Vermont Congressman Peter Welch was on Capitol Hill today with food industry executives to express opposition to legislation that would block mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods — already law in Vermont.
There are two major pieces of legislation in Congress focused on genetically modified foods, known as GMO’s. In April, California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-To-Know Act to mandate GMO labeling. In the House Kansas Republican Representative Mike Pompeo has introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act to make GMO labeling voluntary and prevent states from passing mandatory labeling laws. Pompeo’s bill is often referred to as the DARK Act by opponents of the measure.
Vermont is defending its mandatory GMO labeling law in court. Congressman Peter Welch joined the group Just Label It as it released a nationwide survey of consumer demand for GMO labeling.
The Democrat says he will do everything he can to oppose any federal law that would block citizens’ right to know. “The basic right that I am supporting is the right of consumers to make choices about the products that they buy. There’s a big debate about GMO’s and that’s a fair and square debate to have. But you’ve got to let consumers be the final deciders on what they want to buy. People want to know what is in the products and the food that they’re buying. And how in the world is it a problem to let people know what it is they’re consuming and what they’re buying? If there’s a debate about what a GMO is or whether it’s good or bad, that’s fine. Those debates are legitimate and meritorious. But what’s not fine is to have everything kept secret.”
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont Policy Advisor Maddie Monty has not seen the latest survey but notes there have been several polls over the past few years showing that the vast majority of Americans support mandatory labeling. “The broad spectrum of the ways in which GMO’s impact different people and their eating habits is probably one of the contributors to the high level of support for mandatory labeling. People are becoming more aware of the ways in which their food is grown and processed and GMO’s is one of the processes that people are concerned about the most.”
Rural Vermont Executive Director Andrea Stander hasn’t seen the Just Label It survey released Wednesday, but expects it to be similar to other polls. “Food is fundamental for everybody. And knowing what is in our food feels very, very core to a lot of people. I think that’s what this is ultimately about. Genetic engineering is a process that affects the food that we eat because it’s so ubiquitous now. So many, many, many people want to know whether their food has been genetically engineered.”
Stander was surprised that in a recent survey a majority could name the five most commonly genetically engineered food crops. “There’s enormous market demand for either the knowledge that something is genetically engineered, so a label that clearly identifies it, or that the genetically engineered ingredients have been eliminated.”
A 2014 Consumer Reports National Research Center Food Labels Survey found 92 percent of respondents felt genetically engineered food should be labeled before it is sold.