Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are still a hot button issue that continues to gain momentum. On Tuesday April 27, in the very first Supreme Court law suit about genetically engineered crops, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in its case against Monsanto (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms). This hearing is the culmination of CFS’s last four years of litigating against Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the illegality of Monsanto’s pesticide-promoting, Roundup Ready Alfalfa and other foods such as Frey Vineyardswheat and fish. It is representative of a nationwide non-GMO effort. This non-GMO alliance is made up of farmers, organic and conventional, who wish to retain the right to sow non-GMO crops without contamination; organizations focused on the environmental impact of these crops; consumers who wish to retain the right to eat GMO-free by choice; in addition to scholars, scientists, companies and unions.

As of press time, an update on the Supreme Court hearing is still pending.

Regarding consumers’ right to be informed, GMO labeling has become a global fight. Another group, the National Health Federation (NHF), is highly involved in this fight. Scott Tips, legal editor for WholeFoods and Codex delegate for the NHF offers inside information from the recent Codex Committee on Food Labeling meeting held at the Quebec City Convention Centre in Quebec City, Canada. According to Tips, “Our outspoken, strong stance that GM foods should be labeled as such so that the consumer can make an informed purchase must be hitting some raw nerves since I had a number of delegates scream at me during yesterday’s breakout session.”

Despite the length and difficulty of this ongoing fight, the pro-GMO food labeling side appears to be winning, says Tips. “Make no mistake, the momentum is in our favor,” he stated. According to Tips, the following are an indication of why he is confident:

1. The opposition is falling apart. The Codex delegations of Australia and New Zealand, countries that have previously expressed opposition to GM-food labeling, were completely quiet at this session, with one exception: Australia spoke out briefly in favor of a “modern biotechnology” definition favored by pro-GMO food-labeling forces. Canada, which in the past had been aligned with the United States and Mexico in opposing GMO-food labeling, is now starting to separate on its own path.
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2. The fight continues. Pro-GMO-food labeling forces were able to resist the anti-labeling coalition’s latest attempt to stop the consideration of the issue as an agenda item and also stopped the anti-GMO label force’s effort to insert misleading language about the “safety” of GM foods into the GM-food labeling disclosure. While the GM-food labeling did not advance, says Tips, the wording sought by the pro-label forces was substantially preserved, intact, to be revisited at next year’s meeting. “This may not seem significant, but when you consider that the GM-food proponents have been trying to kill this provision for years, it is a victory to survive so that when the moment is right (as we feel it will be next year), we can then take the matter forward along the road to completion,” he says.

3. The list of “good guys” is growing. In addition to the NHF, says Tips, the “good guys” include the European Union, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Morocco, Kenya, Cameroun, Ghana, Mali, the Republic of Korea and the International Baby Food Action Network.

On the other hand, speaking against the rights of the consumer to be informed were the delegations of the United States (led by Dr. Barbara Schneeman), Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, and two industry international nongovernmental organizations known as the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the International Council of Grocery Manufacturers.

In the end, says Tips, “NHF was able to help stiffen the resolve of several country delegations to reject the false ‘compromises’ offered by the anti-GMO labeling forces.”

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2010 (published online ahead of print, May 27)