On February 21st, 2013, the Colorado House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee voted down HB 13-1192, which would have required the mandatory labeling of food and food products containing or made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) foods. The bill was sponsored by Representative Jeanne Labuda (D-Dist.1) and widely supported by consumer, farmer and health advocates and non-GE farmers, food producers and businesses.
Although California failed last November to become the first state to initiate legislation that would require labeling, 18 states are considering similar measures.
While Senator Labuda knew that it was an uphill battle, she had public opinion on her side – national polling consistently shows that 90% of Americans want consumer labels to explicitly state when food contains GMOs. “I appreciate the supporters who came to testify on behalf of this bill. It shows the widespread support in Colorado for labeling of GE foods,” said Representative Jeanne Labuda. “It’s a huge step in the right direction to give consumers the right to know.”
Despite the overwhelming public support for this measure, large agribusiness has poured millions of dollars to fight labeling, and to convince the public that GMOs are harmless. Monsanto alone poured an estimated $45 million dollars to help defeat the California bill.
The public hearing for HB 13-1192 was standing room only as people from both sides of the issue came to testify. Those that spoke in opposition to the bill included the Wheat Growers Association, the Corn Growers Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Grocers Association. Opponents cited several common themes: GMOs have not been proven to have harmful side effects, and mandatory labeling would drive up costs that would eventually be paid for by consumers.
Proponents argued that labeling would not drive up costs significantly. One witness cited a study that showed the annual increase in cost would be no more than $5 per consumer. Other proponents argued that GMOs have not been proven safe, and that the FDA and other agencies have not had adequate time or resources to conduct long-term studies on GMOs. The FDA, for instance, has not conducted any independent studies; all studies to date have been industry funded.
While cost and safety are important, there is too little information at this date to legislate on these positions alone. The crux of the matter in this debate, and the one that carries the most weight, is the freedom of consumer choice. People have repeatedly declared that they want to know more about their food – whether it contains transfats, artificial sweeteners, or GMOs. Labeling laws already require the disclosure of information such as if a product contains milk or soy, or if it was processed in a facility that processes nuts. GMOs are the next step in more transparency in our food system, allowing consumers to make informed decisions.
"The death of HB 1192 is not only a defeat for basic consumer rights, but it hurts Colorado's family farmers and ranchers who work hard to maintain strong relationships with their customers," said Dan Hobbs, a farmer from Avondale and a Rocky Mountain Farmers Union spokesperson. “Giving consumers more transparency about how their food is produced will return a little bit of fairness to our agricultural markets and give small and midsized farmers a fighting chance to stay in business through alternative market systems. After all, if a seed is unique enough to patent, it is unique enough to label."
By providing information to the consumer, the free market will decide whether or not there is consumer fear or concern around GMOs. By withholding information from the consumer, (and by pouring money into misleading ad campaigns and one-sided research) agribusiness companies are not only distorting the marketplace, but they are subverting our democracy.
Click here to listen to an audio version of Revision International’s Executive Director testifying at the State Capitol.