The Virginia General Assembly has been operating at fast and furious pace during this legislative “short session”. Every year the Virginia legislature produces “surprises” in the form of legislation seeking to become law. Health food advocates got their surprise this year in the form of House Bill 1591, introduced by Delegate Bill R. DeSteph, Jr. (R- Virginia Beach)
All around the country, numerous states have conducted voter referendums and considered legislation to require the labeling of food products containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). All of those efforts have failed except in the state of Vermont, where the Vermont legislature passed a law requiring the labeling of food products containing GMOs in that state. Industry trade groups representing food manufacturers have sued the State of Vermont in an attempt to halt the implementation of the law in 2016.
Virginia’s version of a GMO labeling bill came as a surprise during this year’s legislative session in House Bill 1591. House Bill 1591 would require food containing GMOs to be prominently labeled and would make it a Class 3 misdemeanor in failing to do so.
I had a chance to discuss House Bill 1591 with Delegate DeSteph in his office at the Virginia State Capitol and his interest in GMO labeling legislation. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
FOOD ADVOCATE: Can you tell me about the GMO labeling bill and why you introduced it?
DELEGATE DESTEPH: Sure. I talked to some citizens in my district. They were very interested in GMO labeling. You know, we want to know what’s going in our bodies. I’m kinda health conscious and I want to know what’s going in my body. That’s it. So I put it in. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I’d looked up the history of the GMO bills.
FOOD ADVOCATE: Do you think you’ll introduce the bill again, down the road?
DELEGATE DESTEPH: If I don’t, someone else will. But, I might do it again next year. We’ll wait and see.
FOOD ADVOCATE: How would you describe the opposition to the bill?
DELEGATE DESTEPH: Well, both sides were well organized. I’ll start with that. The opposition to the bill was pretty logical. It was “hey, we produce one product. We would rather not have to re-tool and set up another line to a second product labeling side”. And frankly, I understand where they’re coming from.
FOOD ADVOCATE: What can people do to support the cause of GMO labeling, in your mind?
DELEGATE DESTEPH: They can talk to their grocery stores. They can buy the stuff that has “GMO free” or is labeled exactly what’s in there. Just like gluten free, cholesterol free, fat free. You never saw that stuff twenty, thirty years ago. Now people are buying that over the full fat or full cholesterol or gluten stuff. So, it truly is… I think as manufacturers start putting it on there, they’re going to see that their product sells over the competition more and more and more.
House Bill 1591 was killed in committee the House of Delegates. If you would like to thank and encourage Delegate DeSteph for his efforts, you may email him at: DelBDeSteph@house.virginia.gov