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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: GMO bill takes aim at states’ right to regulate labels

The U.S. House of Representatives, by a mostly Republican vote, took a whack at genetically modified foods, and state’s rights.

By a 275-150 vote, representatives on Thursday passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which would forbid states from requiring labels on GMO foods. Foes of GMOs – genetically modified organisms – say they may be dangerous to both personal health and the environment.

So far, there has been slim evidence to support those warnings. But some of the most advanced technologies are relatively new, and what long-term effects they pose are unknown. Of the three major GMO crops grown in the United States, most of the corn and soybeans is fed to livestock, and the cotton ends up on our backs.

But more of these so-called Frankenfoods – tomatoes, for example – are reaching the dinner table. Critics say consumers are at least entitled to know if the genes in the food they are buying have been altered in order to increase yields, or resistance to disease and chemicals used to kill pests.

They have taken their campaign to require labeling to the states, including Washington, where the grocery industry and other opponents have waged expensive campaigns to defeat labeling legislation or initiatives. Only Vermont is ready to require labels, but legal action has so far blocked implementation. Maine and Connecticut will join Vermont if two more states come on board.

The House bill would block those laws, and efforts to enact similar legislation in other states. So much for the “laboratories of democracy.”

Talk about mislabeling.

But there are positives in the bill, which would set up a new certification system for GMO labeling much like that established for organic foods a decade ago. Organically grown food would automatically qualify for non-GMO labeling.

There would be more rigorous FDA oversight of GMO food safety.

We opposed the Washington Initiative 522 in part because consumers who want non-GMO foods and those labels will search them out, just as they do organic foods, for which demand has grown at a double-digit pace. It’s not only organic food stores that see the benefits, big-box stores like Walmart and Target have them on the shelf, too.

Agricultural interests and the grocers claim anti-GMO groups are trying to generate hysteria about food safety where no threat exists. But other countries have been cautious, which has impeded the export of some crops. Japan halted imports of U.S. wheat in 2013 when traces of a Roundup-resistant crop were found in Oregon.

There are legitimate concerns about science still in its infancy, but there is promise, too, that these new crops can feed a world population over-running arable land. If Congress is sincerely concerned about their safety, it will see that the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture have the resources to protect consumers and the land.

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