By Kuei-Jung Ni
In Washington state, a proposal (Initiative 522) to require labeling of genetically modified (GM) or engineered (GE) foods was defeated recently by votes of 45.17% in favor and 54.83% against. The state law would have implemented mandatory labeling requirements on food composed of 0.9% or more of GM ingredients, measured by weight. Prospects for passage of the proposal were quite promising when it was first introduced. But, the scenario shifted when GM food companies, including General Mills, Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Monsanto, etc., launched a multi-million dollar advertisement campaign challenging the justification for GM labeling.
The downfall of the proposal, while disappointing consumer groups, is not likely to stop the labeling movement. Actually, there have been many other attempts to regulate GM foods on a state level. California Proposition 37, which would have imposed labeling requirements similar to the Washington proposal, was put to a vote last year, but failed to pass. According to Just Label It, a NGO, more than 20 state laws were introduced about GM labeling this year.
Many scientists trust the safety of GM foods, and the benefits brought by the development of GM agriculture are obvious. GM crop production can reduce the use of pesticides and enhance yields. By contrast, in addition to possible new allergies caused by the consumption of GM foods, some worry about their potential harm to the environment and ecological system. On the federal level, three agencies are competent to regulate GM crops and foods: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which use existing rules to regulate. Yet, the inadequacy of their oversight has been disclosed. Until now, no specific federal law has been enacted to regulate GM food production and consumption.