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Congress Takes up Food Labeling Fight

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Genetic Engineering Page, Millions Against Monsanto Page and our Minnesota News Page.

WASHINGTON - The federal government and a number of states are on a collision course over labels for genetically engineered food.

A bill introduced in the U.S. House 10 days ago would ban states from passing food labeling laws. One that the Vermont Senate passed last week would require labels for foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, as two other states have already done.

As a long-simmering battle escalates over if and how food companies should tell customers about genetically modified organisms, state-by-state efforts to force more detailed labeling are running into a food industry campaign for national standards that limit what gets disclosed and how it is displayed on packages.

At the center of this fight stand many of Minnesota's biggest foodmakers and distributors - Cargill, Hormel, General Mills, Land O'Lakes and Faribault Foods - and their major trade group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Collectively, the food industry spent $69 million to defeat statewide food labeling initiatives in California in 2012 and in Washington in 2013.   

"When the government mandates labeling, it is trying to convey information about health, safety and nutrition," said Louis Finkel, the grocery trade group vice president of government affairs. "Mandatory labeling for GMOs [genetically modified organisms] is not justified and would be misleading."

Each month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans buy $56 billion to $68 billion worth of food to eat at home. That makes the stakes in the labeling war enormous for companies and consumers.

Forcing companies to prominently display information that some customers may see as negative "runs against brand management," said Scott Faber, who worked several years as head lobbyist of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but now leads pro-labeling forces as a vice president of the Environmental Working Group.

If it is passed by both chambers of Congress, the House bill introduced April 10 by Reps. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., will invalidate the new Vermont law, as well as labeling statutes already on the books in Maine and Connecticut and any future state legislation. In Minnesota, a labeling bill will be the subject of a legislative hearing next week.   
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