GMO food labeling drive has biotech industry biting back
In introducing a U.S. labeling bill Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said consumers have a right to know what type of ingredients are in their food.
"Consumers deserve to have clear, consistent, and accurate facts about the food products they purchase," Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said in a statement. Blumenthal was one of 31 lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill.
Law makers and anti-GMO activists are responding to growing public concern about possible health risks associated with GMO foods. While there is no scientific consensus that foods made with GMO ingredients are harmful, activists argue that people have a right to know what they are eating.
Last month, grocery retailer Whole Foods said that it would require suppliers to label any product made with genetically modified ingredients. And the Natural Products Association, which represents 1,900 food industry players, has called for a uniform standard for GMO labeling to apply nationwide.
"This is a rapidly growing movement," said Dave Murphy, a spokesman for Food Democracy Now, a group pushing for GMO labeling. "We're not giving up until we have labeling. We're just not going away."
Monsanto and other biotech crop companies say mandatory labeling would confuse consumers and could deter them from purchasing foods made with genetically modified ingredients.
Biotech companies also are concerned that consumer sentiment is causing regulators to slow down approvals of new GMOs, said Dow AgroSciences Brad Shurdut. Shurdut leads the company's government and regulatory affairs.
Dow had hoped to have a GMO corn product called "Enlist" on the market this year. But amidst opposition from farmers, consumers and public health officials, the company now expects a delay of at least a year.
"It is having a profound impact on our regulatory system," said Shurdut.
Monsanto, which in 1996 commercialized the first biotech crop, a soybean resistant to herbicide, wants to communicate how biotech crops help farmers produce food, said executive vice president Jerry Steiner. Despite the worst drought in 50 years, farmers last year still produced better-than-expected crops due in large measure to biotech improvements to corn, he said.
Steiner recognizes the industry faces an uphill battle.
"We fully respect that people make up their own minds," said Steiner. "But there is a fact gap that exists. It is our responsibility to do a better job of filling it."