Ever since food became easier and more profitable to create by machinery the government has tried to regulate it in some sort of fashion. The first English regulation of such was the Assize of Bread and Ale around the year 1266. In America the first endeavour into regulating food came in 1862 when President Lincoln launched the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Chemistry. These two organizations operated in what today we call the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Agriculture Department. Later on in 1906 the Pure Food and Drugs Act was passed and what we now call the Food and Drug Administration was formed. Through these early regulatory adoptions it was aimed to raise the standards in food and their truthfulness in packaging. The nutrition labels that we all now know were mandated in 1990 through the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) and amended by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004.
Interestingly enough the reason that Coca-Cola (and arguably every other soda manufacturer) now uses caffeine instead of cocaine is because one of the first big targets of the Pure Food and Drug Acts was Coca-Cola used cocaine as their active ingredient. Despite that loss the government even tried unsuccessfully to ban Coca-Cola in the infamous case, United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, 241 U.S. 265, in 1916 from using caffeine.
But how far do we go in demanding how manufacturers produce and label their food? Specifically speaking, how far can we go on a federal level? On a state level? Already we have numerous states that have specific laws for food that is imported or exported from that state that is on top of the federal requirements.
On March 26th President Obama signed HR 933 – called the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 – into law to stop the shutdown of the American government. In this law lies the idea that the Farmer Assurance Provision – the “Monsanto Protection Act,” Section 735 – was snuck in which gives special privileges to companies that deal with genetically modified organisms (GMO) even to allow them to continue producing crops even if a court finds them harmful – which very well may not entirely be the case. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has stated that he will introduce legislation in the Farm Bill of 2013 to repeal the Monsanto Protection Act.
So what is all the fuss about GMO foods? Well, in the past couple of years GMO foods have taken the spotlight around the world. Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Spain, UK, Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Paraguay, among many other countries have either outright banned GMO foods or have partial bans on GMO foods and this has many Americans wondering why we still allow foods which other countries have deemed to be dangerous. Some reports within America have also surfaced to show that genetically engineered (GE) foods have actually harmed humans and their food supplies – even to include using Agent Orange again because the new GMO crops are resistant to it. To make matters worse in America the biggest player in GMO foods is Monsanto, which oddly enough just had their CEO, Michael R. Taylor, given the nod to head the FDA.
This issue has both sides of the aisle up in arms for various reasons. To some it is a matter of the government stepping in and ensuring good and clean food. To others it is about the government making back-room deals to secure special favors and privileges by the rule of law.
This issue at hand is a difficult one. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of GMO food, should we count on the government to ensure our safety? Is that their role? Is this indeed a back-room deal? Or should we really be asking if this is a federal issue in the first place or if we should be leaving such labeling requirements to the states?
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), stated of the amendment, “I oppose the King Amendment because the amendment takes away important authorities from the states and gives them exclusively to the federal government. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution firmly establishes states’ rights and many states represented by members of the House Agriculture Committee use their state sovereignty to enact laws that protect their citizens from invasive pests, livestock diseases, maintain quality standards for dairy products, ensure food safety and unadulterated seed products. While this list is by no means exhaustive, even a cursory look at state laws regulating agriculture reveals that laws in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin and California, will potentially be nullified by the King Amendment.”
If this is the case, is this amendment a true-blue smack in the face to state rights and the Tenth Amendment? Will this amendment somehow nullify the existing state laws? Furthermore, if citizens truly want labeling of GMOs in their community should they even be worrying about things such as this or should they be trying to introduce state or local laws that would require the labeling of the foods? Vermont has already started a law at H.112 to mandate GMO labeling, which has already passed the Vermont House 107-37.
Let’s face it, the federal government is huge today. It is a bureaucratic mess and trying to convince Washington D.C. to change something like this is like trying to convince all of America that it must be changed – it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way. Apparently this is just another example of D.C. politicians passing bills of which they haven’t read. The best way to hand situations like this is always at a more local level… like Vermont is trying to do.