Organic Consumers Association

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Will a Federal Compromise on GMO Labeling Trump State Law, Forever?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Washington News and Vermont News page.

Recent reports of secret meetings among industry reps and the Food and Drug Adminstration over GMO labeling piqued my interest, mostly because this critical aspect was missing: any effort to label GE foods at the federal level could bring the current grassroots movement to a grinding halt by preventing any stronger local laws from ever being enacted. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Last month, Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association and one of the leaders of the GMO labeling effort, recently published an article about how "representatives of Wal-Mart, General Mills, Pepsi-Frito Lay, Mars, Coca-Cola and others" met with the FDA on January 11 "to lobby for a mandatory federal GMO labeling law."

The story was then picked up by Tom Laskawy at Grist, who reported that at the meeting, a Walmart representative said the retail giant would no longer oppose GMO labeling and that "other food company executives agreed, saying that the fight had become too expensive, especially given the prospect of more state-level initiatives."

The story kicked into high-gear when the New York Times' Stephanie Strom covered it last week, adding a few new details, such as the meeting being attended by "20 major food companies" as well as two GMO labeling advocates: Gary Hirshberg, co-chair of the Just Label It federal campaign, and Charles Benbrook, professor at Washington State University. The Times story gave the impression that the meeting is something to celebrate. After all, if Walmart comes to the table, that's a big deal.

But missing from both of these accounts is the ominous potential downside of federal GMO labeling: a sneaky legal concept known as preemption. Most advocates don't find out about it before it's too late. 

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