Requiring genetically modified food to be labeled as such would seem to be a no-brainer. That state and federal laws to require this are nearly impossible to get passed testifies to the ability of wealthy corporations to defy logic. Massachusetts will make another attempt this session and success is far from guaranteed.
Five bills mandating that GMO (genetically modified organism) food be labeled are under consideration on Beacon Hill and one or a combination of the bills must be reported out of committee to the full Legislature by Wednesday for the measures to go forward. All five members of the Berkshire delegation support GMO labeling (Eagle, March 17).
The GMO labeling movement is not new but has steadily gained momentum as people grow increasingly concerned about what comprises the food they eat and want to know what is organic and what has been genetically modified. This is ideally a federal issue, but the Food and Drug Administration is reluctant to take it on in the face of political opposition fueled by mega-corporations opposed to labeling.
This leaves it up to the states, which face the same pressure. The National Restaurant Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Massachusetts Retailers Association all oppose the state effort, arguing that it is enough for organic foods to be labeled as such. However, the absence of a label on a GMO food product is a default position on the side of ignorance. Beyond looking for an organic label, consumers should also be able to look for a GMO label.
Studies on the short- and long-term health risks of GMOs are inconclusive, and it is important to note that the legislation before the House and Senate does not pass judgment on GMOs. The argument for the legislation, including a bill sponsored by Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox that in addition to labeling would disqualify food items as natural if they contain GMOs, is simply that people have a right to know what goes into their food. The doggedness of the opposition to labeling from corporations and friendly politicians may reveal more about genetically modified food than any test done so far.
Opponents of labeling claim regulations should only be made in Washington, an argument based on their knowledge that no such legislation will even be proposed any time soon. Governments should always be on the side of the consumer, and in favor of providing information to the consumer. As this will not be happening in Washington, it must happen in Boston this session.