Missouri most recent in genetically modified animal labeling laws

Feb 15, 2013

Another state has jumped on the anti-genetically modified organisms (GMO)/right-to-know bandwagon by proposing a bill to require the labeling of GMOs and ingredients. The difference this time is the object of attention; meat.

A recently-proposed bill in Missouri—Missouri Senate Bill 155 (SB 155)—has been directed to the state’s Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee. The bill would require that all meat from genetically modified animals be labeled as such. This bill comes on the heels of many such “GMO labeling” bills.

SB 155 was introduced by Missouri state Congresswoman Jamilah Nasheed (D). The bill would require all meat produced in and sold in Missouri to be packaged with a label indicating the animal it came from was genetically modified. For the purposes of the bill, genetically modified is defined as: “…any animal or fish whose genetic structure has been altered at the molecular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes, including recombinant DNA and RNA techniques, cell fusion, gene deletion or doubling, introduction of exogenous genetic material, alteration of the position of a gene, or similar procedure.”

The definition also extends to the offspring of such animals. Should the bill become law, it would not take effect until Sept. 1, 2015, and violation of the labeling requirements would be a class C misdemeanor. Interestingly, this penalty is not to be applied if the otherwise-violator was unaware of the genetically modified status of the animals or meat products they sold.

Currently, GM food and ingredients are not required to be labeled except under certain circumstances. According to FDA guidelines, GMO products must be labeled if:

• A bioengineered food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, the name must be changed to describe the difference.

• An issue exists for the food or a constituent of the food regarding how the food is used or consequences of its use, a statement must be made on the label to describe the issue.

• A bioengineered food has a significantly different nutritional property, its label must reflect the difference.

• A new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food, the presence of that allergen must be disclosed on the label.

Many other states have attempted or are attempting such bills, though most focus on GM crops such as corn and soybeans. Other states with pending bills of this sort include Washington (SB 6298 and HB 2637), Vermont (H 722), Hawaii (five different bills), and Connecticut (HB 5117).

Of course, the most headlining of recent attempts was California’s Prop 37 which was on the 2012 November ballot. It pushed for the retail labeling of most GM ingredients, though there were many exceptions. That proposition failed with 51.4 percent of voters voting against it.

Most of the push back against the California proposition came from the intense economic harm and disruption it would have done to the state’s economy. The burden of creating the infrastructure to be able to label everything containing GM ingredients was argued to be too extensive to be realistic. Those supporting the proposition argued that consumers have a right to know what is in their food.

New Mexico also saw a similar bill, though it was tabled and effectively killed at the end of January of this year. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Peter Wirth (D), said he was confident similar bills in other states would be successful, even if New Mexico’s had failed. The New Mexico bill would have required GMO labels on food and animal feed.

In addition to both New Mexico’s and California’s failed attempts at a GMO labeling law, there have been numerous federal attempts in recent years. Three alone came from former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, all of which died in committee. Following the lean fine-textured beef (LFTB)-related scandal of April 2012 came an act called the REAL Beef Act, which would have required the labeling of ground beef product including LFTB. That, too, died in committee.

Currently, there is a pair of GMO labeling bills in Congress, S 248 and HR 584. They are the Senate and House versions of the effort and seek to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to require the labeling of GM fish. Both were submitted and referred to committee in the first week of February. According to GovTrack. us—a voter service which collects extensive data on the bills before Congress— both bills have a slim chance to get out of committee (9 and 4 percent, respectively) and have only a 1 percent chance of passing.

Currently, consumers who wish to avoid GM products and foodstuffs can rely on USDA organic products. Based on the requirements of organic certification, GMOs are not permitted in organic-labeled food and produce. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor