Des Moines Register comes out in favor of GMO labeling

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Iowa’s largest newspaper published an editorial Sunday in support of putting labels on foods with genetically engineered ingredients.

The Des Moines Register‘s editorial board, whose candidate endorsements can serve as a bellwether for general election results, said the debate around genetically modified organisms hasn’t played out in a prominent way because of the influence that large agribusinesses have in the corn-and-soybean growing state.

“Even though Congress has done its best to ignore the labeling issue, agriculture and business interests are kidding themselves if they think the push for GMO disclosure is going to blow over anytime soon,” the board wrote.

Proponents of labeling laws say the initiatives will foster more transparency in the food supply, giving consumers the ability to choose whether to buy foods that have had their DNA altered. The opposition, which includes large food and agriculture companies as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says there is no scientific proof that GMOs are harmful to human health and that labels will create unnecessary fear around the technology.

Although the federal government has to date taken no action on the issue, several states have sought to require labeling. In 2014 alone, 35 bills were introduced in 20 states, and Oregonians will vote on a ballot initiative in the November election, according to the Center for Food Safety.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed its labeling bill into law in May. Under the new law, food offered for retail sale that is produced entirely or partially with genetic engineering must have labeling in place by July 2016.

Unlike similar laws in Maine and Connecticut, the implementation of Vermont’s law is not contingent on the participation of neighboring states. Soon after passage, several groups led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association launched a legal challenge to the law.

Two bills in Congress on opposite sides of the debate are currently awaiting committee approval. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) introduced a bill, H.R. 4432, in April that would block state and local initiatives to require foods with GMOs to carry a Food and Drug Administration-approved label. Last year, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced H.R. 1699, which would require companies to label products with ingredients that are genetically engineered (E&ENews PM, July 10).

Despite the conclusions in the editorial, genetic engineering technology receives a high level of support in Iowa, said Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for the biotechnology trade group BIO.

“Everyone I’ve talked to is equally surprised by this editorial,” she said. Major newspapers including The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times have published editorials against labeling.