Despite strong opposition from many food companies and an apparent lack of political will, the tide may finally be turning toward policies that support consumers’ right to know what’s in their food. A new poll, conducted earlier this year by The New York Times and released Sunday, found that three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the number of genetically modified or engineered foods, and a staggering 93 percent support mandatory labeling of GMO foods.
The nationwide telephone poll of 1,052 adults, conducted over three days in January, found that 26 percent of those worried about GMOs believe the foods are not safe to eat and 13 percent worried about environmental problems genetic engineering might be causing. Perhaps most surprising was the widespread awareness of GMOs, with nearly half of those polled saying they knew that a large amount of their food is genetically modified.
“This is the latest in a long series of polls showing that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor labeling of genetically engineered foods,” Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety tells TakePart. “The Food and Drug Administration should stop dragging its feet and require mandatory labeling of GE foods as demanded in a legal petition filed by CFS and other organizations and businesses in 2011.”
There is currently GMO labeling legislation being considered in approximately two dozen states. Earlier this year, Connecticut became the first state to require labeling of GMOs—but that policy won’t take effect until the other New England states follow suit. Maine and New York also have labeling bills that are active. And in Washington state, a ballot measure on GMO labeling will go before voters in November.
But Big Food opposes any legislation requiring labeling. In Washington, corporate interests are already pouring money into defeating the ballot initiative with its “No on 522” campaign months before the vote. Food Safety News reported that the campaign has already received almost $1 million from the industrial food and biotech industries, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($472,500), Monsanto (242,156.25), DuPont Pioneer ($171,281.25), Bayer Cropscience ($29,531.25), and Dow Agroscience LLC ($29,531.25). More anti-labeling money is sure to flow in Washington between now and the vote, as these companies hope for a carbon copy of California’s fateful defeat of GMO labeling in 2012. Food and biotech companies spent $46 million in defeating California’s labeling initiative.
A new, biotech-funded website, GMOanswers.com, even attempts to debunk claims that genetically modified foods are dangerous, claims that have been backed by numerous scientific studies. Monsanto is even offering tours of its facilities now, in response to accusations of secrecy. But Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety, isn’t buying it, calling the efforts toward transparency a “charade.”
“Whenever their products are scrutinized and called into question, the agrichemical industry consistently turns to bigger and better PR rather than addressing the real issues at hand,” he said Monday in a statement. “The American people won’t be fooled by a website or a PR campaign.”
Instead of fighting these kinds of spin campaigns at the state level, labeling activists would love to see a law passed at the federal level. Just such a bill—the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act—was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 24 and assigned to a congressional committee. It currently has 38 cosponsors.
In such a divided political landscape, near consensus on any issue is a rarity. Perhaps now that it’s clear almost all Americans support the labeling of GMO foods, brands and politicians will start to listen.