States Consider Labels for Genetically Modified Foods 

From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 24, 2014 -- A number of states are considering laws requiring labels on food products that contain genetically modified ingredients. The states are weighing such action because there is no federal regulation.

Currently, only Connecticut and Maine have such laws, but they won't take effect until other states implement their own rules. Bills to require labels on genetically modified foods are expected in more than two dozen states, the Associated Press reported.

One of those states is Rhode Island.

"I don't know if it's harmful or unhealthy, but it's something people have a right to know about," said Rhode Island state Rep. Dennis Canario, a Democrat sponsoring a labeling bill, the AP reported. "They put calories on a package. They put the fat content. If the ingredients have been genetically altered, shouldn't that be listed on there somewhere?"

In the past two years, voters in California and Washington rejected ballot proposals that would have required labels on genetically modified foods. On Wednesday, New Hampshire lawmakers defeated such a bill.

"If you believe genetic modification produces food that has a health risk, then you're saying the FDA should be the one to label it," said state Rep. Linda Lauer, a Democrat and a retired chemist, the AP reported. "And if there's no health risk, then why are you requiring a label?"

Seventy percent of processed foods contain at least one ingredient made or derived from genetically modified crops, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, while the Grocery Manufacturers Association says it's between 70 and 80 percent.

Researchers have found no evidence that genetically-modified foods are more harmful than those without genetic modifications, but proponents of labeling laws say consumers have a right to be informed, the AP reported.

Groups on both sides of the issue want a federal standard on how genetically modified foods are labeled. The Food and Drug Administration now allows food producers to voluntarily label their items as genetically engineered or not.

A number of nations, including the members of the European Union, have labeling laws for genetically modified foods and it's likely that pressure from states acting on their own will force the U.S. government to implement labeling requirements, according to Scott Faber, executive director of the pro-labeling organization Just Label It.

"Clearly the FDA has the authority to require labeling, but the states are leading the way," Faber told the AP. "Ultimately, once a number of states act, the federal government will too."