Getting GMOs Out of the Food System: Where Do We Go from Here?
Straus Family Creamery has worked for 22 years to ensure the organic label has integrity and is worthy of consumers’ trust. Part of that commitment to organic integrity means fighting to keep GMOs out of farming, and out of our food system. Now that a mandatory GMO labeling system has been passed into federal law, many consumers want to know about the law’s implications for GMOs in the food system.
National Labeling Law
When the law goes into effect in 2018, food companies will be required to label genetically engineered ingredients in their products. However, this law falls far short of requiring the clear, on-package label that consumers deserve. Polls show that more than 90% of Americans believe that we have a right to know which foods contain GMOs. Under the new law, food companies will only be required to label GMOs with a QR code or an 800-number for more information, creating unnecessary obstacles and limiting access for many Americans.
Some of our elected officials feel this bill represents the best compromise that Congress was able to achieve on GMO labelling. In a letter to constituents on July 15, 2016, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote:
Some may view compromise as bad, but I believe it is the only way our democracy works and progress is made. I supported the Roberts-Stabenow GMO labeling bill because it:
• Creates a single, national GMO labeling standard that could include labeling options like an ingredient statement, a symbol, or a smart-phone code;
• Covers an estimated 25,000 more products than the current Vermont state law; and
• Protects the ability of organic food to be labeled as ‘non-GMO.’
While the Roberts-Stabenow bill is not perfect, it represents real progress on an important issue.
Other groups, like the Center for Food Safety, sharply criticized the law, saying:
The bill would exempt most current GMO foods from being labeled at all. The FDA further commented that it ‘may be difficult’ for any GMO food to qualify for labeling under the bill. And even for any GE foods that might be covered, the bill allows for food to be ‘labeled’ through a digital system of QR codes that can only be accessed if the consumer has a smart phone and reliable internet connectivity. […] More than 50 percent of America’s low-income and rural populations—a disproportionate number of which are minority communities—and more than 65 percent of the elderly don’t even own smartphones—and for those that do, many cannot afford monthly payments, or live in areas lacking internet access.
Given the serious shortcomings of this law, what can we as consumers do next to ensure that companies label GMOs transparently on food packages? We encourage you to lobby retailers and manufacturers to make your voices heard. Whole Foods and PCC Natural Markets have committed to requiring transparent GMO labeling storewide by 2018, and other grocers can do the same.
Get Out and Vote on Local Ordinances
In the immediate future, there are local opportunities to take a stand against GMOs in our food system. The Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance, which Sonoma County voters will decide in November, would prohibit growing genetically modified crops in the county.
Straus Family Creamery supports this important measure because genetically modified seeds threaten our local, organic family farmers. Once GMO seeds are introduced into the area, there is no way for local farmers to protect their crops from cross-contamination. When trace amounts of pollen from genetically engineered plants contaminate organic crops, they can no longer be sold as organic.
Additionally, GMOs negatively impact the land organic farmers cultivate. The majority of genetically modified crops are engineered to withstand herbicides—or produce pesticides within the crops. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that GMO crop production leads to increased pesticide and fertilizer use, compromised soil quality, and contributes to the rise of herbicide-intolerant “superweeds.”
If keeping GMOs out of your local food supply is important to you, we urge you to vote “yes” on the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance this November.