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For GMOs, a patchwork of state regulations would be a nightmare

A complicated regulatory landscape for genetically modified foods would shift power to large food producers at the expense of small companies and innovative startups.

Have you ever seen a product that displayed a label that states: “This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” And notifying you that you should wash your hands after handling it?

In my case, it was a cable attached to a computer peripheral.

How is that that the State of California “knows” this product is harmful, but none of the other states or the federal government have such knowledge? And why should I — here in Kansas — be discouraged by buying a product and then be scared to use it, just because California believes it is harmful?

The answer is that California has a list of about 900 chemicals that it believes are harmful. If you want to sell a product in California, and if your product contains one of these, you must provide a warning label on your product.

Now, can you imagine the confusion that would result if other states had their own list of chemicals that they believe are harmful. It’s quite likely that each state would have a different list. Complying with the multitude of different harmful lists and labeling requirements would be a burden. It might be impossible — or very costly — to comply.

Today, we have similar potential for regulatory complexity cropping up in the form of state-based label requirements for foods that contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Dozens of states are considering their own labeling requirements for food sold within their borders. It’s quite likely that each state would have a different set of labeling requirements. The complexity of complying with such disjointed regulations is costly and forbidding.

To help in this situation, United States Representative Mike Pompeo has introduced legislation that would eliminate the ability of states to require labeling. The bill is H.R. 4432: Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014.

The proposed law does not prohibit voluntarily labeling.

What’s interesting is that opponents say this bill will create a new federal bureaucracy to enforce GMO regulations. I suppose that’s true. But it’s either that, or 50 states with 50 sets of regulations, all different. Cities could add regulations, too, further complicating the regulatory landscape.

Another observation: Critics of this bill say its supporters have “sold out” to the large food producer companies, Monsanto being mentioned most prominently. But it is large companies like Monsanto that are best able to cope with complicated regulations. Large companies have fleets of lawyers and compliance officers that can deal with burdensome regulation. And being large, these companies can spread the cost of regulation over a large sales volume.

But small companies, start up companies, and innovators don’t have lots of lawyers and compliance officers. Being small, they can’t spread the cost of regulation over a large sales volume. These are the companies that are most harmed by regulations like those that H.R. 4432 is designed to squelch.

It’s in the interest of large companies to have regulations that create barriers to entry to markets by new competitors. We often see companies lobbying to create such regulations. But H.R. 4432 will create a uniform playing field that is easier and simpler to navigate and obey.

Finally, markets have a remarkable ability to provide the products and information that consumers want. If a food producer senses that consumers want information about the ingredients in a product, they’ll provide it. Their competitors — if they see themselves disadvantaged — will also provide the information that consumers demand. The alternative is relying on 50 sets of government bureaucrats operating in 50 state capitals, plus ambitious city bureaucrats.


4 thoughts on “For GMOs, a patchwork of state regulations would be a nightmare”

  1. Bob: I’m just curious, since I work in the organic food industry, does Koch support chemical engineering of food or does it manufacture chemicals that are used in food engineering? I’m death against what the Big Agra companies are doing to our crops and naturally think everyone should know what they are buying and eating. I’m a big supporter of what the Kochs are doing to preserve free enterprise and the American way, but allowing companies to invade natural food sources is not something I believe in, so I’d like to know. I hope you can answer my question. Thanks.

  2. The 10th amendment says this is exactly the sort of thing that can be done by the States and should not be done by the feds. Of course, whether States should be involved in this is another matter. Next thing you know the feds will be trying to dictate to other nation-states….. oh wait… never mind… they having been dictating to other nations for years. Perhaps Mike could propose a bill to get rid of the FDA instead. That would be a more constitutional or liberty-minded position.

    10th amendment:
    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

  3. Bob I think it is important for folks that read this to know that you are a big supporter of Mr. Pompeo. That said, this article sounds more like a campaign speech than it does an news article.

    If what you say is true, why would a congressman sponsor a bill to RESTRICT the labeling rather than standardize the INCLUSION of GMO contents?

    The DARK Act H.R. 4432 takes the labeling requirements AWAY from states and gives it, as an OPTION, to the FDA, a federal bureaucracy which is more easily influenced and controlled by a few people who have influence over it.

    My main concern is, regardless of the supposed labeling “nightmare” of which you speak, it will be much better to deal with too much information and will be much worse for WE THE PEOPLE not being able to know what is in the food we eat.

    Regarding your example of California labels. There are numerous examples where California lead the way to reasonable and accountable labeling of our consumer products.

    Now there is evidence that the use of these GMO chemicals for crop production are producing Super Weeds in the fields. Farmers having to resort to deep tillage to fight those, which will drive up the cost of production while decreasing the quality of the food we eat.

    There is much evidence out here that questions the SAFETY of GMOs. So, as a consumer, I want to error on the side caution and be informed of what is in my food. I am willing to pay more, if that is what it takes. However, I doubt that will happen.

    We need to know what is in our food. A Congressman who sponsors such a bill is NOT and does NOT have the best interest of his constituents in mind.

    The only excuse for such irresponsible legislation is that the author is
    A. ignorant and therefore swayed by those who contribute to his political career or
    B. he is smart and self centered and follows the money for only himself.

    A previous post asked if Koch supports chemical engineering. Where do we think many chemicals are derived from? Petroleum and its by products!

  4. A regulatory landscape would not shift power to large food producers. It would shift to the government and these corporations because it would be regulation. You are not comparing the same thing because a chemical is not at all similar to a genetically modified organism. A GMO label would say something to the effect of, “This product (may) contain(s) ingredient that have been Genetically Modified.” It would not warn of specific health risks associated with this technology. The label in itself would raise one to question “What are GMOs?” They may do research and find out for themselves. This gives them that opportunity by informing them.
    It would only be costly to the companies who engineer GMOs themselves, which I, and several other people have no problem with. But let me get this straight, are you opposed to states’ rights? Because from the way it sounds, you believe states are incapable of creating their own laws. We already know and have seen that voluntary labeling does not work. There are people who will take advantage (many do and there is testing to show this) of a non-GMO label. https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/…/6641/1/jb06010.pdf

    I don’t think it is logical to say let the chemical companies do whatever they want and then have other companies try to comply with regulations to not use chemicals when they can’t avoid contamination. That isn’t a free market. And if you are a true Libertarian, then you would support a pure free market. This is why we lose elections, because the, “free market” people (who don’t understand what a free market is) agree with the idea of labeling, but they vote against it. A free market doesn’t mean less regulations; it means more regulations. If you allow everyone to do whatever they want then the immoral people will become rich while destroying the ability to have a truly free market. If we let nuclear power plants have less regulation (they need more regulations) we will have an increase in nuclear meltdowns. That isn’t a free market and it isn’t democracy. Furthermore, why should we trust companies such as Monsanto to practice honesty and good ethics with the Agent Orange (Vietnam) and Dioxin (West Virginia) scandals? You say that large companies like Monsanto are best able to cope with complicated regulations because of their fleets of lawyers and compliance officers that can deal with burdensome regulation. Well, I say, let them deal with this then when it comes to GMO labeling on products.

    Unfortunately, it is people like you who still have this common misconception that GMOs are the same as hybrid and open pollination breeding. That is what H.R. 4432 tries to say. But it is not. That is why there must be labeling.

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