GE Food Labeling Bill: Millennials Should Support It

Shopping at the supermarket has become a daunting task with all of the information and misinformation available to consumers about where food comes from and what it contains. While one study may find genetically engineered (GE) food to be okay for consumption, another will state that it is harmful for the environment. Then, some experts say organic food is best, while others assert that supporting local growers is most important. This jungle-like food marketplace is becoming ever-harder to discern and understand, leaving most people confused. But instead of giving up, millennials should demand greater food transparency to know the source of food.

Last week, when a GE-labeling bill was introduced in congress, it received unprecedented bipartisan support from nine senators and 21 representatives, including two Republicans. Public opinion appears to have converged in agreement, with 90% of respondents in several polls approving the idea. The U.S. would become the 65th country to approve such a mandate.

The bill is a positive sign in the wake of several emerging trends that would impede consumers from knowing the contents of their grocery bags. The first is that so-called "Monsanto Rider" that was tucked into the continuing resolution legislation passed several weeks ago. The rider allows farmers to continue planting GMO seeds even if a judge rules for an injunction pending further investigation about safety. Though it expires later this year, it was just plain sneaky legislation that shows how big money can assert itself in Congress.

A second issue is a recent push by certain states toward enacted ‘ag-gag’ bills that make it illegal for reporters to document what happens inside slaughterhouses and factory farms. It goes without saying that if it has to be hidden then consumers deserve to know about it, especially if it will be entering our digestive tracts. Though these policies intend to reduce alarmist food scares, they have the effect of allowing large farms to gradually diminish their animal rights’ standards, since they would not have to worry about reporters poking their noses in to expose their practices.

Millennials especially care about the source of their food. One report shows that 30% of millennials regularly eat organic foods, compared with 21% of Gen Xers and 15% of Baby Boomers. Another industry report that surveyed food preferences warns of changes ahead for large food manufacturers, concluding that “natural and organic products look to be quite important to the Millennials,” with 58% willing to pay more for natural or organic products. Less, though still a significant number (45%), indicated that they were willing to pay more for "GMO free" products.

The pressure from factory farms and big agribusiness toward less transparency is bad for millennials because we are information savvy and are proving dangerous for the status quo of the food system. We are willing to change our shopping habits to align with our demand for higher quality, fresher, and more natural food.

Millennials are already the most populous generation in the U.S. and will continue to be so through 2020 (an estimated 90 million compared to 70 million baby boomers). As family size and incomes rise, spending power as a percent of the total population will also rise. This gives millennials unprecedented power to shape the food system and send signals to food growers and processers. A country-wide mandate to label GE foods is a positive step toward helping companies realize what their customers truly want and are willing to pay for.

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Jessica Rudder

Jessica is a master's student in the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. She is a researcher for agriculture and development institute on campus. She cares about food policy, poverty, and sustainability.

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