When talking about the voluntary labeling of organic food versus mandatory labeling of GMOs, we’re actually comparing proverbial apples and oranges. Please let me explain the difference, and that may help you understand how we can support these two positions at the same time.
The USDA certified organic seal is an indication that a grower has voluntarily worked to achieve certification under the National Organic Program (NOP), a marketing program that is administered by USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS). The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a Federal Advisory Committee appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, developed a strict set of regulations and guidelines for the production, handling and labeling of crops — including specifications for soil management and the exclusion of synthetic chemicals (though there are exceptions) and genetically engineered seeds — that growers must adhere to in order for their product to earn the certified organic seal and therefore achieve the price premium that is associated with that label.
Nutritional and safety labeling for foods falls under the purview of FDA, and we move from a voluntary marketing-based certification program described above to federally mandated guidelines. A mandatory label, such as nutritional information or the list of ingredients on most packaged foods, is required by federal law. As we’ve noted before, we do support mandatory labeling of food, including GM food, if such food presents a safety risk to a certain population — for example, those allergic to a food ingredient like soy.
Absent of a health or safety risk, though, the FDA has determined that “there is no significant difference between foods produced using bio-engineering, as a class, and their conventional counterparts.” Hundreds of independent studies have also confirmed the safety of GMOs (and regulatory authorities around the world agree). We cannot support a label that conveys to consumers that foods made from the farmers’ crops grown with GM seeds are less safe than, less nutritious than or somehow different from conventional or organic food. We believe a government requirement to label GMO food would do just this.
We support farmers’ right to choose what’s best for their business and a consumer’s right to choose the type of food they want — hence our support for the voluntary USDA organic label, as well as other non-GMO labels. And unless there is a compositional difference or an identified health and safety risk, we support the current FDA guidelines that do not require a federally mandated label indicating a food or food ingredient is GMO.
Personally, I can’t answer for Monsanto, but it has discussed its position on labeling in another post on this website. Here is an excerpt from a response from Lisa Drake, lead for state and local government affairs at Monsanto. She explains, “Although Monsanto doesn’t sell food or have products that can be labeled for consumers, we support food companies’ choices to voluntarily label food products, noting certain attributes (e.g., organic or GMO-free) based on their customers’ preferences and provided the labeling is truthful and not misleading.”