upon corn production; lest we forget, over 88% of corn grown in the USA is GMO. This reliance has led Pompeo to support increased corn subsidies—even in the face of the GOP’s supposed hatred of socialism, welfare, and government spending—and is now contributing to his support for federal GMO regulation–even in face of the GOP’s supposed love of “states’ rights.”
According to OpenSecrets.org Mike Pompeo has taken significant amounts of money from big-pharma, big-chemical, and big-retail, including interests which have stakes in this fight. Specifically, the Grocery Manufacturers of America is behind the anti-labeling group and has given money to Pompeo and his political party.
In the future, as more politicians publicly align themselves with this legislation, we will get a greater understanding about how many politicians may have been corrupted by big money on this issue. Unfortunately, if past votes on similar issues are any guide, this process will demonstrate that many of our elected officials are doing the interests of big money over that of their constituents.
At the end of the day, there is little likelihood of this bill passing into law, as there are no Democrats who have signed onto this law and the Senate hasn’t even started drafting partner legislation—this is one case where partisan gridlock in Washington most certainly benefits the American people.
That said, the mere fact that this bill would be suggested indicates just how far into the pocket of big business some of our politicians have fallen. Mandated GMO labeling regularly polls between 80% and 95% in national surveys—this indicates that a plurality of both Democrats and Republicans agree that labeling is necessary—yet our politicians have refused to act on the will of the people. The only explanations for this refusal are stupidity (which, in some cases, I wouldn’t rule out – cough…Louie Gohmert…cough), or rank corruption by those who take money from the GMO manufacturers and big-food companies.