retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Politico reports this morning that the US House of Representatives will consider a bill that would prevent any individual state from mandating the labeling of foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, giving ultimate and singular authority on the issue to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The bill, which was introduced yesterday by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), "has the support of the food, biotechnology and agriculture industries, looks to nullify efforts in no less than 20 states to require mandatory labeling for foods that contain GMOs," the story says. Pompeo said in a teleconference today that "the scientific community has spoken with one voice" on the subject of GMOs, that "there is not a single example” of anyone getting sick after eating food made with GMOs, and that requiring labeling of foods with GMOs would mislead "consumers to believe that there is a health and safety risk, similar to warning labels on cigarettes."

The bill, Politico writes, "aims to instead create a friendlier, preemptive set of federal rules to quell public concerns over GMOs and stem the tide of state bills and ballot initiatives that are proving costly for the industry to fight … Pompeo’s bill has at least two Democrats on board. Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah have signed on as cosponsors, joining Republicans Reps. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Ed Whitfield (Ky.)."

There is no companion bill being introduced in the Senate at this time, and, Politico writes, such a measure would be "unlikely to gain much traction among Senate Democrats … Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also has introduced a bill — S. 809 — that seeks to create a federal standard, but one that would mandate the labeling of foods that contain GMOs. She has 15 senators, including Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), signed on in support of her legislation."

Pompeo’s bill, the story says, could get "push back from FDA, particularly over requirements that the agency define the term 'natural' to describe food ingredients on labels. FDA has suggested it is no hurry to define the term because of its subjectivity, the number of parties and agencies that would need to be involved, and the likelihood that a substantive and clear definition is impossible to craft."
KC's View:
I'm always fascinated when folks who might otherwise suggest that the federal government ought to be less active and involved in such issues decide, when it suits their interests - probably because there is lobbying money and fundraising involved - that this is one of those times when the feds should rule with a heavy hand.

The Politico story notes that the Pompeo bill adheres closely to "talking points floated to lawmakers last fall by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is part of the coalition of food and agriculture groups pushing the measure. The 35-member Coalition For Safe and Affordable Food is led by GMA but also includes the National Corn Growers Association, American Bakers Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization and the American Fruit and Vegetable Processors and Growers Coalition, among others.

"However, pro-GMO labeling groups have already started to push lawmakers to reject the bill. Groups including Just Label It, the Environmental Working Group and CFS took to Capitol Hill Monday and Tuesday to meet with more than 100 offices, said Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label it."

So there's a bunch of money involved here. And as we all know, in politics money talks. (And recent Supreme Court decisions suggest that from now on, money will shout so loudly that it will drown everybody else out.)

I'm pro-transparency. Pure and simple. In the long run, businesses and trade associations and politicians and religious figures and even Supreme Court judges that oppose or resist transparency will find themselves on the defensive. That's my belief … or, at least, my hope. I worry about money drowning out the debate, but have to believe that over time, social media will allow the voices of people who might otherwise be disenfranchised to be heard.