You might have heard about that Vermont bill mandating all foods containing GMO's be clearly labeled. The subject is the current hot button for the OMG! foodies. Actually, Politico reported it fell strangely short of being absolute. The bill (H. 112) says almost all genetically engineered edibles sold must be highlighted with the exceptions of 'animal feed and some food-processing aids, such as enzymes for making yogurt.'

Odd that animal feed and yogurt get free passes but Little Debbie Cakes have to wear the scarlet letters "Contains GMO's." forcing those kiddie lunch faves to slink to the bottom of the supermarket shelves in abject shame. 

There is some federal kickback, though, on bills that step on Washington's delicate legislative toes.  Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo (r) is sponsoring the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014. It permits voluntary GMO labeling and prohibits states from passing mandatory GMO labeling laws. It perversely allows food manufacturers to use the word “natural” on products that contain GMO’s, an odd permission slip from the House's hall monitor that won't go down well with a lot of people. 

Food&Water Europe is worried about that feed thing overlooked by the Green Mountain State. Last week, the Euro-based frantic food publication wrote, "The Spanish organic cattle industry is also seriously affected by GM contamination. Forced to import maize from other countries that do not grow GM crops, farmers need to pay extra costs to guarantee GM-free feed." And if the fear started there, you can bet it will soon spread to the U.S.

It's the frank, science-based discussion of GMO's and their impact on world food supplies that many in agriculture think is lacking. Steve Holt, who writes about food for 'Edible Boston,' 'Boston Magazine,' 'The Boston Globe,' and other publications, talked with Kimberly Hagen after she previewed Farmland. Hagen, who has raised sheep for 28 years in Vermont, was disappointed that just a line or two was spent discussing GMO's.

Holt wrote, "To her, the brushoff is another example of the industry and its farmers justifying the large-scale, industrial farming that's come to dominate the industry over the last several decades—an approach they see as 'under attack.' Hagen disagrees—alternative approaches to food production are more about the realities of a changing climate than about some ideological disagreement." 

But the whole GMO debate goes much deeper than Hagen's realities.  None of the laws - proposed or passed, local, state or federal - are completely honest.  Special case exemptions abound.  Free passes have been handed to restaurants, alcohol, and deli foods. If cows are given feed containing GMO's and their milk goes into cheese or yogurt, those products can still be labeled organic. 

California's failed prop 37 demanded that every food containing GMO's had to be labeled but left the door open for organic foods, alcohol, certain retail meats, cheeses, dairy products and eggs. Food served in  restaurants and baked goods were also exempt.  What little was left, mostly pre-packaged foods in the supermarket perishables sections, had to be labeled.   

Jumping into the battle, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technologies (CAST) issued a new report titled “The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Foods in the United States,” which examines the scientific, legal and economic impact of GMO labeling.

CAST concluded there is no scientific justification for mandatory labeling. The authors thought voluntary labeling programs, such as the Non-GMO Project, provided consumers with adequate information to help them select non-genetically engineered foods. Government regulations were not needed.

CAST rightfully claimed that state-based labeling laws will run into a barrage of special interest groups' legal challenges about unfair restrictions to interstate commerce and international trade, long standing federal authority, and the First Amendment's protection of “commercial speech.”  The American Meat Institute and other meat industry groups have already used that First Amendment argument in their legal challenge to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

The report asks for "independent, objective information to be provided to consumers and legislators on the scientific issues, legal ramifications and economic consequences of mandatory labeling, especially in states that now have labeling initiatives on the ballot."

Alison Van Eenennaam, geneticist and Cooperative Extension specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of the CAST report, explained it this way: "Mandating process-based food labeling is a very complex topic with nuanced marketing, economic and trade implications depending upon how the labeling laws are written and how the market responds.”

The nuance that counts, though, is the public's fast-growing desire to know what they are putting on the dinner table and even faster-growing distrust of those twin faux monsters, Big Ag and Big Food.  The anti-GMO crowd has done an excellent job with their "What are they trying to hide" argument.  Their straw dog follow ups, playing imaginary 'what if' games is winning public sentiment.  In an era when real science is becoming increasingly under attack by voodoo science and professional fear-mongering, maybe the correct course of action is transparency?  Just label it and be done with it.