Once again, the debate over labeling foods commonly called “GMO” has reached a fevered pitch. Some states continue to attempt to pass (or have already passed) local labeling laws. At the Federal level legislation has been introduced that would label one GMO product – salmon - but not others, while a new legislative attempt to prohibit any labeling of GMOs until and unless the Federal government agrees to a uniform, nationwide labeling law has failed. Much of the confusion stems from a widespread and basic misunderstanding of both the historic purpose of food labels and of modern GMO technology. Federal food labels have a clear and focused purpose: to provide nutritional and safety information to consumers. This includes things that can be measured – calories, fats, vitamins, mineral content, potential allergens – and methods of preparation that can impact these measurable ingredients. A second role of government in labeling is to ensure truth in advertising. Labels identifying products as Organic, Kosher, or Halal, fall into the second category: industry developed, but overseen by government agencies to ensure truthfulness and accuracy. So how would a GMO label fit in this regulatory scheme?
First and foremost, "GMO" is not an ingredient. "It" is not in your food. It is a process by which some hybrids are developed, for the same reasons traditional crops or animals are cross-bred: to improve a desired quality, be it taste, nutrition, resistance to disease or improved economics of growth. But it is more exact, faster and more flexible. So if GMOs are labeled by government statute, several problems are created.