Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief
Chuck Robinson, Assistant Copy Chief

Once Vermont’s governor signed a bill into law making his state the first in the country to require labeling on foods made with genetically modified ingredients, The Economist published an article about “the little state that could kneecap the biotech industry.”

Seems a little over the top, but maybe not compared to the scare tactics of the activists pushing the issue in Vermont and across the county.

There has been a lot of fun depicting “frankenfoods.” It doesn’t take many Photoshop skills to put eyeballs onto a piece of produce in an unappetizing manner.

I don’t think printing a phrase on packaging saying a product “may be produced with genetic engineering” will cause much stir. Lots of things are listed on packages to little effect, such as ingredients and the nutrition statistics chart.

Then again, I would have thought the GM labeling issue was covered by the laws regarding organic standards. You can’t use GM foods in organic products, so just look for the USDA organic label.

The Washington, D.C.-based trade organization Grocery Manufacturers Association is herding a consortium of 35 food organizations to support a law giving the Food and Drug Administration authority to test GM products, conduct safety reviews, set standards for labeling and mandate labeling as it sees fit.

The problem is a potential patchwork of conflicting and confusing state-by-state standards, the Grocery Manufacturers Association contends.

I hear echoes in their argument of the debate leading up to the National Organic Program.

Of course, FDA is struggling to live up to its mission with the Food Safety Modernization Act while Congress holds the purse strings tight. A year ago in May FDA said additional funding was needed.

Again a year later, The Packer quoted Dave Gombas, senior vice president for food safety and technology at the United Fresh Produce Association, saying state and county officials dealt the task of monitoring compliance were struggling with tight budgets and unable to carry out their food safety missions.

It crosses the mind of a cynical thinker that giving FDA the responsibility but not giving it the resources was part of a diabolical plan.

That may be with genetically modified food, but surely not with food safety.

I think the produce industry has proved its commitment to food safety and is glad for federal standards.

The cost, though, remains an issue. Paying for it with user fees doesn’t seem fair, but that is an issue for another column.

With genetically modified food, the FDA ruled in 1992 that it found no material difference between GM and non-GM foods, so labeling was not warranted. Would that change now? I doubt it, so the Grocery Manufacturers Association basically says let’s have FDA rule GM labeling is not warranted.

In 2012, when California voters chose against GM labeling, I would have bet my favorite petunia that packaging in the Golden State would have to have GM labels. Same thing in 2013, when Washington voters voted against the issue. Biotech and food companies spent a lot of money to convince voters labeling was costly and not necessary.

With their success in Vermont, perhaps the anti-GMO maniacs will mount new petitions to put the issue on the ballot in California and Washington.

In 2013, Maine and Connecticut passed laws requiring GM labeling but neither goes into effect until nearby states follow suit.

Still, The New York Times conducted a poll in 2013 that showed 93% of respondents saying that foods containing such ingredients should be identified. It has been artful of GM labeling activists to turn the question away from the benefits or dangers of genetically modified food to “everyone should have a choice.”

The bill passed is supposed to go into effect in 2016, though there may be legal challenges that delay it.

It is a cinch that GM crops, with the potential to use less water and pesticides, will produce cheaper crops. I think once people are given the choice, they will still go with the $2 bag of corn chips and be glad for the bargain.

After all, no ill effects have surfaced in the 20 years U.S. consumers have been eating GM foods. Up to four-fifths of processed food sold in the U.S. has GM ingredients.

As a postscript, in January I clipped an article from The Financial Times online about United Kingdom scientists at the John Innes Centre developing purple tomatoes using genetic modification.

The tomatoes have greatly increased anthocyanin pigments that have been shown to fight cancer, ward off type 2 diabetes and have other health benefits. Also, the anthocyanins slow down rot and mold so the tomatoes have longer shelf life.

The researchers took genes from snapdragons, plants you might find in many a garden, to turn on the anthocyanin genes in the tomatoes.

The problem for the British scientists is the rabid anti-GMO environment in Europe, which kept them from further testing.

So they sent the tomatoes to Canada, where Leamington, Ontario-based New Energy Farms agreed to grow the tomatoes and send juice back to the United Kingdom for analysis.

So there we have our cautionary tale about not taking the anti-GM activists seriously. The colonies may follow the Mother Country into increased anti-GMO craziness.

Or maybe after a couple of hundred years, we have cut the umbilical cord.

A little line about containing GM ingredients is no big whoop. I think GMOs are here to stay.

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.