States lead debate over modified food labeling

May 23, 2011

According to The Washington Post, in the absence of a U.S. federal law requiring labels for genetically modified food, 14 states are debating whether to mandate labeling for modified foods sold within their borders. The discussions come as federal regulators weigh approval of the first genetically modified animal, a salmon, for human consumption.

In four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and Alaska—lawmakers are considering legislation that would pertain only to fish. The other states, including New York, are grappling with measures that would require all foods made from genetically modified ingredients to disclose that information on the label.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it cannot require a label once it determines the altered food is not “materially” different from its conventional counterpart, which it has done in the case of the salmon. But critics say that the genetically modified salmon is not the same as a wild salmon, and that consumers deserve to know the difference.

Diane Urban, who serves on the board of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, said the group is trying to pass slightly different labeling bills across the country, with an eye toward creating a patchwork of state rules that would frustrate the food industry to the point it would support a federal labeling law. “If each state makes it different, then the big corporations will be begging the federal government to step in and do regulation,” Urban said. “That’s a strategy.”

On Capitol Hill, several bills are pending in the House and the Senate that would variously ban genetically altered salmon, require its labeling or require labeling of all genetically modified food. In the past, similar bills have not come close to passage.

The Washington Post article