In response to an overtly science-hostile bill by the state government in Vermont (1), the U.S. House of Representatives preemptively passed a softball GMO labeling law in 2015.

Anti-science groups (Friends of the Earth, NRDC, Union of Concerned Scientists, et al.) and their paid Deniers for Hire (Sourcewatch, US Right To Know, every other organic trade rep) were understandably apoplectic, because it was not going to handicap domestic agriculture and thereby make the organic food process more attractive.(2)

For perhaps the first time ever, those groups said centralized government they could control with lobbying, parties, regulations and lawsuits was not desired.

For their clients, a "patchwork" of state regulations was a victory.

With the Vermont bill taking effect July 1st, 2016, the Senate then headed it off by passing its own bill, but it was slightly different from the House version, in that it was mandatory.

So the Federal government was heading off nuisance lawsuits created by patchwork state laws that environmentalists paid the father of nuisance lawsuits - the lawyer behind Proposition 65 in California - to draft. (3) That is what I said was a good idea for biological science for the years I have been battling anti-science groups.

And yet I came out against it.

In a private capacity, along with  individuals from Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution and more, I signed a letter urging the House to negotiate a better bill.

Why the switch?

The Senate version was rather innocuous, but that is what made it bad. It forced a cost onto companies that didn't even do business in Vermont. 

We have no reason, beyond the same slippery slope paranoia we deride in environmentalists, to believe a patchwork of labeling laws was ever coming to pass; Vermont voters are notoriously wacky but California and Oregon voters, as anti-science as it gets, had already voted down the GMO labeling law. That's not a patchwork, the only people harmed are Vermont voters, and they clearly wanted to send more revenue to New Hampshire stores. Some companies had already added a pointless line to their already cluttered labels. (4)

So the free market was solving the problem and the Senate should not be compelling businesses to create speech declaring that GMOs were anything but a different process. All so we could have a nationally uniform law we didn't need yet.

Our letter went out and at first it looked like the House was on our side. House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) said, "I have come to the conclusion that the Senate bill is riddled with ambiguity and affords the Secretary a concerning level of discretion. I have sought written assurances from USDA on the more problematic provisions, and I appreciate the efforts of the Department to provide some level of clarity."

But then he finished with, "it is my expectation that this legislation will be considered on the House floor next week, and it is my intention to support this bill."

Which he did. It has now passed.

Conaway was clearly conflicted but so were lots of groups on the pro-science side. While environmentalists could claim I was 'on their side' about the Senate version, their discourse on the topic was the kind of deception and dishonesty the public has grown to expect.  Other groups felt exactly the opposite of the way I felt - but they had literate, compelling reasons.

Rather than engage in libel and smear campaigns, like Sourcewatch and US Right To Know get paid to do, Capitol Allies, the Institute for Liberty, National Taxpayers Union, Frontiers of Freedom and Less Government were all, ironically, in favor or more government and the costs that go with it, but they made their point in a reasonable, civilized fashion.
An economy based on free enterprise requires a consistent, national labeling solution to maximize the consumer’s right-to-know and allow for competition and innovation to thrive. The alternative of state-based mandates will undermine the market resulting in higher prices and fewer choices for all Americans. The House must act to pass this critical, market-based proposal to protect farmers, families, and businesses. If not, anti-GMO activists will continue to stigmatize biotech science through their organized, yet deceitful, campaign of state-based labeling mandates.
Now, I don't agree with all of that, free enterprise and national, mandatory labels are diametrically opposed, and as I noted this patchwork of labels is not happening any time soon. We had plenty of time to negotiate good science policy, so there was no reason to settle for bad.

But I applaud that intelligent people could see the same landscape we could see, arrive at a different conclusion, and make their case - without the name-calling, black hat tactics, and extortion that opponents of science use.


(1) The exemptions in Vermont are ridiculous. Restaurants, alcohol, GMO feed for Vermont cows, any instance where an organic was not available.

(2) And it is a process, not an ingredient. Warning labels on GMO food is would be equivalent to a kosher food maker mandating that everyone non-kosher put a warning label on the food, but that is the power you wield when you get your own special group inside USDA staffed by your lobbyists.

(3) If you really need a label to know your chicken has no growth hormones or that your rock salt is non-GMO, P.T. Barnum wants to do business with you.

(4) Such as this: