Should Georgia Play a Role in Food Labeling?

I recently had a conversation with a legislator over whether or not GMO labeling is something that should come to Georgia. Whether you believe in the dangers of Genetically Modified food, it matters not in this case. There is a growing movement for ‘truth in food’ and labeling in states around the country and it’s only a matter of time before the conversation comes to Georgia. We should be prepared because the point of contention is the role of government in consumer information.

In a quality conversation, we should consider all sides of the legislative sphere and not just what benefits us. So let’s begin.

Currently, only Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed legislation requiring labeling and Colorado and Oregon put it on the ballot where it previously failed. The Center for Food Safety has a comprehensive list of states with pending initiatives, including Georgia, as soon-to-be-Former State Rep. Josh Clark introduced legislation during the 2014 session.

Keep in mind that similar legislation applies only  to food grown or manufactured in that state. In considering the role of government, many would agree that this should be done at the state level (unless you’re viewing this the same way many view cigarette labeling). When considering effectiveness, one at least has to acknowledge that random states passing legislation could be disjointed and choppy. The responsibility of raising awareness would still fall on grassroots organizations and on informed consumers. In today’s America, that is a lot to ask.

So, some questions I have:

  • Would it drive food manufacturers out of Georgia? This obviously wouldn’t be an option for agriculture as their land is here but food companies who process manufactured food (food that isn’t from the earth and is made solely from…’other stuff’), would they simply up and leave the state?
  • What undue burden would this place on our farmers? By far one of the most important questions. Does it apply to produce stands? Is there a revenue bench mark? And if so, that then draws into question whether the law is just and applicable across the board.
  • What is the cost on businesses? How much will it cost them?
  • What does labeling entail? Sometimes it’s ingredients and sometimes it’s the process. If it’s simply the ingredients, that’s useless because companies will just change their process to skirt around compliance. That’s what they did with MSG in the early 2000’s.

There is already a movement called the Non-GMO Project with a lot of steam and zazz behind it. Many would say that projects such as this will weed out the -via the free market- those companies that have no desire to be transparent. The counter to that argument is two-fold: First, only organizations that are NON-GMO are labeling. Those are using GMO products are not indicating so. Secondly, sometimes it is indeed the role of the government to inform the uninformed so long as we are operating under the current system with the FDA and State Agriculture Commissioners.

As you can see, the possible ramifications are quite complicated and the grey area seems to muddy the black and white. Georgia doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being Liberty-minded when it comes to agriculture or food rights (see Delbert Bland’s Vidalia Onions and previous raw milks legislation) but I hope they can at least start the conversation. It would be to our benefit that this process be slow as the quick things they do generally don’t help We, The People. And I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little part of me that wanted to stick it to big companies that are doing shady things with a lack of transparency….but that doesn’t make good policy and it still doesn’t answer the question of whether or not that is the role of government when consumers have a choice.

8 comments

  1. MattMD says:

    Yeah, it is too grey so when in I’m in doubt, I vote no.

    Also, this legislation would never, ever happen in Georgia in our lifetimes.

    MSG is awesome, incidentally.

  2. chartercandidate says:

    I understand where you are coming from, and in this case I am conflicted. I believe there is nothing wrong with GMO and though I believe the cost of changing labels would be minimal, it would still be greater than zero. However, in the case of a tie I always choose letting an informed consumer make a choice. In order for consumers to make an informed decision, I say change the labels. I yearn for the day when conservatism is associated with helping consumers and not just businesses.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      That would be “The Non-GMO Project”. They help consumers find non-GMO products and help growers and processors certify their and label products as non-GMO. They encourage a network of non-GMO retailers.

  3. torrentx says:

    If there is a group of consumers so concerned about GMOs, why don’t they start their own voluntary labeling corporation such as Underwriters Limited or the Orthodox Union? There’s no need to start the government meddling in yet another aspect of our lives.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      That would be “The Non-GMO Project”. They help consumers find non-GMO products and help growers and processors certify their and label products as non-GMO. They encourage a network of non-GMO retailers.

  4. George Chidi says:

    I can see a role in labeling, if the state establishes a vendor-neutral, industry-funded mechanism for identifying GMO-free products. The process for certifying food can be fraught with competing certifications and greenwashing (witness the whole green lumber nonsense.) It’s particularly true when looking at “cruelty-free” products like eggs and poultry.

    It’s probably a mistake to hold food producers using GMO crops to a mandatory labeling standard. A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that GMO food is no more harmful than any other food, and it seems unfair to financially punish producers without acceptable evidence of public harm. My beef with GMO products is with the litigious corporate practices of seed producers like Monsanto and with the legal principles behind genetic copyright, not with the product itself.

    But if non-GMO producers think they can charge a market premium for a GMO-free product, I think there’s a referee’s role for the government to play to ensure truth in advertising.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      Some would disagree about GMO as benign. GMO corn growers for instance are encouraged to plant in higher density and use more round-up. This means more seeds sold by Monsanto and a whopping increase in pesticide/insecticide being sold, again by Monsanto, and sprayed on crops. The vicious cycle only serves to make farmers buy more Monsanto. Meanwhile, down the food chain consumers are buying more pesticide laced produce and processed products (corn byproducts are everywhere) and the land and water is being poisoned by an absurd use of lethal chemicals. It does eventually get downstream. Meanwhile the weeds just get more resistant.
      There is a definite market for people wishing to avoid GMO products and support non-GMO for health and ethical reasons.

  5. saltycracker says:

    The GA AG Department can come up with a definition allowing a GMO label.
    A lot more is going on with our “fresh” food treatments to mass merchandise it and
    we fall short on food inspections and food quality.

    The peanut salmonella fiasco is still in the news:
    http://www.foodproductdesign.com/blogs/food-law-blogger/2014/09/peanut-executives-tied-to-salmonella-outbreak-fou.aspx

    side note: Did read about a charitable business set up to distribute products past their “sell by” dates.

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