By: Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, Food Marketing Institute
Google Map of Capitol to White House

The distance from the U.S. Capitol to the White House is approximately 1.5 miles, a mere thirty minute stroll across relatively flat terrain. However, the journey for a GMO labeling bill, escorted through both ends of the Capitol, then down Pennsylvania Avenue and delivered to the inbox on the desk in the Oval Office has been a much more circuitous and challenging trip – one filled with many ups and downs, some drama, several detours, and more than a few fretful delays. Without the determined efforts of thousands of people, that journey, so important to our shoppers and to our industry, would not have occurred. On behalf of FMI, I extend my thanks to all who sweated over words, made phone calls, sent emails, chatted with legislative aids, and generally shared this adventure with us. I especially appreciate all who continued to believe in the system and did their part to ensure the trip ended on a celebratory note.

Some have characterized the GMO labeling bill as being a far-from-perfect piece of legislation. I certainly understand the sentiment that perhaps not all interested parties are overjoyed with the outcome. It is important to note, however, that in our system of government all legislation, by its very nature, is imperfectly perfect. By way of explanation, consider that in Judaism, the notion of perfection is achieved if an item fulfills its intended purpose. In these terms, a piece of pottery designed to hold water may be misshapen and flawed, but as long as it successfully holds water, it is still considered perfect. Seen this way, if legislation fulfills the intended purpose of successfully bringing disparate viewpoints together in a cohesive fashion to address a matter of public policy, it can be deemed perfect. It may be flawed to look at, but if it works, it is perfect.

In the end, the GMO labeling bill had all the earmarks of an imperfectly perfect piece of legislation. It entailed compromise among all the stakeholders and required a focus on serving a greater good. And it overcame a number of obstacles that some predicted would be insurmountable. Particularly relevant in this day and age, in the context of a Congress known for its strong partisan divide, the Biotech Labeling legislation received solid bipartisan support - and even had a few members of both parties in opposition. Most important, against a strong current of congressional inactivity and the fearful head wind of doing anything controversial in an election season, this bill motivated a strong majority of the members of both houses to act decisively on a passionately explosive issue and pass meaningful legislation.

Now begins the next phase of this journey, which is helping USDA determine an operational national standard for labeling products containing genetically modified ingredients. Meanwhile, we must also be doing the work of ensuring all the communication channels are in place and fully functional that we wish to employ as new avenues of providing food shoppers access to the information they want about the foods they enjoy. We know these will be scrutinized and we can afford no missteps in this arena - can you say healthcare website sign-up?

I am proud of the food retail industry's accomplishment in helping get this legislation approved on Capitol Hill. I am convinced it will help circumvent further consumer confusion on the already misunderstood and complex topic of GMOs. I am grateful that it will help avoid further disruption in the interstate commerce of food products. And I am excited for doors this law opens for us to allow movement beyond the traditional label and toward exploration of new and unprecedented ways of providing our customers with the information they need in making the wisest food choices for themselves and their families. The journey for this legislation from Capitol Hill to the Oval Office was a long one, but it will go a long way in helping us better achieve our mission of successfully feeding families and enriching lives. 

Photo: Google Map