Why Wal-mart and big food might push for a GMO labeling law

Some leaders in the organic community have been speculating for the past month about whether Wal-mart, and some of the nation's largest food corporations, are lobbying for a federal GMO labeling law.  Yes, those are same food companies spent $50 million last fall to defeat Proposition 37, the California Ballot Initiative to label genetically modified foods, so it may seemed far-fetched.  But the New York Times reports that it might make sense.

Almost all processed foods in the United States — like cereals, snacks, and frozen dinners — contained ingredients from plants that have been genetically modified in the lab.  The Food and Drug Administration, and many scientists, say this food is safe to eat.  But more consumers want to know what's in their food, and want GMOs labeled.

Instead of quelling that demand, the defeat of the California measure led to a ballot initiative in Washington State.  There are also legislative proposals in Connecticut, Vermont, New Mexico and Missouri for GMO labeling.  According to the Just Label It campaign, roughly 20 states are now considering GMO labeling laws.

According to the Times, the big food companies may be looking for alternatives to merely replaying that fight over and over again.  The newspaper quotes Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, who works in sustainable agriculture, and attended a recent meeting with the major food corporations, “They spent a lot of money, got a lot of bad press that propelled the issue into the national debate and alienated some of their customer base, as well as raising issues with some trading partners.” So a federal labeling law might make sense.

And as Ronnie Cummins director of the Organic Consumers Association says, “If Wal-Mart is at the table, that’s a big deal.”

But Cummins isn't necessarily supporting a federal labeling law.  On the OCA website, he says it  could, "preempt the passage of meaningful state GMO labeling laws that have real teeth."